Get a Real ID now, says travel expert: Soon 'that's the ID you're gonna need' to fly


Starting October 1, Americans who want to fly domestically will need a Real ID-compliant driver's license to do so. It's smart to head to the DMV sooner rather than later to avoid long lines and a last-minute scramble ahead of your trip, says Liana Corwin, travel expert at Hopper.

"You'll have the option of renewing [your driver's license] as a driver's license or a Real ID, which is a driver's license," Corwin recently told Grow. "You should get it as a Real ID now, because in less than a year's time, that's the ID you're gonna need."

What a Real ID is and why you may need one

A Real ID-compliant license will look a lot like your driver's license, but it will have a star marking in the top right hand corner to indicate it is a Real ID.

The star signifies that you went through a thorough vetting process to obtain your ID, as set out under The Real ID Act of 2005. It is meant to tighten security and establish "minimum security standards for license issuance and production," according to the Homeland Security FAQ page. Real IDs are a more secure form of identification because you must present more documents to obtain one than you do to obtain a regular driver's license, says Jesse Neugarten, CEO of Dollar Flight Club.

You only need a Real ID to enter federal facilities, board a federally regulated commercial aircraft, or enter a nuclear power plant. "For most of us this isn't relevant in our day-to-day life, but when you're passing through TSA, that's when it's relevant," Corwin says.

How to find if your current ID is compliant

It could be. Before you head off to the DMV, make sure you don't already have a Real ID, Corwin says. "Some states have already implemented the Real ID deadline," and have been issuing compliant IDs for months, she says. "There should be a star that indicates it is a Real ID. If you have that star, your ID is Real ID-compliant."

Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont issue Enhanced Driver's Licenses that also count as Real ID compliant. They don't have a star, but they do require a similar vetting process to obtain, and contain a radio frequency identification chip. An Enhanced Driver's License can be an alternate to a passport that you can use to enter the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, and some Caribbean nations.

When you're passing through TSA, that's when it's relevant.
Liana Corwin
travel expert at Hopper

How much it costs to get a Real ID

The price depends on what state you live in, and in some cases it's more than you'd pay to obtain or renew a regular license. For example, in Pennsylvania, to get a Real ID there is a one-time fee of $30, plus the typical driver's license renewal free of $30.50, for a total of just over $60. In Idaho, there are no additional fees to get a Real ID, but getting a four-year license if you are over the age of 21 costs $40.

Check your state's DMV website to see what yours will cost.

The documents you need to get a real ID

The documents you need may vary by state. At a minimum, according to Homeland Security, you need documentation that shows your full legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, and lawful status, as well as two proofs of address for your principal residence. Check your state's DMV website to see what you should bring, as well as examples of documents that fit the requirements.

Another reason to start the process early: Depending on your situation, it may be more challenging you expect to pull together the necessary documents. Some complaints about the difficulty of getting documents approved have already gone viral on Twitter.


Other forms of ID you can use to get through TSA

There is a list of other documents you may use to get through TSA without a Real ID. The most commonly held one is a passport.

And those under the age of 18 don't need a Real ID if they are accompanied by someone who has one.

If you're not sure if your identification is Real ID-compliant, you'll want to check well before you get to the TSA checkpoint as there are a number of document-related problems you might overlook while rushing to the airport.

If you won't be entering any federal facilities or already have a passport, though, Neugarten says you don't necessarily need to stress about getting a Real ID. "You don't need [a Real ID] to drive or for anything else," he says. "You can still vote, you can still drive."

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