What is a REAL ID?

June 28, 2018

woman driving white convertible
Does your driver’s license have a little gold star on it? If not, you may soon get one — not because you’re a star driver, but because the Department of Homeland Security is enforcing the switch to Real IDs.

A REAL ID is a driver’s license or ID card that meets strict federal standards for security. By October 1, 2020, you’ll be required to have a REAL ID (or another approved document, like a passport) in order to board a domestic flight, enter a federal building, or visit a military base.

Why Do I Need a One?

The law does not say you need to have a REAL ID. You may continue using your traditional driver’s license after October 1, 2020, although you’ll need a U.S. passport or military ID to board a domestic flight or enter a secure federal building/military base. It’s important to know that you don’t need a REAL ID to:

  • Enter federal facilities that don’t require a person to present identification
  • Vote, or register to vote
  • Apply for or receive federal benefits
  • Be licensed to drive
  • Access health services, like hospitals or clinics), law enforcement, or constitutionally protected activities
  • Participate in law enforcement proceedings or investigations

Basically, you can go on living your life without a REAL ID.

Compliant States vs Extension States

So far, all U.S. states are either compliant with the REAL ID Act or have filed for an extension.

Compliant States:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington D.C.
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
States that Filed Extensions:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakoda
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Concerns About REAL ID Compromising Privacy

Many people — including some state governments have opposed the REAL ID program because of privacy concerns. They worry the U.S. government was using them for a vast national database (which the government has denied). People are concerned about identity theft and the security of their information. Facial recognition image capture is required for all applicants, for example

Can I Get My REAL ID Online?

Maybe your idea of a good time is spending a morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV), waiting for your number to be called. If not, however, you should try to apply for your REAL ID online.

Did you get your first permit, driver’s license, or identification card sometime during or after November 2010? If so, the DMV probably has the documents you need for a REAL ID in its files. Try visiting your local DMV website: Just enter your driver’s license number, social security number, and date of birth, and the DMV will tell you if you’re eligible to simply change your regular driver’s license to a REAL ID.

Not eligible? You’ll have to go to a DMV branch to get it. First, check the wait times and hours for local branches. You can see in real time if there are 45 people in line ahead of you or just three.

What Documentation Will I Need?

To change your current card to a REAL ID, you must bring four types of documents to your local DMV:

  1. Proof of identity
    • Examples: Government-issued birth certificate or unexpired U.S. passport
  2. Proof of social security number
    • Examples: Social security card or W-2 form that has your social security number and name and your employer’s name
  3. Two proofs of your current, physical address
    • Examples: Current, unexpired driver’s license or identification card and a utility bill, dated within the last 90 days, with the same name and address.
  4. Proof of all legal name changes
    • Examples: Marriage license or official certificate, or court order issued by your county’s probate or family court, or a valid U.S. passport or U.S. passport card with your current, legal name. You must show a complete name change history that links your birth certificate name to your present-day name.

All these documents must be original or government-issued copies — not a scan or photocopy.

Can I Get a REAL ID if I’m Not a U.S. Citizen?

Yes, but you still must bring all the ID documents as described above. (You can bring a nonwork authorized status from the Social Security Administration if you don’t have a social security number.) You’ll also need to show proof of your authorized length of stay within the U.S. Undocumented immigrants can’t get a REAL ID.

If you’re eligible, your ID will be valid for the same length of time as your authorized length of stay in the US, but not more than five years.

How Long is the Expiration?

Your current driver’s license may have been valid for 10 years, but that has changed. The new IDs — whether a REAL ID or a traditional license — are good for eight years, and cost the same as your originally issued driver’s license.

Don’t Wait Until Last Minute

As the Oct. 1, 2020 deadline creeps closer, more people will line up to get their new IDs. If you think you may need one — if you’re planning to fly and don’t have a passport, for instance — you should go ahead and get yours soon.

While You’re Upgrading Your ID, Upgrade Your Auto Insurance Too!

One thing hasn’t changed about the driver’s license process: You’ll still need to certify that you have car insurance to legally drive in most states. Some states offer an uninsured motorist fee but this is highly discouraged. If you feel like you’re paying too much for insurance, you should compare quotes for car insurance on Compare.com. It’s fast. It’s free. It’s easy!

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