The May 3, 2023 deadline to be REAL ID-compliant is quickly approaching and many around the country, including residents in California, may still be unsure about what it is and what needs to be done in order to board domestic flights.

The new IDs are part of a federal initiative to streamline identification cards from each state into a cohesive program that recognizes the validity of the ID. Officials with the Department of Homeland Security say that the REAL ID program is designed to lessen the chances of fraudulent IDs being created and used nationwide.

Below, we have compiled a list of commonly asked questions when it comes to the REAL ID and how to obtain one in California ahead of the deadline.

What is a REAL ID?

A REAL ID is a government-issued identification document that meets federally set guidelines outlined in the REAL ID Act that was passed by Congress in 2005 following a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission. The ID can come in the form of a license for certified drivers or a state ID.

How does it differ from my current ID?

Identification cards that do not comply with the REAL ID Act currently are marked in the upper right-hand corner with “not for federal ID,” “federal limits apply,” and other messages indicating that the ID is not REAL ID compliant.

The new IDs will contain one of five small stickers, featured below, in the upper right corner to show that the ID is a REAL ID.

REAL ID (top) and state-issued, non-compliant ID (Credit: Department of Homeland Security)

Do I have to update my current ID?

If you hope to board a domestic flight using your ID, rather than a passport or other document accepted by the Transportation Security Administration, yes, you will need to get a REAL ID.

How much does a REAL ID cost in California?

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, in California, REAL ID driver’s licenses and ID cards cost $35.

What happens when REAL ID takes effect?

After May 3, 2023, only those who have a REAL ID will be permitted to present the ID as a valid form of identification in order to board domestic flights at TSA security checkpoints and enter certain federal buildings and properties.

Some states do issue Enhanced Driver’s Licenses which are also accepted; however, California does not offer EDLs.

Who can get a REAL ID?

The REAL ID is available for any person who can prove their legal residency, temporary or permanent, in the United States. Green Card holders and participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Temporary Protected Status are eligible to obtain a REAL ID, as well as anyone who is in the United States on a valid student or employment visa.

How do I get a REAL ID?

To obtain a REAL ID, you can apply online via the California DMV website. You will need to log in or make an account, which can be done here, and begin the application process by selecting “ID or driver license” as the reason for navigating to the site. If you have previously started an application, the system will ask if you would like to continue your application. New applicants will be asked to enter their full name and select whether they are looking to obtain a new card, renew an existing card, correct or update a card or replace a card.

After choosing “get a card for the first time,” you will upload the required proof of identity and residency documents. Once these steps have been completed, the applicant will make an appointment to visit a DMV location in person and will receive a confirmation code that should be brought to the appointment, along with your supporting documents.

Note: the confirmation page should show two barcodes for it to be taken at the DMV.

The California DMV made a helpful video breaking down the steps of the process, which can be found here.

What documents will I need to get my REAL ID?

To apply for a REAL ID card, you will need at least one document proving your identity and two documents proving your residency in California.

What documents are accepted as proof of identity?

The following documents are accepted as proof of identity with the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

  • Valid U.S. passport or passport card
  • Original or Certified copy of U.S birth certificate (issued by a city, county, or state vital statistics office)
  • Valid Permanent Resident Card
  • Foreign passport with valid U.S. Visa and approved I-94 form
  • Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of U.S. Citizenship
  • Certified copy of birth certificate from a U.S. Territory
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card (I-766) or valid/expired EAD Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C)
  • Valid Permanent Resident Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C) or Approval Notice (I-797)
  • U.S. Certificate of Birth Abroad or Consular Report of Birth Abroad of U.S. Citizen
  • Valid foreign passport stamped “Processed for I-551”
  • Documents reflecting TPS benefit eligibility

What documents are accepted as proof of residency?

The most common and preferred documents include home utility or cellphone bills, medical documents, bank records, employment documents, tax returns and other tax documents, and insurance statements. Rental and lease agreements, change of address confirmation from USPS, property tax bills and other documents are also accepted. Applicants must submit two documents in order to prove California residency and obtain a REAL ID.

Why is the government requiring these REAL IDs?

The push to universalize the identification cards will help protect residents from potential threats in which terrorists attempt to use fraudulent IDs to board flights and enter government buildings.

“While improving government-issued IDs alone will not thwart every planned terrorist attack, it does present an important obstacle to any potential terrorist operating in the United States and could aid law enforcement in stopping terrorist plots,” DHS says on its website. “Securing IDs is a common-sense national security and law enforcement imperative, which also helps to combat identity fraud and illegal immigration.”

For more information on the REAL ID program, click here.