What Is Real ID and Why Do I Need One?

Jeff Blevins

Real ID is a federally mandated identification card/driver’s license that will be required to board domestic commercial aircraft, and enter military bases and some federal facilities (for those to whom it applies). The Real ID act was passed in 2005 by the Department of Homeland Security in response to the 9/11 attacks. Yes, you will need one if you do not already have one. All states must be compliant by October 1, 2020. Remember, this is for domestic flights only – Real ID does not replace a passport for international travel.

How will this work? Let’s use California as an example. Beginning in January 22, 2018, The California DMV will begin issuing both REAL ID Compliant driver’s licenses/ID cards and Federal Non-Compliant cards. For an added cost, the Real ID compliant cards will allow you to board commercial aircraft and can be used to enter military bases or federal facilities. Non-compliant cards are still perfectly legitimate forms of both identification and driver’s licenses. If you don’t plan to fly or go to a military base, you can get the non-compliant card, instead. However, you cannot have both compliant and non-compliant ID cards, not that anyone would need both.

REAL ID participation by states is voluntary, although Federal agencies are prohibited from accepting driver's licenses or identification cards from noncompliant states for official purposes. Each state is responsible for its own compliance with the program. Some states are already using Real IDs.

This is a list of all the states and territories that are compliant as of January 2018.
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • DC
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • S. Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
The following states are not yet compliant, as of January 2018. Currently, all states must be in compliance by October 1, 2020.
  • Alaska
  • American Samoa
  • California
  • Guam
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • N. Marianas
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Virgin Islands
  • Virginia
  • Washington
You do not have to rush out and get a Real ID card right away. You can still use your driver’s license to board commercial aircraft until October 1, 2010. After that date, you will need to have a Real ID card issued by your state (or a current U.S. passport) to board commercial aircraft or enter a military base or certain federal facilities.

The good news is that you do not need a Real ID card to drive (however, having one will take the place of your driver’s license). You can still use your basic driver’s license to drive and if you know you will never be flying, or entering a military base or federal facility, you don’t need a Real ID.

How do you get your Real ID card? It’s fairly simple:
  • Visit a DMV office (you can walk in, or make an appointment so you have less of a wait).
  • Show proof of identity: a U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, employment authorization document, permanent resident card, or foreign passport with an approved form I-94.
  • You will also have to show a residency document (like a water or power bill with your name and address on it).
  • Show proof of your Social Security number (SS card, passport, etc.).
You can also check out your state’s DMV site and the Homeland Security website for updates and more information about the process of getting your Real ID cards.

Jeff Blevins is a published author who's left his footprint in the digital and scripted worlds. An entertainment industry veteran, his writing includes biographies, sports, automotive, education, and pop culture. The Seattle native -- and his keyboard -- live in Los Angeles.