Real ID Deadline: What You Need to Know

So far, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has extended the Real ID deadline a couple of times. Originally, we Americans were supposed to have our enhanced drivers licenses by 2008. This new requirement was in response to The Real ID Act of 2005. It created federal requirements for state driver’s licenses and ID cards. The idea was enhancing national security in our post 9/11 world. Per the DHS, the law aims to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”

However, 2008 came and went, and then we got a new deadline. It was supposed to be in 2021 but we all know what the world was like in 2021. In December 2022, the Department of Homeland Security announced there would be one final extension of the deadline, from May 3, 2023, to May 7, 2025.

Passenger walking by REAL ID sign at TSA security area in airport.

Lindsey Nicholson/ UCG/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Is my ID a Real ID? What to know before the federal deadline

If you’ve gotten a new driver’s license lately, then you might be wondering if your ID is a Real ID. Unless you always plan to fly with your U.S. Passport, you really need to determine if your driver’s license or state-issued ID card meets these requirements.

Spokeo analyzed resources from the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration to compile this guide on how to update and ensure you are equipped with a Real ID ahead of the federal deadline.

The Real ID Act drew fierce opposition in the wake of its passing from a bipartisan collection of legal advocates, politicians, and labor groups. The American Civil Liberties Union and its state affiliates protested the law’s enactment, calling it a threat to privacy, an expansion of immigration enforcement, and a “bureaucratic nightmare.” Many states also refused to enact the changes to IDs for many years — with the final holdouts taking until 2020 to come into compliance.

By 2021, only two in 5 of all driver’s licenses (43%) were deemed compliant with Real ID laws, according to the DHS. However, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four of the five affected U.S. territories are now issuing Real ID-compliant licenses. And you no longer need to make a special appointment to get yours done. If your driver’s license is due for renewal, then the Real ID will be your only option. However, if your license does not expire before 2025, then now is the time to schedule an appointment at your local DMV, BMV or similar office so you can be prepared come 2025.

How can I tell if I already have a Real ID?

Some states automatically extended the expiration dates on state-issued ID cards during the pandemic. This may mean your ID card isn’t necessarily expired, but it’s a good idea to check whether your ID is a Real ID.

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Real IDs will show a five-pointed star in the upper right corner when held horizontally. The star may be inside a circle, and California residents may have a bear shape that contains a star.

Person filling out driver’s license application form. // Shutterstock

Where can I get one a Real ID in time for the deadline?

The state agency where you typically get your driver’s license is the same agency issuing Real IDs. This could be in the form of a driver’s license or a state ID card that does not confer driving privileges. For many states, that’s the state department of motor vehicles or whichever other department handles transportation safety.

For example, when I lived in Michigan, it was the Office of the Secretary of State that issued drivers’ licenses. I spent nearly two decades living in Pennsylvania, in both the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. There, I would visit PennDOT’s Driver License Centers to get a new license. It’s also where my daughters got their drivers permits and took their road tests.

In some states, like Texas, you may wait several months for appointments for a driver’s license replacement. Most state agencies have blamed staffing shortages for these extended wait times.

It’s a good idea to find out if you can schedule an appointment so you don’t have to wait in long lines. For instance, we recently moved to Maine. Here, you can make an appointment online to visit the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Then, on the day and time of your appointment, you go straight to the head of the line, if there is one, when you arrive.

Wallet with U.S. Visa, driver license, social security card and green card.

M. Unal Ozmen // Shutterstock

What documents do I need to provide for this ID?

Documents required can vary from state to state. However, I found that getting my Real ID driver’s license was similar to getting a U.S. Passport. At a minimum, expect to have to bring the following to your appointment:

  • proof of your full legal name
  • proof of your date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • two documents proving your primary residence is in the state where you are applying for the Real ID.

Additionally, you’ll need documents proving that you are present in the country legally, whether as a citizen, permanent resident or an immigrant lacking permanent legal status under another program. If you already have a U.S. Passport, this could satisfy this latter requirement.

These requirements are similar to what I had to provide before my Global Entry interview.

Can noncitizens get a Real ID card?

You are eligible to get a Real ID card for domestic travel as a non-citizen, if you are in the U.S. lawfully and are approved for temporary or permanent residency. This includes those granted asylum and refugee status.

Some states issue licenses and ID cards to immigrants lacking permanent legal status. However, the Real ID law allows them to continue doing that but stipulates that these individuals cannot qualify for a Real ID-compliant identity card. It also requires state agencies to make those noncompliant cards a different color or showing a differnt design than Real ID-compliant cards.

Can enhanced driver’s licenses be Real ID-compliant?

Yes. In the states where they’re available, enhanced driver’s licenses (EDL) will be an acceptable Real ID substitute for boarding aircraft and other purposes, the DHS notes.

EDLs serve dual purposes as a license and a cross-border passport when traveling by land or sea between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico or certain Caribbean countries. They’re issued in some states that border Canada. This includes:

  • Washington State
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Vermont

Note: This is not a complete list of states issuing EDLs. If you live in a state that borders Canada, please double check with the state agency that issues drivers’ licenses regarding EDLs.

Hand holding U.S. passport.

Atstock Productions // Shutterstock

Can I use a passport instead?

A passport will remain the gold standard and is still required for most international travel. According to the DHS, it can be used as identification to board a plane in place of a Real ID-compliant license.

So, if for some reason you cannot make it to the state agency to get a Real ID license before the deadline — and you have a current passport that doesn’t expire by 2025 — then you should be OK to travel internationally without this enhanced driver’s license. However, eventually you will need to get that Real ID.

Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Paris Close. Dom DiFurio contributed.

This story originally appeared on Spokeo and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio,

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