REAL ID Act 2023 – Deadline, State Requirements, Documents, Cost, & Flying
Airports across the United States now have signs alerting travelers of new photo ID requirements to fly. You may have seen signs detailing the REAL ID Act, but what does it mean for you? Many people already unknowingly have REAL IDs, while others will have to get one by the May 7, 2025 deadline to fly domestically and enter certain federal facilities.
This post will explain the REAL ID Act and how it may affect your next trip to the airport.
Table of Contents
What is the REAL ID Act and Why Was it Established?
Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 to set better and more secure standards for the issuance of state-issued driver’s licenses and other forms of identification. The 9/11 attacks spearheaded the movement, and federal agencies like the TSA will soon only accept forms of identification that meet the standards outlined in the REAL ID Act. As of February 2020, the Department of Homeland Security announced nearly 100,000,000 Americans had REAL IDs.
Before September 11, 2011, it was easier to get a state-issued driver’s license. To prevent things like fraud and terrorism, the REAL ID Act makes it harder to get approved for a license or ID for those who are not eligible. Those applying for a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license will need to show multiple documents to prove their identity, residency, and social security number. While it may seem excessive, the goal of the REAL ID Act is to keep everyone safer when flying from a United States airport and entering federal facilities.
Real ID Enforcement Deadline Date
Initially, all 50 states needed to comply with the REAL ID Act by October 1, 2020. Due to COVID-19, that date was pushed back one year to October 1, 2021. The date was again pushed back to May 7, 2025. If the May 7, 2025 deadline stands, you will not be able to fly without a REAL ID or other accepted form of identification on that date.
Do I Have to Get a REAL ID?
You are not required to get a REAL ID, but you must have an acceptable alternative ID if you want to fly from a United States airport. Additionally, you must have a REAL ID to access certain federal facilities, military bases, and nuclear power plants. Children under the age of 18 are not required to get a REAL ID to fly. If you just want to use your ID to drive or vote, you do not need a REAL ID.
REAL ID Alternatives For Flying
As previously mentioned, you do not need a REAL ID to fly, but you will need one of these TSA-approved alternatives. The most common ones on the list are United States Passports and Passport Cards, but there are many others that you may be unaware of.
You can see the current list of approved REAL ID alternatives at the TSA website.
Further Reading: Passport Books vs. Passport Cards: What’s the Difference?
The Vacationer Tip
Ultimately, if you have a passport, passport card, or any of the above-listed alternatives and do not mind bringing it with you when flying domestically, you do not need a REAL ID.
Activities That Do Not Require a REAL ID
As you are a reader of The Vacationer, you will likely be flying in the future. If you prefer to take road trips or just do not like flying, you may not need to upgrade your driver’s license to be REAL ID compliant. Here are things you can do with your non-compliant REAL ID driver’s license or ID.
- Drive within the United States and cross state lines
- Rent a car within the United States
- Buy products requiring an ID (alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets)
- Enter non-federal facilities requiring an ID (casino, bar, gentleman’s club)
- Enter federal facilities not requiring an ID
- Voting and registering to vote
- Receive Federal Benefits
- Access healthcare facilities such as hospitals and urgent care centers
- Other general identification purposes
What Does a REAL ID-Compliant Driver’s License Look Like?
As previously mentioned, your state-issued driver’s license may already be a compliant REAL ID. The quickest way to check is to see if it has a star in the upper right corner. Depending on your state, the star will be black or gold. It also may be a star cutout in a gold circle or a star cutout in a black circle. Finally, it may be a star cutout in a grizzly bear. If you see one of those stars, you most likely have a compliant REAL ID.
If you do not see a star in the upper right corner, it is unlikely your driver’s license is a compliant REAL ID (with a few state exceptions). It may also say “Not For REAL ID Purposes”, “Not For Federal Identification”, or something similar. If that is the case, you will have to upgrade your license to a REAL ID to fly or use one of the approved alternative IDs.
Enhanced Driver’s Licenses
In addition to REAL IDs, a few states also issue enhanced driver’s licenses. Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont issue REAL IDs as well as enhanced driver’s licenses. The state of Washington only issues enhanced driver’s licenses at the moment. These licenses do not have a star in the upper right corner, but they are REAL ID compliant.
In addition to being accepted by the TSA, enhanced driver’s licenses also allow entry into the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
States in Compliance With The REAL ID Act
As of May 2022, all 50 states now comply with the REAL ID Act. Oregon and Oklahoma were the most recent states to become compliant.
It is important to note that while your state may be in compliance, your current driver’s license may not be a REAL ID. You should check for the star in the upper right corner of your license. If you are not sure if your license is compliant, we recommend contacting your state’s DMV.
Whether or not your state is currently compliant, you can use your current driver’s license to fly until May 7, 2025. If you do not upgrade by that date, you will have to use an alternative form of ID to fly.
