Real ID Act: Requirements and implementation dates

The Real ID Act was formulated in the wake of September 11 and was passed by Congress in May 2005. It was an Act of Congress that modified the U.S. federal law that is in charge of security, authentication and the issuing of procedures for state driver’s licenses, identity documents and various immigration issues related to terrorism.

Furthermore, the Real ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission's recommendation to the federal government. The Act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. It prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses and IDs from states that do not meet the established standards.

During the last months, States have been implementing the necessary changes to meeting the key recommendation made on the 9/11 Commission.

Real ID implementation

The following is implemented by the Real ID Act:

  • Title II of the Act establishes new federal standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards.
  • Modifying visa limits for temporary workers, nurses, and Australian citizens.
  • Funding reports and pilot projects linked to border security.
  • Introducing new rules that cover “delivery bonds” (Similar to bail, but for aliens who have been released pending hearings).
  • Updating and tightening the laws on application for asylum and deportation of aliens for terrorism.
  • Waiving the laws that interfere the construction of physical barriers at the borders.

The goal of the act was to eliminate airline terrorism by increasing requirements to obtain documents that allow a person to take domestic flights.

Due to the Real ID Act, state agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles require more paperwork regarding proof of residency and Social Security Number before they can issue a license or an ID.

The cards themselves are built using new technology and are more difficult to forge. It has taken the federal government almost 15 years to implement the act to its full extent. The process has been gradual as each state has a different status. However, it is expected that all states are in compliance with the act by October 1, 2020. U.S. residents will need to meet the REAL ID requirements in order to get theirs.

How do I know if I need a Real ID?

The REAL ID ACT was established to prevent identity theft and increase national security. However, what does the REAL ID Act mean for travelers? As of October 1st, 2020, anyone who is a resident in the United States will need to have a Real ID identification to pass through TSA security at airport checkpoints.

The easiest way to know if you really need a REAL ID is if you are planning to travel by airplane or visit federal facilities. It should be noted, however, that if you have one of the following documents, you do not need a REAL ID card:

  • Valid passport
  • Military ID
  • Other federally approved document

If you plan on taking domestic flights, you will always need to carry a federally approved document.

Residents in the United States should note that a Federal Non-Compliant card:

  • Cannot be used for boarding a plane starting October 1, 2020
  • Cannot be used to enter a secure federal facility starting October 1, 2020
  • May require showing further evidence of legal presence to purchase a firearm

The table below sums up the differences between a standard ID or driver's license and a real ID or driver's license.

Differences between standard ID and Real ID
Purpose Standard ID / Driver's License Real ID / Driver's License
General identification ✔️ ✔️
Driving ✔️ ✔️
Boarding a domestic flight (after October 1, 2020) ✔️
Entering a federal facility or military base ✔️

Source: PennDOT Driver & Vehicle Services

What does a Real ID look like?

In order to get a REAL ID card you will need to visit a DMV office with the required documents. You can complete your driver’s license application online. A gold or black star in the top right corner will identify your document as a federal compliant REAL ID driver's license and identification card. If your ID does not have a star verify with your state to make sure you have a federal compliant ID.

It is possible that you may already have a READ ID, as some states have been issuing them for a few years now.

Requirements to get a Real ID

If you don’t already have a Real ID, there are a few steps you can take to get it. Be sure to read about the Real ID requirements and how to proceed.

  1. Make an appointment to visit a DMV field office
  2. Once you have made an appointment, be sure to bring the following: a. Proof of identity: you can bring a certified copy of your birth certificate, U.S. passport, employment authorization document, permanent resident card, or foreign passport with an approved form I-94. b. Present proof of your Social Security Number, for example, your SSN card, W-2 or paystub with full SSN. c. Show proof of residency document, such as a rental or lease agreement, mortgage bill, utility bill or employment, medical or school document. d. If applicable, an original or certified copy of a name change document, such as marriage certificate or divorce decree.
  3. Pay for the respective fee. The fee will vary depending on each state.

At this time, all states are either in compliance with de Real ID Act or have an extension. The alternative to a REAL ID are a U.S. passport or U.S. passport card.

As of March 2019, the states and territories listed below have been certified by the Department of Homeland Security as being in compliance with DHS criteria.

Read more: Real ID compliant states

If you apply for a REAL ID, note that you will still need to obtain a U.S. passport in order to travel abroad.