The Real Story Behind the REAL ID: What You Need to Know

Although the deadline to have a REAL ID is only several months away, many people still don’t know what it is or why they need it. Below is a brief outline to help you better understand REAL ID and when and why you need it.


What Is REAL ID?

Back in 2005, Congress passed the READ ID Act, which created minimum security standards for driver’s license production/issuance and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting a non-REAL ID for certain purposes. In 2013 DHS implemented a four-phase implementation plan across the country that addressed restricted areas, semi-restricted, and commercial aircraft.

When do I Need It?

As established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), all states have a deadline of October 1, 2020. Per DHS, “By this date, not only must all states be issuing Real ID-compliant licenses or IDs, but individuals must also have visited their state’s driver’s licensing agency and obtained a REAL ID-compliant card, or acceptable alternative such as a U.S. passport if they wish to fly on commercial aircraft or access federal facilities.”

Why Do I Need a REAL ID?

REAL ID is part of a holistic national security strategy coordinated between the states and the Federal Government. It is designed to provide high standards for accurate government-issued identification documents to prevent terrorists from successfully producing fraudulent identification.

You DO NOT NEED a REAL ID to drive, vote, access hospitals, post offices, or federal courts, as well as if you apply for federal benefits such as social security or veterans’ benefits.

What is Needed to Acquire a REAL ID?

According to the DHS website, “At a minimum, you must provide documentation showing:

  • Full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number
  • Two proofs of address of principal residence; and
  • Lawful status

It’s also important to visit your state’s driver’s licensing agency website to find out what other documentation may be required, beyond what is noted above.

How Do I Know If My REAL ID Is Compliant?

All state-issued compliant REAL ID identification cards will include one of the following images on the upper portion of the card. If any of these images DO NOT appear on your card, it is NOT REAL ID compliant.

When Will I Use a REAL ID?

Individuals wishing to board a domestic aircraft, beginning October 1, 2020, will be required to present a REAL ID license, or another acceptable form of identification, such as a passport, passport card, or an approved state-issued Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL). Passengers who do not present any of the above forms of identification at security will be turned away by TSA agents. Visit the TSA website for more details on security screening.

The REAL ID will also be required at all Federal facilities, including areas open to the public, but require ID. It EXCLUDES Federal facilities such as the Smithsonian, where identification is not currently required.


For more detailed information on REAL ID, and how to obtain it, visit the frequently asked questions section of the DHS website, where you can also search for your particular state, and learn about its specific requirements.

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