What Is a Real ID, and Do I Need One?

If you plan to fly starting in October 2020, you’ll need a Real ID. Here’s how to get one—and why.

Man pulling ID out of wallet, image

Starting October 1, 2020, you may miss your flight if you don't have a Real ID or passport. 

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Your current driver’s license or identification card may serve you well right now, but new state-issued IDs are coming soon. Wherever you live, you’ll want to get a Real ID to make sure you can continue to travel freely: Starting in October 2020, residents of all U.S. states and territories must have a Real ID or valid passport to board any commercial flight.

What is a Real ID?

A Real ID is any state-issued driver’s license or ID card that meets new U.S. federal security standards. These standards were set in 2005, when Congress passed the Real ID Act. The federal rules aim to help ensure that the person presenting a state ID card is actually who he or she claims to be. For example, the new card is difficult to fake; yours might have anti-counterfeiting features such as a hologram. Real IDs are typically marked with a star in the upper portion of the card; the star on the California Real ID, for example, is on the bear in the top right corner.

How do I get a Real ID?

To apply for a Real ID, you’ll need to visit an ID-issuing agency, typically your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or Transportation, or Motor Vehicles Division.

Along with your application, you will be asked to provide:

  • Proof of your identity, such as a certified copy of your U.S. birth certificate, a U.S. passport, a permanent resident card, or a foreign passport with valid U.S. visa and approved I-94 form. 

  • Proof of your social security number, such as your social security card, or a W-2 form or paycheck stub that includes your social security number.

  • Two documents that contain your home address, such as your rental agreement, mortgage, or utility bill. The forms must list your first and last name and match the residential address you provide on your application. 

Why do I need a Real ID?

Most states—including Alaska, Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming—now offer driver licenses and ID cards that meet Real ID standards. Starting October 1, 2020, residents of all U.S. states and territories must have a Real ID, valid passport, or U.S. military identification to:

  • Board a commercial flight.

  • Access some federal buildings and military bases.

  • Enter nuclear power plants.

Does my state currently offer a Real ID?

Some states are already issuing Real IDs; others have asked the federal government for a deadline extension. To find out where your state currently stands, check the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s status map.

If your state is compliant and you don’t have a Real ID, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles or Transportation or Motor Vehicles Division to apply for one.

If your state isn’t offering a Real ID just yet, check back regularly, so you can update your ID before October 2020 if needed. You may be able to make an appointment and even renew an expiring driver’s license by applying for a REAL ID-compliant one.

Can I get a Real ID at AAA?

No. Although AAA offers vehicle title and registration services at many branches, you cannot get a Real ID at AAA.

Visit your state’s ID-issuing agency for specific instructions in your area:

Many DMV services are available at your local AAA branch—no appointment necessary.