The REAL ID Act: What It Means, State by State Requirements, & Everything Else You Need To Know

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Recently, the Transportation Security Administration began posting signs at airport security checkpoints warning travelers about some upcoming ID requirement changes. So what exactly are these changes, and what do you need to do to be ready?

We’ll break down exactly what REAL ID is, and what it may mean for you and how you travel.

What Is the REAL ID Act?

Formulated in the wake of September 11 and passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act was passed to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”

The act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, and it prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards for official purposes.

It was aimed at eliminating airline terrorism by increasing requirements to obtain documents granting access to domestic planes.

State agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles require more paperwork regarding proof of residency and Social Security Number when issuing licenses and identification cards under the new act.

In addition, the cards themselves will also be built using new technology, making them much more difficult to forge.

It has taken the federal government nearly 15 years to implement the act fully — a gradual process that has been met by some confusion as each state has a different status. However, all states will need to be in compliance by October 1, 2020.

What Does a REAL ID Look Like?

In most states, there is a gold or black star on the front of the license that will signify compliance. If you see this, then you’re good to go.

However, to make it more confusing, a few states have issued compliant IDs without a star (Hawaii, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah). So it’s best to confirm with your state if you don’t see a star.

An easy way to know your card is not compliant is if it says “Not for Federal Identification” or  “Federal Limits Apply.”

REAL ID Compliant vs Non-Compliant - Upgraded Points

What Does It Mean For Me?

Airports are considered federal facilities, and therefore this act affects your ability to enter in order to board your flight.

Starting October 1, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID-compliant license/ID or another acceptable form of identification (like a passport or passport card) for accessing federal facilities — including boarding commercial aircraft.

Residents of states that have already begun issuing the new licenses have until October 1, 2020, to obtain a REAL ID compliant license. So just check your license to be sure.

If it is REAL ID compliant, there will be a star in the top right corner; many drivers may not realize they already have one, since some states have been issuing them for a few years.

But if you have a driver’s license from one of the states that have been granted an extension, your license is good for air travel through the dates noted in our chart.

Each state varies slightly. Also, note that these dates are not set in stone, as states may still obtain another extension beyond these dates as well.

Bottom Line: If you are not in compliance with the REAL ID Act by your state’s deadline, you will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel to board your flight.

What the REAL ID Act ISN’T

A REAL ID is NOT a substitute for a passport for international travel. There are also a few other things that REAL ID doesn’t affect.

REAL ID requirements don’t apply to:

  • Voting or registering to vote
  • Applying for or receiving federal benefits
  • Being licensed by a state to drive
  • Entering federal facilities that do not require identification
  • Accessing health- or life-preserving services (including hospitals and health clinics), law enforcement, or constitutionally protected activities (including a defendant’s access to court proceedings)
  • Participating in law enforcement proceedings or investigation

State by State Guidance

Now that you know what REAL ID is and how it affects you, we want to make sure you understand each state’s status. Check out our map below for more information:

Now that you know where your state stands,  don’t forget to check out the steps you should take next.

What If My State Is Real ID-Compliant?

In order to get a Real ID-compliant license, you must physically go to a DMV office with your identification documents, such as a birth certificate and passport.

States will not send you a REAL ID-compliant license automatically. All states that are “In Compliance” are issuing compliant IDs, however, individuals may still choose not to upgrade their licenses.

What If My State Has Received an Extension?

Even if your state has an extension, you may still have a compliant ID. Double check above for some examples of what a REAL ID looks like.

If your ID matches, you’re good to go — no need to worry!  If you find that you do need to upgrade your license, follow the steps below to make an appointment at your local DMV office.

Steps to Take to Get a Compliant ID

Steps To Get a REAL ID - Upgraded Points

Step 1: Make an appointment to visit a DMV field office before your state’s deadline. Here are the links to all of the local DMVs to help you get started with this process.

