Real ID: what is the deadline, how to update your driver’s license and more


Until now, if you were flying domestically, you could usually just show your driver’s license at the security gate and be on your way, but from this spring your license or ID must be approved by Real ID.

Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, the Real ID Act mandates more consistent and secure standards for identification used for air travel and for entering federal facilities. The Department of Homeland Security was originally scheduled to begin enforcement on October 1, 2020, but pushed back the deadline with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

In April 2021, the agency again postponed the application until May 3, 2023.

“Extending the full Real ID enforcement deadline will give states time to reopen their driver’s license operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card,” the official said. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement at the time.

May may seem distant, but seven months goes by faster than you think. And since many Department of Motor Vehicle offices still require clients to book appointments well in advance, you don’t want to wait until the last minute.

Even if you are already planning to renew your license in the coming months, you will probably need to bring more documents than you normally would.

Here’s everything you need to know about Real ID, including where to apply for one, what you’ll need to bring with you, and what happens if you don’t have one after the May 3 deadline.

To learn more about travel rules, find out how to renew your passport online and what you are entitled to if your flight is delayed or cancelled.

What is a Real ID?

Minnesota driver's license

Real ID is not a separate form of identification, but an enhancement to your standard driver’s license or other state-approved ID.

Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles

Essentially, Real ID is an enhanced version of your standard driver’s license, intended to help authorities fight terrorism and identity theft.

As of 2022, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are compliant with Real ID standards. So if you recently renewed your driver’s license, it’s probably already compliant. If it’s been a few years, however, you’ll probably need to update it.

You can tell by looking at your license: if there is a gold, black or white star in the top right corner, you have a real ID. (There are some minor variations – California places a white star over the state’s bear logo, while Maine places it within a state outline.)

Stars on Real ID

Licenses approved by Real ID will have one of these stars in the upper right corner.

Department of Homeland Security

Real ID sample

An example of a state-issued driver’s license with a Real ID logo on it.

Ohio Department of Public Safety

How can I get a real ID?

Whichever state agency issued your driver’s license will be responsible for distributing the actual IDs. Required documents may vary, but typically include proof of identity and residency and your social security number. (Check your state’s driver’s license agency website for the documents required for true ID.)

After you apply, you’ll receive temporary paper ID until your Real ID-compliant license arrives in the mail about three or four weeks later.

With few exceptions, the cost of obtaining a Real ID-compliant license is the same as renewing your license or non-driving ID. If you don’t have to renew your license yet, you’ll need to pay now.

What happens once the Real ID Act begins to be enforced?

Effective May 3, 2023, federal agencies, including the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), will only accept Real ID-approved licenses and identification cards” for the purpose of accessing federal facilities. “, according to DHS, including airport security checkpoints.

Without it, US adults will need to present a valid passport, even to fly within the country. There are acceptable alternatives to Real ID-compliant cards, including enhanced driver’s licenses, which are issued by the states of Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington.

The TSA will also accept these other forms of identification:

  • US Department of Defense ID
  • Permanent resident cards
  • Border Crossing Cards
  • Tribal-issued, federally-recognized photo IDs

Can Real ID be used instead of a US passport for international travel?

No. Actual ID cards cannot be used for international travel or for border crossings into Canada or Mexico.

Do I need to get a license with Real ID to drive?

No, Real ID is only used to secure domestic travel and access to federal facilities.

Real identity law enforcement from May will not affect other uses of a driver’s license, including verifying an individual’s ability to drive a vehicle or proving that they is of legal age to purchase alcohol or tobacco.

Does my child need real ID?

The Department of Homeland Security does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with an adult companion in the United States.

If your child is underage and traveling alone, they may need to bring a birth certificate or photo ID, depending on the airline. But it doesn’t have to be a Real ID approved license or ID card.

Will getting a real ID add me to a Homeland Security database?

No. The Real ID program only establishes a uniform set of security standards, according to DHS, not a national ID card or database.

“Each jurisdiction continues to issue its own unique license, maintain its own records, and control who has access to those records and under what circumstances,” according to the DHS website.


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