According to recent estimates from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), roughly 180 million Americans' driver's licenses or state-issued IDs are not yet REAL ID compliant. If these people don't have another acceptable form of identification (such as a U.S. passport or DHS Trusted Traveler card) and they still don't have a REAL ID by October 1, then that's 180 million people who won't be allowed past TSA security checkpoints in airports and won't be allowed to fly. Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act establishes minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards and prohibits federal agencies, like TSA, from accepting licenses and identification that are noncompliant. The REAL ID Act has been enforced in three phases and has now reached the final phase; full enforcement is scheduled for the beginning of October.

At my company, Ovation Travel Group, we manage travel for more than 300,000 business and leisure travelers. We understand how all the information about REAL ID-related deadlines, compliance, and application processes can feel confusing and complicated, and we send out continual communications to our clients so they are aware of the latest developments in addition to what they need to do and how much time they have left. With that said, here is what every traveler needs to know now:

Compliance status. At the moment, all states are REAL ID compliant with three exceptions: Oregon has an extension until August 7; Oklahoma has an extension until September 18; and New Jersey is under review. As for U.S. territories, all are compliant apart from the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa, which are under review. An interactive map that includes details on each state or territory is on the REAL ID Act website.

DHS awareness efforts. Critically, the DHS noted recently, "While progress has been made, the real work is still ahead because approximately two-thirds of all licenses are presently not compliant with REAL ID." As such, on January 24, DHS announced a number of initiatives designed to increase education and awareness regarding REAL ID compliance. It is now asking all states and U.S. territories for monthly updates on how many REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses and IDs they have issued. DHS is also communicating with industry organizations and federal agencies. Recently it "met with both the National Governors Association (NGA) and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) to emphasize the importance of getting the American public prepared for the REAL ID deadline."

Electronic document submission. Back in November, the DHS issued a "request for information to receive input on technologies that could assist states and their residents in the digital submission, receipt, and authentication of documents and information" in conjunction with a REAL ID compliant license or state ID. And, on February 19, the DHS announced the results of the submissions and further analysis: "The states may now add the pre-submission of identity and lawful status source documents, through a secure electronic process, prior to an applicant's in-person DMV visit, and physical presentation of those same documents for authentication and verification by DMV personnel."

What does this mean? For those states that opt to allow online electronic document submission, applicants will still have to visit the DMV in person and bring physical copies of all documents required by their particular state. But, because those documents will no longer need to be scanned, copied, and filed onsite, it is anticipated that wait times at the DMV will decrease. Keep in mind that while "DHS is permitting states to undertake these new options, they are not required." To see if your state is participating, check your state DMV website.

Trusted Traveler REAL ID Relief Act of 2020. On February 11, Representatives Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) introduced the Trusted Traveler REAL ID Relief Act of 2020 to Congress. The bipartisan bill stems from the fear that "mass confusion, chaos, and delays [...] will most certainly occur across our nation's airports if proper measures are not taken by October 1." In part, the bill proposes the following:

  • Require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to accept PreCheck enrollment as an alternative to REAL ID-compliant identification for domestic air travel until April 1, 2022.
  • Require TSA to notify the public of the PreCheck exemption and to partner with stakeholders to inform the public of all pending REAL ID implementation requirements.
  • Require TSA to develop and implement alternative screening procedures for those who arrive at an airport checkpoint without an acceptable REAL ID credential or exemption.

The proposed legislation has been praised by multiple industry organizations for its common-sense approach. Trade association and lobbying group Airlines for America called the bill a "positive step toward ensuring that the 2.4 million people who travel every day will be able to flow through the system as seamlessly as possible this fall." And while Lesko expressed hope the bill could get passed and implemented before October 1, she also noted in an interview that agencies don't always like their actions to be mandated and may prefer to take initiative on their own: "They want to do it themselves. So sometimes you drop [legislation] to get them to move."

Getting a REAL ID compliant license or state ID. There are two big issues here. First, there isn't one universal process for getting a REAL ID, and everything ranging from where and when to apply to what documents are needed can vary greatly from state to state. Check your DMV or secretary of state websites to find out what you need to bring, what paperwork to complete, and where to go. And, second, be prepared to wait. Unfortunately, many areas are reporting extreme wait times at DMVs. While lots of places offer appointments, they often aren't available for days, weeks, or even months, so planning early is key. But the good news is that states are beginning to do what they can to combat the increase in volume.

For example, New Hampshire now has a DMV REAL ID hotline to answer related questions (603-4-REALID), and New York and Chicago have extended hours to accommodate everyone that needs a REAL ID; California has been testing electronic document submission at five DMV locations, and it's gone so well the state is about to open up the process for 18 more. Hopefully, more areas will follow suit.

Forms of ID that the TSA accepts. The DHS states that "until full enforcement of REAL ID begins on October 1, 2020, DHS and its component agencies, including TSA at its airport security checkpoints, will continue to accept for identification purposes all state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards issued by both compliant states as well as noncompliant states with a valid extension." After full enforcement, in addition to REAL ID compliant driver's licenses or other state photo ID cards, they will also accept such documents as a U.S. passport and DHS Trusted Traveler card.

You can find a full list of accepted forms of identification by clicking here. And, as of today, you have a little less than seven months to get one of them.