The looming deadline for REAL ID has been pushed back yet again. Americans were told that by May 3, 2023, they would need a state-issued driver’s license or identification card that complies with REAL ID to move through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport security checkpoints. In December 2022, however, the US federal government announced another extension of the national security program, giving states more time to issue REAL IDs to residents.
So what does this mean for US travelers? When will they need a REAL ID to board a domestic flight? And how can they obtain one? Here’s everything business travelers need to know about the program that was initially supposed to go into effect in 2008.
What is the REAL ID? Why was it enacted?
The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, requires US travelers flying domestically to show TSA agents either a security-enhanced driver’s license or ID card or another TSA-approved form of identification, such as a passport. It is in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The 9/11 Commission recommended to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses” after it was discovered that many of the hijackers who participated in the attacks were carrying US driver’s licenses and state IDs that had been obtained fraudulently.
What’s behind the latest REAL ID delay?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which manages the REAL ID program, partly blames the lingering impacts of COVID-19 for the delay.
“REAL ID progress over the past two years has been significantly hindered by state driver’s licensing agencies having to work through the backlogs created by the pandemic,” a statement from the DHS said.
“This extension will give states needed time to ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in the statement.
When will REAL ID be enforced? What will be required of me?
Barring any further delays, REAL ID will go into effect on May 7, 2025. At that point, US travelers 18 and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, identification card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license (EDL), or another acceptable form of ID to fly within the United States. REAL IDs also will be needed to access certain federal facilities.
What happens if I don’t have a REAL ID by the deadline and am flying domestically?
Once the act goes into effect, a state driver’s license or ID that does not contain a REAL ID seal will no longer be accepted at airport security checkpoints across the country. If you don’t have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, an EDL, or another acceptable form of identification, you will not be permitted to enter the TSA security checkpoint and will not be allowed to fly.
How do I know if I have a REAL ID license or a standard one?
REAL ID-compliant licenses are marked with a star at the top of the card. Because each state distributes its own cards, the placement and appearance of the star differ slightly, depending on the issuing state.
Some states are offering an alternative option called enhanced driver’s licenses, aka EDLs, which comply with REAL ID standards. EDLs feature a flag, not a star.
If you are unsure if your license is REAL ID compliant, check with your state’s motor vehicle department.
What exactly are EDLs? Which states offer them?
EDLs are state-issued driver’s licenses that provide proof of identity and US citizenship. Unlike REAL IDs, they can also be used for travel to and from the United States from Canada, Mexico, and some Caribbean countries instead of a passport.
Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York issue both REAL IDs and EDLs. Washington state issues only EDLs.
EDLs will be accepted at the airport security checkpoint when the REAL ID enforcement takes effect.
What other forms of ID will be permitted for domestic flights when REAL ID commences?
There are more than a dozen other acceptable alternatives, including US passports and DHS trusted traveler cards, such as Global Entry. Check out all the options here.
Do I need REAL ID if I have TSA Precheck and/or a CLEAR membership?
Yes, even if you participate in these traveler programs, you will need to present a REAL ID compliant identification starting May 7, 2025.
How can I obtain a REAL ID?
Visit your state’s driver’s licensing agency website to find out exactly what documentation is required. At a minimum, you’ll need to provide documentation that shows the following:
- Your full legal name.
- Date of birth.
- Social Security number.
- Two proofs of the address of your principal residence.
- Lawful status.
You also will need to go in person to the motor vehicle department to present the documentation in order to verify who you are.
For information by state, including where to obtain a REAL ID, visit the DHS REAL ID website and click your state on the map.