If, by May 3, 2023, you have not applied for and obtained a form of identification that meets the requirements established by the Real ID Act, you may not be allowed to board an airplane or enter certain buildings. If you’ve never heard of this before, you’re not alone. The Real ID Act was signed into law in 2005 and was based on recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission in response to the terrorist attacks of 2001. The Act establishes additional requirements and standards relating to issuance of forms of official identification. In 2013, eight years after the Real ID Act was passed, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its plan for phasing in and enforcing this federal law. The original deadline for obtaining your qualifying identification was October 1, 2021, but was extended to May 3, 2023, due to the COVID pandemic.
- For clarification, when drafted, the name of this legislation appeared in print as “The REAL ID Act,” but, according to a Department of Homeland Security publication entitled “Acronyms (and other forms of abbreviation)” published in November, 2008, “no one could come up with a spell out for REAL” and the capitalization was removed. Both versions of the name are still in use. This article uses the DHS version and refers to compliant identifications as “Real ID.”
- The Real ID Act was one of the steps taken by the federal government in the wake of the 9/11 attacks with the intent of increasing security at airports. Most of the burden for issuance of compliant identifications falls upon the state agencies responsible for issuing driver’s licenses.
- While driver’s licenses may be the most common form of Real ID, there are others that qualify as well. Passports, military identification cards, and Global Entry cards also meet the requirements. If you aren’t familiar with Global Entry cards, they are issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to American citizens who are frequent international travelers. They aren’t easy to get. Personal interviews and a screening process along with a thorough background check are among the requirements.
- If you do not have a qualifying Real ID by May 3, 2023, the new date set to begin enforcing the law, you will no longer be allowed to board a commercial airliner. You will also be barred from entering federal buildings and other facilities including nuclear power plants.
How do you know if you already have a Real ID, and what if you don’t?
- The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the ability of many state agencies to fully implement their programs to issue Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses, resulting in the deadline extension, but some states were already issuing them. If your driver’s license has a small star symbol near the top, congratulations. You have a Real ID. If you aren’t sure, or if you want more information about how to get one in your state, you can go to the DHS website at dhs.gov/real-id.
- If it turns out that you need to get a Real ID from the agency in your state that issues driver’s licenses, you’ll probably be required to produce your passport or birth certificate, your Social Security card or documentation that verifies your Social Security number, and two documents (like utility bills) to show proof of your address. You may want to contact the appropriate state agency in advance just to verify what you’ll need.
- Some may not need to produce or do anything other than simply wait for your new Real ID driver’s license to arrive. In the State of Texas, for example, those who had licenses to carry handguns had already provided all the identity verification needed and had undergone background checks that were beyond what was required by the federal law, thus they were automatically issued Real ID driver’s licenses when their renewals came due.
It’s a good idea to act now
- If you do not have a Real ID, you should probably get the process started as soon as possible. Lines at driver’s license offices are usually long under normal circumstances. With the pandemic having kept people at home and the deadline approaching, imagine how long the lines will get as May, 2023, draws near. Considering that, as of April, 2021, it was estimated that less than half of Americans already had a qualifying Real ID, and given that some remain completely unaware of this law, the time to act is now.
- If, by May 3, 2023, you have not obtained an official form of identification that satisfies the requirements set forth in the Real ID Act, you will not be allowed into certain buildings and any air travel plans you have might need to be canceled. The good news for some is that they may already have a qualifying ID and not know it. Check your driver’s license for the small star symbol. If you’re not sure whether you have an ID that will meet the requirements, check with your state’s licensing agency or visit dhs.gov/real-id for more information. If you need to start the process of obtaining your Real ID, it is recommended that you do it soon to avoid the rush as the deadline approaches.