The REAL ID Act 2005 was passed by the United States Congress, enacting the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the Federal Government "set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses." The Act put in place new security standards for driver's licenses and identification cards issued by states and federal agencies and prohibited the acceptance of identification that did not meet those standards. The intention is to make it harder to forge identification for the purposes of boarding a plane.
Starting on October 1, 2020, the enhanced ID will be required to board any domestic flights, as well as flights to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. If someone does not have the new enhanced identification, they can instead present a passport or another type of federally accepted form of identification. These may include things like a passport, a permanent resident card, or a federally recognized tribal ID. Children under the age of 18 do not need to have an enhanced ID. However, any adult accompanying a minor will still need some form of secure identification.
REAL ID State Implementation
Some states have been issuing REAL ID-compliant licenses for several years now. This means that there is already the possibility that your state-issued identification is already compliant. In some states, a DHS REAL ID is marked by a star on the top right-hand corner of the card.
Most states and territories are already in compliance with the REAL ID Act, while others have requested and were granted extensions. The The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a map that shows the status of each state and territory. According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, 47 out of the 50 states are currently REAL ID compliant. By comparison, in January 2017, only 26 states followed all REAL ID requirements.
Currently, only Oregon, Oklahoma, and New Jersey are the only states that aren't REAL ID-compliant. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, provides state-issued enhanced driver's licenses, but they are not mandatory. Unfortunately, this situation only leads to more confusion among citizens about the REAL ID standards. According to the US Travel Association, only 43% of all Americans are even aware of the October 2020 deadline.
Also, according to the Department of Homeland Security, only 27% of Americans have been issued a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or other acceptable forms of identification, even though the majority of states have been issuing these documents for years. For instance, although Georgia became compliant in 2012 or California in 2018, all driver's licenses and identification cards issued before that time in those states are not compliant licenses.
Furthermore, these enhanced drivers licenses cannot be transferred between states. If you move to a different state, you will have to apply for a new enhanced ID and present the same documentation in the form of a passport or Social Security card, birth certificate, two proofs of residence address. You will also need to meet all of your new state's issuance and identification requirements. You can typically use your REAL ID card from another state as any other out-of-state driver license to waive driving tests.
Also, some states charge more for an enhanced ID than they do for a standard ID. To obtain an enhanced ID, you will need to physically go to a licensing office (such as Department of Motors Vehicles, or DMV) with documents that prove your US citizenship; you cannot get your enhanced ID online.
Do You Need the REAL ID?
If you only need an ID for identification purposes, and you have a passport or other forms of ID accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), you most likely do not need to get the enhanced ID. To get past the airport security checkpoints, you need to make sure you have an extra form of ID. However, you do have to worry about having an enhanced ID if you fly frequently or need to visit a secure federal facility often.
When is the REAL ID Not Required?
While you need the enhanced ID to fly within the United States, it is still not enough for an international flight. To fly internationally, you will need a valid passport, in addition to your REAL ID. However, you can continue to use your traditional ID to drive across state lines or to travel by train.
You also won't be required to have an enhanced form of identification in certain situations such as:
- Applying for or receiving federal benefits
- Voting or registering to vote
- Being licensed to drive or rent a car
- Accessing hospitals, clinics, or other health services
- Entering federal agencies that do not require a non-compliant ID; these may include Social Security offices, National Parks, or a defendant's access to court proceedings.
- Taking part in law enforcement investigations or proceedings
- Purchasing alcohol, cash checks, or gambling
Forgetting Your ID at Home
In the event that you arrive at the airport without a valid ID, either because you lost it or left it at home, you may still be allowed to fly. For domestic air travel, the TSA officer may ask you to complete an identity verification process. This will include collecting data such as your full name, address, and other personal information.
Once your identity is confirmed, you will be allowed to enter the airport security checkpoint. You will be subject to additional screening processes, such as a pat down and carry-on screening. If, however, your identity cannot be confirmed, cannot provide proper identification, or decline to cooperate with the TSA, you will not enter the security checkpoint. Whatever the case, the TSA recommends that you should have all ID requirements for domestic flights and show up at the airport at least two hours before your flight.
What Document Can Qualify as a REAL ID?
As mentioned, starting October 1, 2020, you will need to have a REAL ID or another TSA-approved ID to fly domestically and internationally. So, in order to travel, adult passengers of 18 and over will need to show a valid ID, including one or more of the following:
- REAL ID-compliant state driver's license or other state photo IDs
- US passport and/or passport card
- US Department of Defense ID (this includes IDs issued to dependents)
- Permanent resident card
- Border crossing card
- DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
- Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
- Foreign government-issued passport
- Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
- HSPD-12 PIV card
- Transportation worker identification credential
- US Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
- US Merchant Mariner Credential
These restrictions are a real concern for US Travel. Airlines, hotels, national tourism boards, and other members of the travel industry fear that they will see a sudden drop in tourists flying within the United States and its territories starting October 2020.
For more information on the REAL ID, you can contact the REAL ID Program Office at REALID@dhs.gov.