DMV Websites Across The U.S.
Alabama DMVAlaska DMVArizona DMVArkansas DMV
California DMVColorado DMVConnecticut DMVDelaware DMV
Florida DMVGeorgia DMVHawaii DMVIdaho DMV
Illinois DMVIndiana DMVIowa DMVKansas DMV
Kentucky DMVLouisiana DMVMaine DMVMaryland DMV
Massachusetts DMVMichigan DMVMinnesota DMVMississippi DMV
Missouri DMVMontana DMVNebraska DMVNevada DMV
New Hampshire DMVNew Jersey DMVNew Mexico DMVNew York DMV
North Carolina DMVNorth Dakota DMVOhio DMVOklahoma DMV
Oregon DMVPennsylvania DMVRhode Island DMVSouth Carolina DMV
South Dakota DMVTennessee DMVTexas DMVUtah DMV
Vermont DMVVirginia DMVWashington DMVWashington, D.C. DMV
West Virginia DMVWisconsin DMVWyoming DMV

Step 2: On the day of your appointment, make sure you bring all necessary documents.  Here are the requirements with notable allowed documents.  Be sure to check with your local DMV to confirm.

  • Proof of identity, such as a certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, employment authorization document, permanent resident card, or foreign passport with an approved form I-94.
  • Proof of your Social Security Number, such as an SSN card, W-2, or paystub with full SSN.
  • Proof of residency document, such as a rental or lease agreement, mortgage bill, utility bill or employment, medical or school document.
  • If applicable: An original or certified copy of a name change document, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree, may be required.

Step 3: Pay fee for license. This will vary by state, but is generally less than $60. Check your state’s DMV website for the specific fee schedule.

What If I Don’t Want a Real ID-Compliant License?

You don’t have to upgrade your license in order to board your flight, but you will have to use an alternative (TSA-approved) form of ID. TSA currently accepts several other forms of identity documents:

TSA-Compliant Forms of ID - Upgraded Points

As you can see, the most common alternatives to a REAL ID will be a U.S. passport or U.S. passport card.

Other less common items would be DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST), permanent resident card, Department of Defense ID, enhanced driver’s license, or federally recognized tribal-issued photo ID.

For more information on acceptable forms of identification for boarding aircraft, please see TSA’s website.

However, it should be noted that if the traveler cannot provide an acceptable form of identification, they will not be permitted through the security checkpoint to board their flight.

What About Children Under 18?

TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. The companion will need acceptable identification though.

Specific airlines may demand proof of the child’s age, such as a birth certificate or passport, but this is not regulated by TSA. Contact the specific airline for more information.

Final Thoughts

Now is the time to make sure you know the requirements in order to be REAL ID compliant.

In some states, it may take a few weeks (or longer!) to get an appointment at your local DMV. By taking steps towards compliance now, you can avoid the last-minute rush and be ready to go long before October 2020.


What is the real ID card?

A real ID is a form of identification that meets increased security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. Travelers will be required to provide either a real ID or another TSA-approved form of identification in order to fly after October 1, 2020.

Which states have real ID?

Currently, all states are either in compliance with the Real ID Act or have an extension in place. This means that they are currently able to issue real IDs. Check our graphic above to make sure you know exactly where your state stands.

Do you need a Real ID to fly?

A Real ID is one valid form of identification you can use in order to fly. However, there are many other TSA-approved forms of identification that are also acceptable. Note that you will still need your US passport or passport card in order to travel internationally.

Do I need a real ID to fly domestic?

A Real ID is one valid form of identification you can use in order to fly. However, there are many other TSA-approved forms of identification that are also acceptable. Be sure to check out our graphic above for other documents that will be accepted at airport security.

Do I need a passport if I have a real ID?

If you are travelling internationally, you will still need your US passport or passport card. If you are travelling domestically, you will only need one valid form of identification – either your real ID OR your passport, not both.

What documents are needed for a real ID?

States require you to go to your local DMV and present 1) proof of identity, 2) proof of your Social Security Number, 3) proof of residency document, and 4) if applicable, proof of name change document.

See our checklist above for examples of each of these items as well as more information on how to obtain a real ID.

Do my kids need a REAL ID?

TSA does not currently require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. So as long as you have your documents in order, kids will not need a REAL ID.

Christy Rodriguez

About Christy Rodriguez

Christy’s first international travel experience was for a summer study abroad program in Italy. After that, she knew that she was destined to travel as much as physically (and financially) possible. Luckily, her husband got a job at Southwest Airlines, so they were introduced to the exciting world of “non-rev” travel. Seven years later, she has visited over 30 countries, mostly on standby.


