Your company has picked you to represent them at a networking opportunity. You have your luggage packed and your presentation and all your materials you've worked on for months ready to go in your carry-on, just in case. You get to airport security only to be turned away because you don't have a federally compliant form of identification that allows you to board the aircraft.

This might be a reality for many travelers starting next year. Beginning October 1, 2020, travelers will need to have a REAL ID compliant form of identification in order to travel domestically (you will still need a passport to travel internationally). 

Fortunately, it's not hard to get. In fact, some people may already have one. But, if you don't, you will need to plan ahead as it may be harder to get once the deadline gets closer.

What is REAL ID?

In response to the attacks on 9/11, Congress passed a law in 2005 that requires states to have and issue a standard for drivers licenses and identification cards that the federal government can accept for official purposes. This is intended to boost security and help manage identity fraud and theft. 

Since driver's licenses are issued by individual states and not the federal government, this law will establish standards for security that all states must comply with. Prior to this law, driver's licenses (and optional identification cards for non-drivers) varied by state, including the personal information that was featured on the cards. The new requirements will ensure that information that is provided and required will be uniform across the board.  

Starting October 1, 2020, only driver's licenses, identification cards, and other acceptable alternatives such as passports that are in compliance with the law will be accepted. REAL ID's will be required for domestic flights, for entry into federal buildings, and for entry into nuclear power plants. Though, the United States Department of Homeland Security can require a REAL ID for admittance to other facilities.  

Because the law was passed in 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not likely grant extensions. 

Who will need REAL ID?

Every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID compliant form of identification (or alternate form of identification such as a passport) in order to be able to enter federal facilities, nuclear power plants, and for boarding commercial aircraft. If you are accessing a federal facility that does not currently require identification, such as the Smithsonian museums, you will not have to worry about having a REAL ID.

TSA will not require children under the age of 18 to provide REAL ID compliant identification so long as they are traveling with a companion within the United States. Their companion, however, will be required to have compliant identification. If they are traveling abroad, they will still need a passport. Here is a list of acceptable forms of identification that comply with TSA regulations.

Additionally, DHS recommends contacting the appropriate agency in advance if you plan to visit a federal facility and are unsure of the required documentation. While it's mainly required for "official purposes", it may not be necessary for activities such as banking, voting, driving, etc. However, DHS recommends checking individual state requirements.

How do you get a REAL ID?

Fortunately, it's not hard to get a REAL ID or other form of identification that is compliant. In fact, many states have already transitioned into these new guidelines. The best way to get a REAL ID is to visit your state's driver's licensing agency website to learn more about what you will need.

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Some states have already issued REAL ID compliant cards in the last few years. If your driver's license or identification card has a star, an outline of a star inside a circle, or a bear with a star in the upper right corner of your card, you likely already have a REAL ID compliant card.

Some states have issued Enhanced Driver's Licenses (EDLs). These are not only REAL ID compliant and driver's licenses, but they are also accepted as alternatives for entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean through a land or sea port of entry. Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington are currently the only states issuing these licenses.

As you can see in the example above from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the first card is an example of an Enhanced Driver's License, the second card is an example of a REAL ID compliant license, and the third is a standard license. To best ensure that you have the right ID, contact your state's driver's licensing agency.  

You can also learn more about REAL ID at the DHS website