Will You Really Need a Real ID to Fly Within the U.S.?

As early as January 2018, states like California, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island began rolling out “Real ID” cards. Curious about what this is, its various requirements or how it might impact you? Here’s what you need to know about the true worth of a Real ID.

Do I really need a Real ID?

Effective October 2020, U.S. residents can no longer rely on a standard driver’s license to board a flight. If that’s your preferred ID while traveling, yes, you might want to seek out a Real ID, which is accepted at all American airports.

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In the absence of a Real ID, however, you can still provide an airport security agent with a passport, passport card, or any form of alternative ID listed on the TSA’s website.

A Real ID isn’t a requirement. In fact, it might feel like an extra hurdle with little purpose, in which case, sticking with your driver’s license is perfectly fine. A Real ID is not required to drive or vote, nor is it a substitute for a passport.

Why does it matter then?

If you don’ t want to run the risk of losing your passport, or more importantly, you’re already in the process of renewing your license anyway because it’s about to expire, opting for a Real ID is a good move. If you can save yourself from bringing a passport on every domestic flight, then why not? (And you should know that replacing a lost passport involves a lot more than a trip to the DMV.)

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If you renew your existing standard license, you aren’t automatically provided with a Real ID, either. That will often require an in-person visit to your DMV, unlike some states which allow for standard license renewal online.

What does a Real ID look like?

Most likely identical to your last driver’s license, but with a gold or black star in the upper-right hand corner. (In California, it’ll come with a picture of a bear, too.) Renewed standard drivers’ licenses will have “federal limits apply” stamped across its corner, or in other words, you are limited access to flights by your particular ID.

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How do I obtain one?

First, you’ll need to figure out if your state is Real ID compliant. While most are, some states are still behind in the process and have been granted an extension by the federal government. You can check out the chart on Upgraded Points for your home state. If you’re living in a state with an extension, you’ll have to sit tight until it’s in effect.

Also, as every state operates differently, you should know the process might differ in your area. Be sure to do an online search for your state’s DMV and Real ID requirements. (Upgraded Points also provides a list of official state DMV’s on its website.)

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After setting up an appointment, most likely, you’ll need to provide proof of identity (like a birth certificate), a social security number card, two proofs of residency (like a utility bill and a bank statement), and pay a small fee upfront, usually less than $60.

Depending on the state, you’ll usually receive a temporary paper ID and receive the new ID in the mail (or just receive one in person at the DMV).

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What prompted this change?

Dating back to 2005, the Real ID Act was passed in an effort to establish minimum security standards for identification like driver’s licenses. Yes, it’s taken over a decade for states to begin rolling them out and has been met with controversy in the wake of Trump’s administration, forcing DMV agents to make judgments about someone’s lawful status in the U.S.

As it requires proof of residency, it can become difficult for someone without a stable living situation; immigrants rights’ advocates have long opposed its implementation. Luckily, for now, it’s an optional requirement with a benefit for those travelers whose licenses are about to expire.

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