REAL ID Guide for Travelers


You’ve probably heard some rumblings about REAL ID, perhaps a helpful TSA agent has given your current driver’s license a once over and reminded you that it won’t be valid for getting through airport security starting October 2020. But what the heck even is a REAL ID? How do you get one? And what if you’d rather not?

What is a REAL ID?
Back in 2013 Congress passed a law that requires more robust standards of identification for accessing a variety of things, Federal facilities, nuclear power plants, and aircraft… I’m guessing you’re reading this because you are interested in the aircraft part of this law.

A side effect of this law has resulted in states across America now having to change their own security requirements for issuing driver’s licenses to comply with the standards set by the Department of Homeland Security.

How do I get a REAL ID?
You are going to have to check with your state’s licensing agency to see what documents they are accepting but at the minimum you will have provide proof of the following:

  1. Full Legal Name
  2. Date of Birth
  3. Social Security Number
  4. Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence
  5. Lawful Status

And these documents have to be original or certified copies. They cannot be photocopies or scans.

For example, in Texas I will need to bring:
A copy of my birth certificate as proof of identity and citizenship.
A copy of my marriage license as proof of identity and name change.
My Social Security Card as proof of identity and my SSN.
My auto insurance policy or insurance statement as proof of identity and Texas residency.
My current vehicle registration as proof of identity and Texas residency.

There a quite a few documents that are valid to use as proof of the 5 five points listed above, but you get it, it’s a lot to bring to the DMV.

How do I know if I have a REAL ID?
If your driver’s license has a star on it that’s how you know if it’s a REAL ID. Just like grade school you get a star for turning in all your documents to the DMV.

Here’s a helpful graphic courtesy of DHS:

Apparently, Californias get a cool gold bear with a star like some government sanctioned travel Care Bear.

When do I need a REAL ID?
You will need to have one starting October 1, 2020.

But what if I don’t want to get a REAL ID?
I feel you, as someone who has a few years left on my current drivers license, the idea of going to the DMV earlier than needed gives me heart palpitations. Here are a few other options for compliant IDs you can use instead to travel post October 1, 2020:

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

My tips for REAL ID
If you wanna kick this can down the road and use one of the other mentioned forms of identification above, I support this decision. But if you want to get your REAL ID driver’s license I would highly recommend that you go to the DMV sooner rather than later because I’m guessing that when September and October roll around there are going to be a lot of people who have put this off heading to get their license renewed with their thick stacks of documents. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this impacts agencies like the Social Security office, state vital records offices, and county clerks offices who are issuing certified copies and replacements of the documents required for a REAL ID. Plan ahead and get it done as soon as you can.

Keep in mind that this is just for domestic travel, a REAL ID will not be valid for travel outside the US.

Here are some resources for more information REAL ID:
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
US Government – Vital Records Replacement

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