Passengers walk through an airport concourse toward the departure gate.

Do I Need a REAL ID to Fly?

The REAL ID Act of 2005 is a federal law that put stringent requirements and standards into place for U.S. identifying documents, including state-issued drivers’ licenses and immigration papers.

Real I.D. is currently in the process of being fully implemented throughout the country. While citizens already must meet identification requirements in order to enter nuclear facilities and military bases, the next step for Real I.D. is airport implementation. Being able to fly both domestically and internationally will be dependent upon having the proper identification. Here is what you need to know about the impending REAL ID requirements for air travel.

How Does REAL ID Affect Air Travel?

REAL ID is a series of nationwide standards to maintain stricter security in the issuance of identification materials. For airline travel, this means that U.S. citizens may not be able to use their state-issued drivers’ licenses as an accepted form of identification during airport security checks after January 22, 2018, unless their state has been granted an extension. Beginning on October 1, 2020, all air travelers will be required to have REAL ID-compliant licenses. Individuals with identification from extension-granted states where REAL ID has still not been fully implemented by this time will not be allowed to use their state-issued drivers' licenses.

Certain states offer Enhanced Driver’s Licenses which will continue to be accepted as valid identification. Passports will be accepted, as well. As each state adopts REAL ID requirements, individuals will be able to obtain a REAL ID-compliant license. However, now every state has made the necessary preparations to implement compliance according to the Department of Homeland Security’s timeline.

Is Everyone Required to Have a New License?

While REAL ID is a federal mandate, state participation is voluntary. REAL ID-compliant identification is not mandatory as a general rule. You will not be required to have a new license for registering to vote, driving in your state, entering federal facilities that do not require identification, or accessing health services and law enforcement.

After the January 2018 deadline, however, federal facilities, nuclear plants, and TSA airline checkpoints will require REAL ID identification for entry. Federal agencies are prohibited from allowing people to board flights or enter locations without REAL ID compliant identification after this deadline.

Is My State REAL ID-Compliant?

There are currently three levels of state compliance with the REAL ID Act according to the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS REAL ID

(image via DHS)

  • Compliant
    There are 26 states currently compliant with REAL ID requirements. Air travelers from these states may continue to use their state-issued IDs at TSA checkpoints. These states include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
  • Granted Extension
    There are 24 states that have been granted an extension by DHS for complying with REAL ID guidelines. Air travelers from these states may continue to use their state-issued IDs at TSA checkpoints after the January 2018 deadline. If these states do not reach compliance by October 2020, however, identification from these states will no longer be accepted. These states include: Alaska, California, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota,  Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington.

    Additionally, the 5 unincorporated U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands have also been granted extensions by DHS for complying with REAL ID guidelines.
  • Non-Compliant
    There are currently no states that are non-compliant.

What Do I Need to Do?

As each state adopts REAL ID requirements, you will simply need to obtain a new license. You will need to check your state’s compliance status to see when and if the state government will adopt REAL ID requirements. If your state does not have REAL ID-compliant licenses, you will need to be able to provide other TSA-approved identification in order to fly domestically, such as a passport.

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