Next year, you’ll need a REAL ID to fly in the U.S., visit certain federal facilities, and enter a nuclear power plant. Though that deadline may seem daunting, you may not have to go through the process of getting a REAL ID at all.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a special commission recommended that the federal government enact certain minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards. In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act to do just that.
As part of the REAL ID Act, federal agencies like TSA are prohibited from accepting state-issued IDs that don’t meet the federal minimum standards, according to the Department of Homeland Security. This means that if you don’t have a REAL ID by the current federal deadline of May 3, 2023, you won’t be able to fly domestically, visit certain federal facilities, or enter a nuclear power plant.
States now require you to, at minimum, prove five identifying aspects: legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, legal residency, and two forms of your address. But before you start compiling these documents for a dreaded visit to your nearest DMV, check your wallet – you may already have a REAL ID-compliant identification card.
Many states have been issuing REAL IDs for years, meaning if you got your license, or renewed it recently, it’s likely REAL ID-compliant.
The way to know is to check the upper right-hand corner. There should be a star of some sort. It will either be black or gold, a star or a cutout of a star, or a cut-out star in a bear if you live in California. This sample Kansas driver’s license, for example, has a gold circle with a white star cutout.
If your license or ID doesn’t have a star, it is still valid and you can still use it to fly until the 2023 deadline. Without a REAL ID, you’ll need another form like a valid passport or U.S. military ID. TSA lists other forms of ID that can also be used to board a plane.
Those who opt out of getting a REAL ID will be issued licenses like the one pictured below, which has a “Federal Limits Apply” note in place of the star.
State-level officials are encouraging those who want to have a REAL ID before the deadline to start the process sooner to avoid a rush of applicants expected to wait until spring.
How soon you need to apply for a REAL ID to meet the deadline depends on the state you live in.
In some states, like Missouri, Oregon, and Florida, identification cards usually arrive in your mailbox within seven to 10 days after you’ve applied. In others, including New York, California, and Indiana, it can take up to two weeks. For states like Utah and Texas, it can take up to six weeks. In Hawaii, it may take two months.
Ultimately, you’ll want to check with your local DMV to determine roughly how long it will take for your REAL ID to be available. If you have additional questions about REAL IDs, you can visit TSA’s website, DHS’s website, or contact your local DMV.