Real ID Act: Birth Certificate requirements

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 May 3rd, 2023. U.S. residents will need to meet the REAL ID requirements in order to get theirs.

Extension to the REAL ID deadline

In April 2021 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the deadline that citizens must swap their older ID for a form of REAL ID had been extended to May 3, 2023. Originally the cut off date had been set for October 1, 2021.

This change has been made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited the ability for DMVs across the country to respond to the usual volumes of applications. At present, most state DMVs can only attend to residents via appointment-only scheduling.


Do You Need a REAL ID to Fly in 2022?

You won't yet need a REAL ID to fly In 2022. If you’re a U.S. resident taking a domestic flight, you’ll be able to show one of TSA’s approved identification documents. For any international flights, you’ll need to show a passport.

However, beginning May 3, 2023, every air traveler aged 18 years or older will require a REAL ID-compliant identification to pass through TSA airport security checkpoints for domestic flights.

This will cover all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and five U.S.territories. A passport will still be required to fly internationally, and a REAL ID will not be accepted as a substitute for your passport.

You can check if an identification document is REAL ID-compliant by looking if there’s a star at the top of the document. If you’re unsure, contact your state driver’s license office on how to get a REAL ID card.

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 May 3rd, 2023, 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 May 3, 2023
  • Cannot be used to enter a secure federal facility starting May 3, 2023
  • 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 May 3, 2023) ✔️
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 REAL ID, as some states have been issuing them for a few years now.

Is a Birth Certificate REAL ID?

No, you cannot get a REAL ID replacement birth certificate. This campaign aims to replace government photo ID with harder to forge copies and a birth certificate doesn’t fit that criteria.

However, you can use your birth certificate as an official form of ID when replacing your current driver's license or photo ID with a REAL ID compliant replacement. This will need to be presented during the application process.

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 (issued by a city, county, or state vital statistics office, U.S. passport, employment authorization document, permanent resident card, or foreign passport with an approved form I-94. Please note that “abbreviated” or abstract birth certificates will not be accepted. 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 and whether or not you are getting a new license, renewal, or duplicate. If you only want to upgrade to a REAL ID and your current license is not expiring, then there will most likely be an additional cost. For example, New Jersey charges an $11 extra change fee. However, if you have an expiring New Jersey license and upgrade to a REAL ID once it expires, you only have to pay a $24 renewal fee. In general, expect to pay between $10 to $80 to upgrade to a REAL ID, with most people usually paying $50 or less.

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

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

Read more: Real ID compliant states