Before COVID-19 threw the world into a tailspin and put everyone’s life on hold, the travel industry was preparing for an important and long-awaited event on October 1, 2020—the REAL ID card deadline, which would affect U.S. citizens taking domestic flights. However, due to the pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security announced on March 26 that the deadline would be extended to October 1, 2021.
Now’s your chance to read up on this travel requirement and understand how and when it applies to you.
What is a REAL ID?
This is probably the first question you have. It might surprise you that Congress passed the REAL ID act in 2005 in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It’s intended to provide an extra layer of security for state-issued identification cards by applicants providing multiple forms of identification in order to receive their REAL ID compliant card.
For most U.S. citizens, their REAL ID compliant card will be their driver’s license. Because states have been slowly rolling out their REAL ID compliant cards over the past 15 years, there’s a good chance your driver’s license (or other state ID card) is already compliant! If it is, there will either be a gold or black star in the upper right-hand corner of the ID (California has a gold bear with an inset white star).
The Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDLs) issued by Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont are considered acceptable alternatives. Most EDLs do not contain the star marking, but that’s OK, they’re still REAL ID–compliant.
A passport also meets REAL ID travel requirements.
When you’ll need it
If you traveled by plane in the year leading up to March 2020, there’s a good chance you saw information about REAL IDs as you moved through TSA checkpoints. This is because of the three instances when you’ll need a REAL ID the most common one will be when you want to take a U.S. domestic flight and don’t want to carry your passport. The other two scenarios are: visiting a secure federal facility without a military ID and entering a nuclear power plant—two trips you might never need to take in your life!
If you’re traveling to Canada, Mexico, or any other foreign country, you will still need to carry a passport. Children under 18 traveling with an adult companion within the U.S. do not need to have a REAL ID, although their companion will need to have one.
How to get a REAL ID
It’s pretty simple: visit your local department of motor vehicles (DMV) office or Secretary of State office and provide proper documentation—when those offices are opened back up to the public, of course.
You’ll need to check exactly which documents are accepted by your state, but at a minimum, you’ll need to provide:
According to the Department of Homeland Security, “As of March 26, 2020, 52 states and territories are fully compliant with the REAL ID requirements, and all states are on track to begin issuing compliant licenses and IDs by the October 1, 2021 deadline.”