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  1. Thanks! This is a very informative and useful article.

  2. Troy Winslow Benson · March 7, 2019 · Reply

    I found it helpful, I have my Real ID Compliant Drivers License in PA Now. It arrived online after a simple pre registration process and I ordered it online on March 1, 2019 and it arrived today.

    • Christy Rodriguez · March 7, 2019 · Reply

      Thank you Troy, glad to hear that you found our article useful and that you were able to get your license so easily!

  3. corey jacob · March 8, 2019 · Reply

    I been told by DMV “residency documents” are useless unless the document is mailed directly to a permanent address. example SSI SSDI proof can’t be mailed to a PO box. It has to be mailed to permanent address

    Having the documents itself is useless if your homeless. with no permanent address that is part of the documents cover page that shows on the front of mailed documents.

    I as a homeless person born in Minnesota lost my citizenship through this catch 22 I will shortly be blocked from freedom of movement and will be unable to access services such as SSI office.

    • Christy Rodriguez · March 9, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Corey, it definitely sounds like you are in a unique situation. Our best advice would be to contact your local DMV directly (we have the links in our article) to see if they have an other alternatives to offer you. Best of luck to you!

  4. Jonathan D Smithweiss · March 11, 2019 · Reply

    Wait this is a very confusing article. What’s the point of the state’s extension if it doesn’t go into effect until 2020. Why would a state need an extension that ends before the date? I wonder as I’m from California and I have a domestic flight on April 10 which is after the deadline but there’s no way I would be able to obtain a real ID before then as I had to order a new birth certificate and my Passport is expired

    • Christy Rodriguez · March 12, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Jonathan, extensions are granted on an “as needed basis” and are done to give states extra time to comply with the Act. As noted in the article, states may still obtain an additional extension through 2020, but it is NOT guaranteed. While it is highly likely that California will get an additional extension past April, we just can’t guarantee that with the current information.

      If they do not receive an extension, then starting on the date noted in our chart, you will need another valid form of ID in order to board your flight.

      Also note that you don’t need a REAL ID to fly. You can also use other valid forms of ID such as a Global Entry card. Best of luck to you Jonathan!

  5. Hi, Christy.
    Thanks for this article, it really was very helpful. However, I do have a question. I live in Illinois and our extension is good until June 1, 2019. So, if it’s not extended beyond that date, does that mean that we’ll need other forms of ID to fly starting on June 2, 2019? I have my passport so I’m not as concerned about me. But we have kids who don’t have passports or other acceptable forms of ID and I’m trying to see what we can do for flights after June 1 this year. Appreciate any extra info that you can provide!

    • Christy Rodriguez · March 12, 2019 · Reply

      Thank you for the kind words Joe! Yes, that is what it means regarding the June 1st date. It is very likely that there will be additional extensions, but they just can’t be guaranteed.

      However, TSA does not currently require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. As long as you have your documentation in order (either the Passport, REAL ID, etc) then you should be set!

  6. Teri Clark · March 12, 2019 · Reply

    Hi I have a question. I live in NJ. We are a state that has an extension. We are going on vacation to Florida in May. Florida is a state that is already complient. I dont need the real id to leave NJ but will I need it to fly back from Florida?

    • Christy Rodriguez · March 12, 2019 · Reply

      Hi Teri! Thanks for your comment. The extension relates to the state that your ID was issued in, not where you are flying in and out of. If you are worried about your ID not being valid due to the extension, make sure that you bring along one of the other valid forms of ID noted in our article.

  7. Brianna Jenkins · March 18, 2019 · Reply

    Hey, I am a little confused. Do state IDs – not drivers license, count as real identification? And can they be used to travel domestically?

    I only ask because I’m from Illinois and will be traveling soon to California. I don’t have a passport yet but I keep getting mixed reviews from family and the policies on the internet.

    • Stephen Au · March 19, 2019 · Reply

      Hey Brianna,

      Keep in mind that the REAL ID act is only effective starting October 1, 2020. You can still use your state ID until then for domestic flights. After that, you’ll need to use your passport or get an ID or driver’s license that is in compliance with the REAL ID Act. Thanks for reading.

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