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Why You Should Get Your REAL ID Now

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Photo: David Tran Photo (Shutterstock)

This time next year, the United States government will require U.S. travelers to use REAL ID compliant identification to board domestic flights and enter certain federal facilities. In layman’s terms, this means you’ll no longer be able to board a plane using your standard-issue driver’s license.

Here’s all the information you need to know about what a REAL ID is, where you can get one issued, and why you should take care of this now instead of waiting until the May 3, 2023 deadline.

What is a REAL ID?

The REAL ID is an enhanced form of identification issued by the U.S. government, typically in the form of a state driver’s license. Back in 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act after the 9/11 Commission recommended the government standardize the issuance of sources of identification for driver’s licenses. The Department of Homeland Security explains:

Beginning May 3, 2023, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification at airport security checkpoints for domestic air travel.

The requirements for securing a REAL ID vary from state to state, so consult this interactive map of the Department of Homeland Security’s website. Each state will require, at minimum, documentation proving your full legal name, your date of birth, your social security number, two proofs of address, and your lawful status.There’s no additional fee to get a REAL ID, but you will have to take a new picture. The only physical difference between a standard ID and a REAL ID is a REAL ID features a gold-star in the upper right-hand corner.

Why should I get my REAL ID now?

Initially, the REAL ID deadline was Oct.1, 2021, but was pushed back to May 3, 2023 following complications from the coronavirus pandemic. In short, the REAL ID deadline is going to affect hundreds of millions of Americans over the age of eighteen. DMVs across the country have already been experiencing longer wait times ever since the beginning of the pandemic, and this influx of people needing the same service at the same time is only likely to exacerbate the problem. Additionally, companies like Alaska Airlines are encouraging customers to take care of securing their REAL ID before state agencies get bogged down. States like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have already issued reminders for citizens to not wait to get the new ID. I don’t know about you, but when a state DMV is warning me their lines are about to get long, I’m inclined to believe them.

Is there anything else I need to know?

  • You can still fly domestically without a REAL ID after May 3, 2023, but you’ll need either a passport, military ID, permanent residence card, or any of these accepted forms of identification.
  • The REAL ID requirement does not apply to U.S. citizens under the age of eighteen.
  • You will not be able to use your REAL ID to enter Canada or Mexico; you’ll still be required to bring your passport.
  • Some states, including Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington, issue Enhanced Driver’s Licenses, which will be accepted by the TSA as a valid form of identification.

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