Last week marked the latest in a series of compliance deadlines for the REAL ID Act. While a number of states and U.S. territories (including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia) had 2018 compliance extensions that expired on October 10th, all of them were granted additional extensions within the last two weeks. As of today, 35 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico are listed as compliant. The remaining 15 states and 4 U.S. territories have been granted extensions that expire at various points in 2019: January 10th, March 1st, June 1st, August 1st and October 10th. All of this is leading up to the big deadline of October 1st, 2020. After that date, passengers that want to board a commercial aircraft will need to present a REAL ID compliant driver's license, state issued ID or another federally approved form of ID. If passengers don't have a federally approved form of ID, they could be turned away at airport security checkpoints.

While two years may seem like a long way off, it's important to understand what it means to get a REAL ID and why taking steps to attain one as soon as possible (once your state is compliant) is a wise idea. While 35 states may be compliant, those residents still need to undergo the steps it takes to get a REAL ID compliant ID card through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It's a lengthy process and not something that happens automatically, and DMVs are already noting problems with crowding and long wait times, which they are attributing to these new IDs. Moreover, some of those 35 states are not yet set up to issue REAL IDs, so those residents must wait, which means an even shorter time period for them before 2020. Steve Yonkers, Department of Homeland Security Director of Identity and Credentialing, recently stated: "We don't want to create a panic, and states are trying to triage this as much as they can so everyone doesn't come in [to the DMV] at the same time [...] But our big concern is: Does the American public have any idea this is coming up?" Here is what you need to know:

What is the REAL ID Act? As a refresher, the REAL ID Act was enacted on the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the Federal Government "set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses." The REAL ID Act was initially passed by Congress in 2005 and has since been enforced in three phases. The government has now reached the final phase, which addresses boarding commercial aircraft, accessing Federal facilities and entering nuclear power plants.

What is the Status of My State/U.S. Territory? As of October 16, 35 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico are listed as compliant. States and U.S. territories that have been granted an extension are as follows: Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Northern Mariana Islands, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia and U.S. Virgin Islands. You can find an interactive map that also includes extension deadlines on the REAL ID Act website.

What are Acceptable Forms of ID? As all states and U.S territories are either compliant or have been granted an extension, the DHS states that all residents "may continue using their driver's licenses or identification cards, regardless of whether the license/ID is REAL ID compliant or not." After October 1, 2020, all driver's licenses and state issued IDs must comply with the REAL ID Act. At that time, if travelers want to use a state-issued ID or license to fly within the U.S., they must then present a REAL ID compliant ID, if they are over 18. In addition to driver's licenses or other state photo ID cards, the TSA states the following as acceptable forms of identification:

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • DHS-designated enhanced driver's license
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

How Do I Get a Passport? Following driver's licenses or other state photo ID cards, the acceptable form of ID that most people are likely to have--or have access to applying for--is the U.S. passport. For adults, the renewal process can be completed by mail. For those applying for the first time, the government is holding special "Passport Acceptance Fairs" through the end of the year. These fairs are being held in multiple states across the country; you can also still apply through standard methods, as outlined on the U.S. State Department website. And of course, you can always contact your travel provider for passport advice and assistance.

How do I get a REAL ID compliant license or state ID? Unfortunately, this is not a question that's easily answered, as not all states/territories are issuing these IDs yet. The best place to begin is your state DMV website. Many, like New York and Pennsylvania, already have REAL ID sections on their websites, complete with FAQs on the process. While it may seem obvious, the big thing is to check with your state, as everything from how and where to apply can vary. In New York, for example, you must go to a DMV office in person. Pennsylvanians, however, have multiple options, including the ability to get pre-verified in person and then complete the process online. The other thing to note is that the documents needed to get a REAL ID are likely more extensive than what you'd need to get a regular driver's license. Again, it varies, so be sure to check the requirements per state. Once thing, however, is universally true: as you sort through your documents listing your state of birth, social security card and proof of residency, when the time comes, don't forget to bring your patience.