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Are You Real ID Ready? Your Guide to Understanding REAL ID Requirements




Whether you’ve only recently heard of REAL ID, or COVID restrictions delayed your plans to meet the requirements, REAL ID is something that should be on your radar for certain activities in the United States. There’s a likely chance you’ll be asked if you want the upgrade when you renew your driver’s license. However, if you’re not up for renewal before May 23, 2023, and you frequently take domestic flights or routinely enter federal facilities or nuclear plants, you’ll need to learn more about REAL ID.

What Is REAL ID?

A REAL ID is a form of identification that meets increased security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and cards. The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, was a response to the 9/11 attacks as an effort to eliminate airline terrorism. While the act describes as a way to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses”, the goal increases requirements to obtain documents granting access to domestic planes and certain federal agencies.

The requirement for the general public to use identification with increased security standards for certain activities is one of many steps in the phased roll-out of this act.

Since this is a form of identification, and it’s provided in the form of a driver’s license, many people don’t fully understand the requirements. The first thing you should know is that not everyone needs it. You don’t need one to drive your car, vote, or use for identification. However, after the May 23, 2023 deadline for compliance arrives, a REAL ID will be required for certain activities.

What You Need to Know

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Any eligible citizen 18 or older can get a REAL ID. (The “Who Can Get a REAL ID?” section of this article provides a clear description of eligibility.)
  • A standard driver’s license will still be effective for driving and identification purposes.
  • You don’t need a REAL ID to apply for or receive federal benefits.
  • The requirements officially go into effect on May 23, 2023.
  • A REAL ID or another form of TSA-approved ID will be required to board domestic flights in the United States.
  • You will still need a passport to travel internationally.
  • A REAL ID will be required to enter secure federal facilities (like a military base). This does not include all federal properties (like court proceedings, national parks, and social security offices).
  • One is required to enter a nuclear plant (probably not a surprise to you if you need to enter such facilities).
  • Upgrading from a standard license requires more documents than usual. It’s a great idea to call your DMV before your appointment to get a list.
  • You can’t get one online.
  • Your license is not a REAL ID if it says “Not for Federal Identification” or “Federal Limits Apply.”
  • A REAL ID license is identified by a gold or black star in the top right corner of your license.
  • One includes additional technology that makes it harder to forge.
  • Upgrading may cost more than your usual standard license cost. Pricing varies by state.

Do I Need REAL ID?

In most situations, a REAL ID isn’t required. There are many other forms of identification that can be used in the same capacity. However, you may find it more convenient to use a REAL ID for your primary ID instead of using various identification cards for different purposes. You will need a REAL ID for the following reasons.

  • You fly domestically and don’t have a passport or other form of TSA-approved identification.
  • Enter military bases.
  • Enter nuclear facilities.
  • Need to visit federal courthouses, federal prisons, or other federal facilities that require identification.

Frequently Asked Questions About REAL ID

woman handing over a REAL ID to tsa agent
A female traveler giving ID to customer check-in officer at the airline service counter.

How Do I Get One?

  1. Make an appointment or visit your DMV.
  2. Bring all necessary documents even if you submitted them online.
  3. Pay the fee for your license renewal.

How Do I Know If My License Is REAL ID Compliant?

Many people already have a compliant license. If compliant, a gold or black star marks it on the upper right corner. In contrast, if you’ve recently renewed your license without upgrading to a REAL ID, your standard license is noted NOT FOR FEDERAL IDENTIFICATION.

International Travel

No. You will still need a passport for international flights or other international travel that currently requires a passport. However, if you don’t have a REAL ID, your passport will allow you to travel on domestic flights.

Do Children Under 18 Need a REAL ID for Domestic Flights?

The TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with an adult. However, after the May 3, 2023 deadline, accompanying adults will need one. Traditionally, unaccompanied minors also do not need any form of identification, and this remains the same. However, airlines have varied requirements when children fly alone. While there are currently no hard-fast rules, it’s possible that you will need to have a REAL ID to book a flight for your child to fly alone.

What Documents Do I Need to Get My REAL ID?

  • One document with your full name that proves your identity and date of birth
  • One document with your full name and SSN to prove your social security number
  • Two documents with current physical address proving your place of residence
  • One or more documents verifying any name change (like marriage and divorce certificates)
  • For non-U.S. citizens- one document with full name proving legal status


It’s important to note that all documents must be original (no photocopies or laminated documents). Additionally, a single document can’t prove more than one requirement. Contact us to learn more.

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