How Do I Get a REAL ID?
While it is possible to renew a standard license online, you must visit your local DMV to get a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license. Depending on your state, you may have to make an appointment. Other states, such as New Jersey, allow walk-ins on certain dates if your license is within three months of expiring. See a list of all 50 DMV state websites to make your appointment.
While each state may have slightly different requirements, you will need the following to be approved for a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license. Have them ready before you go to the DMV so you do not have to make multiple trips. With the documents, you will be providing evidence for your full legal name, DOB, social security number, lawful status, and proof of address.
- Proof of Identity (1 Required) – Examples include a United States Passport or Passport Card, Certified Copy of a Birth Certificate, Permanent Resident Card, Foreign Passport with Valid Visa and I-94, Certificate of Citizenship, Certificate of Naturalization, or a Photo Employment Authorization Card.
- Proof of a Current Residential Address (2 Required) – Examples include Utility Bills (past 90 days), Credit Card Bills (past 90 days), Original and Unexpired Lease Agreement, Valid Driver’s License or Non-Driver Identification Card, IRS Letter (past 12 months), Recent Bank Statement, or a letter from a parent or guardian certifying the address for those under 18. Financial information may be blacked out on all bank and credit card statements.
- Proof of a Valid Social Security Number (1 Required) – Examples include Social Security Card, Pay Stub with Name and Social Security Number, 1099 form (past 12 months), or a W-2 form (past 12 months).
- Proof of Legal Name Change (if applicable) – Examples include Marriage Certificate or Court Order.
Remember, each state may have different REAL ID requirements (here are New Jersey’s, for example). At the minimum, you will need a combination of the above-listed documents. Check with your state’s DMV to see if you need any additional documents.
The Vacationer Tip
Many state DMV websites have document selectors to see what you need to bring to get a REAL ID. Check your state DMV website for more information.
REAL ID Cost
The cost of a REAL ID varies by state. The cost also depends on whether or not you are getting a new license, a renewal, or a duplicate. If your current license is not expiring and you simply want to upgrade to a REAL ID, there is also likely a cost for that. New Jersey, for example, charges an $11 change fee. If you have an expiring New Jersey license and upgrade to a REAL ID at expiration, you will only pay the $24 renewal fee.
Expect to pay between $10 to $80 to upgrade to a REAL ID. Most people will pay $50 or less, but it really depends on your state and whether or not you are getting a new license, renewing your current license, or simply upgrading your current license.
REAL ID and International Travel
A REAL ID is not a substitute for a United States passport or passport card for international travel. You must still have a passport (or other accepted document) to travel internationally and return to the United States via air, land, and sea.
REAL ID and TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR®
Despite being pre-screened and deemed to be low-risk travelers, TSA PreCheck members still need a REAL ID to fly from a United States airport. Global Entry members still need their passport or permanent resident card to travel internationally and use Global Entry kiosks. CLEAR members must also have a REAL ID to fly.
Considerations for Children Under 18
The TSA does not check IDs from children under the age of 18. For that reason, those under the age of 18 do not have to get a REAL ID. If a child is traveling with someone over the age of 18, that person must have a REAL ID.
A REAL ID is a state-issued driver’s license or identification card that meets standards outlined in the REAL ID Act. On May 7, 2025, federal agencies like the TSA will only accept IDs that meet the standards.
The cost of a REAL ID varies by state. It may cost as little as $10 to as much as $80. The cost depends on the state as well if you are getting a new license, renewing an expiring license, or upgrading an existing license.
No one is required to get a REAL ID. You should get a REAL ID if you plan on flying from a United States airport and do not have an alternative TSA-approved ID.
REAL ID alternatives include United States passports and passport cards, permanent resident cards, trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST), enhanced driver’s licenses, and military IDs.
At minimum, you need to provide documents to prove your identity, address, and social security number. Examples include passports, birth certificates, social security cards, driver’s licenses, permanent resident cards, utility bills, and bank statements. Additionally, states may also have their own requirements.
You must physically go to your local DMV to get a REAL ID.
Children under the age of 18 do not need a REAL ID to fly.
Probably not. You will need to bring your passport or passport card to fly from a United States airport, however.
The deadline to get a REAL ID is May 7, 2025. On that date, the TSA will require REAL IDs or alternatives to fly. Until May 7, 2025, you may fly without a REAL ID.
No, a REAL ID cannot be used for international travel including land crossings.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
While COVID-19 pushed back the original REAL ID deadline, you should plan accordingly for May 7, 2025. In our opinion, you do not need to rush to get a REAL ID if you have one of the many alternatives, including a passport or trusted traveler card (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST). If you do not have an alternative REAL ID and plan on flying from a United States airport, you will need to get a REAL ID before the deadline.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
Featured Image by Department of Homeland Security
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