After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Congress drafted and passed new legislation to strengthen national security, one of which was the REAL ID Act.
Previously, every state had their own security standards for issuing driver’s licenses and state ID cards. The REAL ID Act eliminates those varying state developed standards, and enforces federal regulations that all states must adhere to.
It has taken over a decade for states to become compliant, but starting October 1st, 2021, all U.S. citizens and residents must show a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or ID card in order to fly domestically or access any federal facility or nuclear power plant.
Requirements to get a REAL ID
If you do not have a REAL ID yet, here is how to get a Real ID:
- Visit your local DMV in person (you may be able to schedule an appointment)
- Make sure to bring:
- Proof of identity (certified copy of the birth certificate, employment authorization document, U.S. passport, permanent resident card or foreign passport with an approved I-94 form)
- Proof of your Social Security Number
- Proof of residency (lease agreement, mortgage bill, utility bill, etc.)
- Payment for your state’s processing fees (amount varies by state)
How to tell if an ID is REAL ID compliant
Nearly all REAL ID-compliant licenses feature a gold or black star in the corner. So, if your license or ID card has a star in the corner, then you already have a compliant ID. However, a few states do not include a star on their REAL IDs, so if you do not have a star, you can look up your state’s REAL ID traits to double check.
Every single state now requires, at minimum, proof of identity, proof of Social Security number, proof of residence, and proof of all legal name changes. In addition, you must have original or certified copies of every piece of proof that you use. For example, a certified copy of your birth certificate.
Keep in mind, however, that you can use your standard, non-compliant ID or license to drive, vote, and for general identification. A Real ID is only necessary if you plan to fly domestically, or enter a federal facility or power plant. You can also use a U.S. passport or U.S. passport card instead.
Real ID Compliant States
As of September 20, 2020, every single state is now REAL ID-compliant and actively issuing REAL IDs for both driver’s licenses and state ID cards. So, if you need to update your license to one that is REAL ID-compliant, you can now do so in your state. However, if you are not planning to fly domestically or access any federal facilities, you don’t have to get a new ID right away. Your non-compliant license will still be valid for identification and driving. In fact, if you wait until your current ID is due for renewal, most states will still allow you to renew your license online, if online renewal is offered. Your new ID will be REAL-ID compliant, and you won’t have to go in-person to get it.