What is the Real ID and Do I Need One?

Laurie Dubchansky Personal Finance

This holiday season, our relatives from Northern California visited their daughter, living on a Marine base in Southern California. Their story of identification needed at a federal facility sped up my work on this blog! So, today I write about the new identification standard established by the Federal government in response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation. The federal Real ID Act of 2005 was passed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, with backers saying it would increase security by providing a standardized tamper and counterfeit-resistant card for air travel.

As with all my work as a Certified Financial Planner™ professional, this too is in your best interest to learn and understand. Here is the rule:

On Oct. 1, 2020, the federal government will require driver’s licenses or identification cards to be Real ID-compliant to board airplanes and enter military bases or other federal facilities, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

If you don’t have the Real ID, U.S. passports, military ID cards and other Transportation Safety Administration-approved IDs will still be accepted to board planes.

Do I need a Real ID?

“There is no need to rush into a DMV field office,” reads an FAQ on the department’s website. “A valid California driver license or ID card can be used to board a commercial flight or enter secure federal facilities until October 1, 2020.”

The site also notes that not all Californians need Real IDs. “If you know you will not be boarding a domestic flight or visiting a secure federal facility or military base, you do not need a REAL ID driver license or ID card,” the site says. Normal California driver’s licenses are still acceptable for driving, visiting hospitals, applying for federal benefits, and entering post offices or other federal facilities that don’t require Real IDs. Check out this chart from the DMV’s website for clarification:

However, if you don’t get a Real ID, in October 2020 you will need your passport to board domestic flights! To get a Real ID, you need to apply in-person at a DMV office with one document from each section:

  • Proof of identity, such as an original or certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, employment authorization, permanent resident card or unexpired foreign passport with valid U.S. visa and approved I-94 form. No photocopies will be accepted.
  • Proof of Social Security number, such as an SSN card, W-2 or paystub with full SSN. Original or certified copies are required. No photocopies will be accepted.
  • California residency document, such as a utility bill, rental agreement, mortgage or medical document. Photocopies accepted.

If you married, divorced or otherwise changed your name since your license was issued, you may need to provide a name-change document. The shutdown of the federal government does not affect the Real ID process. The Department of Motor Vehicles is a state agency.

If you want a Real ID, don’t delay…

Usually, I renew my driver’s license by mail, but with this new requirement, I decided to renew in-person and apply for the Real ID. My California driver’s license expires in May 2019. I scheduled a first-available appointment online at dmv.ca.gov and my appointment is in April 2019! If your license expires in 2019, and you have plans (or intentions) to travel, I suggest making an appointment soon. If your license is renewed without the Real ID, carry your passport for all travel and entrance to all federal facilities. Note: not all federal facilities are waiting until October 2020 to implement the new rules. One military base began to require the Real ID or passport on October 1, 2018!