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What Is a REAL ID Driver’s License or ID Card?

A REAL ID driver’s license or ID card is compliant with the REAL ID Act of 2005, which was created in the wake of September 11 and established security standards for state-issued driver licenses and identification cards. Not everyone needs a REAL ID, but they’re convenient for domestic air travel and visiting military bases and other federal facilities. Applying for a REAL ID is similar to applying for a standard license or identification card.

The REAL ID goes into full effect October 1, 2020. Most states are already REAL ID-compliant.

REAL ID Driver License and ID Card Benefits

The main benefit, and the overall purpose of the REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card is that it meets all the identification requirements set forth by the REAL ID Act of 2005. With a REAL ID, you have a government-approved document that proves your identity in a way that’s up to scratch with the security standards the Act requires.

Because of this, the REAL ID allows you to enter airports and board commercial domestic flights without the need for other TSA-approved identity documents. You can use your basic state-issued driver’s license or identification card at airports until October 1, 2020; After that, you must have either a REAL ID or some other TSA-approved identification to fly.
A REAL ID also allows entry to other federal facilities such as military bases.

>>MORE: How to Get an International Driver’s Permit?

REAL ID vs. Enhanced Driver’s License

An Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) is a driver’s license with a few passport benefits. The EDL is compliant with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), meaning the document was designed to meet identity and citizenship requirements when entering the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.

Only a few states issue EDLs: Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington.

The EDL is a form of REAL ID; you don’t have to get a separate REAL ID if you have an EDL.

>>MORE: When Is a Digital Driver’s License a Reality?

Do You Need a REAL ID?

Having a REAL ID is convenient, but not everyone needs one — and not everyone is eligible for one.

You Should Get a REAL ID if:

  • You regularly travel in commercial airplanes and want to show only your state-issued driver’s license or identification card.
  • You don’t already have a U.S. passport or another form of TSA-approved identification.
  • You visit or will visit in the future federal facilities like military bases and don’t have a military identification card.

You Should Not Get a REAL ID if:

  • You’re younger than 18 years old.
  • You only need your driver’s license or ID card for driving and basic age and identity proof
  • You don’t mind carrying TSA-approved identity documents like U.S. passports when you fly commercially (starting October 1, 2020).

>>MORE: What is An Enhanced Driver’s License and Do you Need One?

REAL ID Status by State

States that are REAL ID Compliant: AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY.

States that have extended through August 1, 2019* : KY.

States that have extended through October 10, 2019*: ME, NJ, OK, OR.

Additionally, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are REAL ID-compliant. The government issued extensions for the Northern Mariana Islands (until June 1, 2019*) and American Samoa (until October 10, 2019*).
*States with extensions can apply for additional extensions. If you live in one of these states or territories, check back with the Department of Homeland Security to make sure the extension date hasn’t changed.

>>MORE: Can I Get Car Insurance With a Suspended License?

How to Apply for a REAL ID

As long as your state is compliant, you can apply for a REAL ID driver’s license or identification card.

Your exact application process will depend on your state’s laws; however, you can expect to visit your state’s motor vehicle agency IN PERSON (see below) and bring the following documents:

  • Proof of identity.
    • Most states accept a U.S. birth certificate or passport, permanent resident card, and employment authorization document.
  • Proof of your Social Security Number (SSN).
    • Find your Social Security card or bring a W-2 or paystub that shows your SSN.
  • Proof of residency.
    • For a REAL ID, most states require TWO proofs of residency.
    • Think utility bill, mortgage or lease agreement, and school, employment, and medical documents.
  • Proof of all applicable name changes.
    • Your name must be the same on ALL of the above documents; if it’s not, you must present official documentation of your name changes. Acceptable documents include marriage certificates, divorce decrees, and court documents ordering a legal name change.
  • Payment for the applicable fee.
    • Fees vary by state, but a REAL ID is generally slightly more expensive than a standard driver’s license or identification card, but less than $60 on average.

Most states issue you a temporary REAL ID driver’s license or ID card at the agency; you then receive your permanent card through the mail.

Typically, your REAL ID card with have a star in the top right corner to signify it’s federally-compliant. If your card doesn’t have a star, contact your state agency.

See below for your state’s motor vehicle agency contact information and address:

Summary

Although you’re not required to get a REAL ID driver’s license or identification card, they are extremely convenient. With a REAL ID, you can board domestic commercial flights and enter federal facilities without needing to show additional government-approved identity documents. Most states already issue REAL ID-compliant cards, and the application process is similar to that of a standard license or ID.

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