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The deadline to get a REAL ID has been extended several times due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, you won't need a REAL ID to fly until May 3, 2023. Once the law changes, you'll need a REAL ID-compliant driver's license (or another government-issued REAL ID) to be able to fly domestically, similar to how you need a passport to fly internationally.
This policy was originally supposed to change on Oct. 1, 2020, so you'll have an extra two years to make your DMV appointment. But considering the current back-up with passport applications (which may take as long as six months for you to receive from the time you apply), it's a good idea to get a REAL ID sooner rather than later.
What is the REAL ID Act?
The REAL ID Act is a federal law that was passed in 2005 in response to the 9/11 attacks. The goal was to set standards for sources of identification used to enter federal facilities and fly on commercial aircraft, which are regulated by the federal government.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) then announced plans to phase in more secure driver's licenses that are compliant with REAL ID guidelines. These require applicants to provide documents that show the following as proof of identity:
Date of birth.
Social Security number.
Primary address (two items).
It has taken several years to implement the REAL ID Act because driver’s licenses are issued by states' departments of motor vehicles, so each state had to comply with the requirements outlined in the act before issuing new IDs to residents.
There are a few things contributing to the confusion surrounding REAL ID. Some states have started issuing Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDL), and they work the same as REAL ID. Those states include New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont and Washington.
To figure out whether your license is compliant, look for a black or gold star in the upper right-hand corner, like this:
How will this affect your travel?
Once the new policy goes into effect, domestic airline passengers who are older than 18 will need to have a REAL ID or other acceptable identification (this could be a passport) to get past TSA security. There are a few other forms of ID beyond a REAL ID, passport or EDL that can be used to board a domestic flight, including:
DHS trusted traveler ID.
Border crossing card.
Permanent resident card.
Check the Transportation Security Administration rules to see if you have an acceptable alternate form of ID.
The bottom line
The deadline has been extended so many times, states are phasing in REAL IDs as their standard driver's licenses and you might already have a passport, so it's likely that you already have a REAL ID that will allow you to fly domestically.
That said, once the eventual deadline draws near, DMVs will likely have a backlog of requests to process. So it may make sense to apply for a REAL ID as soon as possible if you don’t have an alternative ID that will get you past airport security.
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