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The deadline for the Real ID is under a year away: Here's how to upgrade while dodging the DMV

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Key Points
  • Starting May 3, 2023, all travelers will need a Real ID-compliant driver's license or state identification card to get through security screening at all U.S. airports'
  • If you belong to AAA, you could get one there instead of at the DMV.
  • Real IDs will be required to board a commercial flight and to enter federal facilities and nuclear power plants.

Visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles is a notoriously stressful experience punctuated with long lines and restless guests. If you don't already have a Real-ID compliant driver's license, though, a trip to your local DMV might be inevitable.

Starting May 3, 2023, all travelers will need a Real ID-compliant driver's license or state identification card to get through security screening at all U.S. airports. The deadline to get your Real ID, originally in 2020, has been pushed back numerous times due to Covid.

There's a way to upgrade while avoiding the unpleasant DMV experience altogether, says Andrew Gross, a spokesperson for AAA. "Some AAA clubs offer driver's license and renewal services to members, including new issuance and renewal REAL ID licenses, but a person would need to check with their local club."

What is a Real ID?

Real ID-compliant licenses, the final phase of the Real ID Act passed in 2005, look a lot like your standard driver's licenses but have a star in the top right-hand corner. The star signifies that you underwent a thorough vetting process.

Real IDs will be required not only to board a commercial flight but to enter federal facilities and nuclear power plants, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

If you don't have a Real ID, Transportation Security Administration officers will also accept your passport (U.S. or foreign), Global Entry card, and a few other forms of identification.

Even with this delayed deadline, you might want to consider getting your ID now, Gabe Saglie, senior editor at deal site Travelzoo, told Grow. "The sooner we get up to date with things like Real ID applications and renewed passports, the smoother our return to travel will be," he said.

Depending on where you live, a Real ID can cost more to obtain or renew than a regular license. For example, Pennsylvania charges a one-time fee of $30 for Real IDs, on top of its typical driver's license renewal fee of $32.50.

Not all states are charging extra. In Missouri, a Real ID-compliant license is the same price as a noncompliant license. Check your local DMV's website for costs.

How to get a Real ID through AAA

Instead of booking an appointment at your DMV, you can book an appointment at you local AAA branch. You'll still have to fill out all the usual paper work and bring in the necessary documents.

"Not all clubs offer the service," Gross says. "So the best we can say is for people to check with the AAA club that they belong to and inquire if they offer these services."

You can find out whether your branch offers renewal services by checking their website or the state government website. In Southern California, for example, 19 branches offer the service, according to the California DMV website. In Massachusetts, 34 locations offer the service, according to the Massachusetts government website.

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