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What Travelers Need to Know About the Real ID Deadline Extension

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 12/5/2022 Jessica Puckett
Gatwick Airport, London, United Kingdom © Derek Croucher Gatwick Airport, London, United Kingdom

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would once again push back the deadline to acquire a Real ID—a new and enhanced form of driver's license—by two years, to May 2025.

Previously, the new federal rules that require a Real ID-compliant form of identification to board any domestic airline flight were set to take effect on May 3, 2023. However, DHS extended the timeline due to lingering delays and backlogs caused by COVID. The later deadline is good news for U.S. travelers planning to fly next year who had yet to acquire the new enhanced IDs. The new federal rules are now set to take effect on May 7, 2025. 

“This extension will give states needed time to ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement. “DHS will also use this time to implement innovations to make the process more efficient and accessible.” 

Organizations across the air travel industry applauded the decision. “Despite previous extensions to REAL ID implementation, the saturation of REAL ID compliant licenses and identification cards remains low,” Kevin M. Burke, the president and CEO of Airports Council International, North America. “This extension will allow individuals more time to obtain compliant identification, helping to prevent undue travel disruptions and preserving the health of the aviation system as we continue to navigate the pandemic’s impacts on global air travel.” 

When the extension ends in 2025, officials will enact strict regulations on what identification will be accepted by the TSA at security checkpoints—even for domestic flights. Using a standard driver's license will no longer get you onboard a plane. Rather, all air passengers boarding flights within the U.S. will need to show a Real ID-compliant driver's license, or another form of identification like a passport or Global Entry ID. Fortunately, it's already possible to obtain a Real ID at most local DMVs.

Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming deadline for Real ID to ensure you have the right up-to-date identification for your travels. 

What is the new Real ID requirement?

The regulation is part of a law passed by Congress in 2005, which set new federal security standards for driver’s licenses and other forms of identification used to board planes in the U.S. The new standards apply to all states and territories. After the rules go into effect, driver’s licenses and other IDs that don’t meet the new requirements will not be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration for passing through airport security checkpoints.

Even if you have a TSA PreCheck or a Clear membership, you will need a Real ID-compliant form of identification to make it past airport security. A Global Entry card is considered Real ID–compliant and will be accepted under the new rules. Children under 18 get some leeway, as TSA does not require them to present identification when traveling with a companion within the U.S. As always, on an international trip, passports and other documents may be required by the airline or other agencies.

When is the Real ID deadline?

The new rules will go into effect on May 7, 2025. That's the date that all U.S. residents need to have a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or other approved identification in hand to make it past airport security

How do I get a Real ID driver's license?

All 50 states and most U.S. territories are now issuing driver's licenses that are compliant with the new rules. (American Samoa's compliance is still under review, according to the Department of Homeland Security's website.) You simply need to visit your DMV in person to renew or replace your old license with a Real ID version. 

It's important to note that, confusingly, states that are Real ID compliant are also still allowed to issue licenses that are not considered Real IDs, so be sure to clarify with your DMV that you are requesting a Real ID.

Applying for a Real ID usually requires more documentation to prove your identity—and sometimes costs more—than obtaining a driver's license did in the past, and your state's DMV website should have a list of the required paperwork. Typically, the required documents include a birth certificate or passport, social security card, multiple proofs of residence in your state (like a utility bill or bank statement), and proof of U.S. citizenship, lawful permanent residency, or temporary lawful status.  

Depending on whether you already have a license or other factors like citizenship status, additional documents may be required or you may be eligible to substitute other documents for ones you may be missing (for instance, if you're renewing a license in New York state, you can show a W-2 form with your full social security number in lieu of a SSN card). Be sure to read the list of required documents carefully. The Department of Homeland Security has an interactive map tool on its site that navigates users to each state's individual requirements.

What other forms of identification work to board a plane under the new rules?

Valid passports or passport cards will still work to get you through security for domestic flights, and passengers will still need them to board international flights. Global Entry membership cards are also valid for domestic flights under the new regulations, as are various forms of military ID, tribal-issued ID, and other government-issued IDs. You can see a full list of accepted documents on the TSA’s website.

How do I know if my current driver’s license is acceptable under Real ID rules?

Real ID driver’s licenses are marked with a star in the top corner. (It’s worth noting one confusing state policy: Ohio's old licenses have a gold star, while its Real IDs have a black star.) Enhanced driver’s licenses—which are slightly different, but are issued by some states in addition to Real IDs and are also acceptable under the new rules—have a flag in the corner.

What about airports that accept mobile driver's licenses? 

Earlier in 2022, TSA began allowing fliers with PreCheck to use a mobile driver's license uploaded to their iPhone at certain airports. However, the agency says that any passenger using a mobile driver's license still needs to carry a physical ID with them as a backup. So even TSA PreCheck passengers opting to use their iPhone to get through security will still need to have a Real ID-compliant form of identification on them.

Does my child need a Real ID to fly?

According to the TSA, children under 18 are not required to show identification at the security checkpoint when flying with a companion. (The companion, however, needs a valid form of ID.) The agency does encourage travelers to double check their airline's identification rules for minors before arriving at the airport.

What happens if I show up at the airport without an acceptable ID under the new rules?

TSA says you will not be let through security, and you will not be able to fly. In rare occasions in the past, if a flier forgot their ID for a domestic trip, TSA might have worked with them to verify their identity in a different way—like by asking them certain questions about their personal information. But the agency says that after Real ID is implemented, those days will be over. "TSA has no plans to provide an alternate verification process to confirm a traveler’s identity," says TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. "Counting on TSA to provide that option to travelers who do not have a Real ID-compliant driver license or identification card is not a good strategy."

This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date.


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