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REAL ID Driver’s License: Why You Need One

Make sure to have your REAL ID requirements and consider renewing soon in order to avoid long wait times.

real id driver's license

Every state varies when it comes to REAL ID requirements, please be sure to reference DHS.gov/realid for state-specific details. The following article provides general information about the REAL ID Act and what to expect.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, a standard driver’s license will no longer be enough to get you through airport security. That is when the REAL ID Act goes into effect. The law establishes new federal minimum-security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. This means that all U.S. air travelers will need a REAL ID driver’s license, or other acceptable form of identification, such as a valid passport, passport card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST), or U.S. military ID. This law also applies to those seeking access to federal buildings or nuclear facilities.

And while an October, 2021 deadline still seems to give you plenty of time, it may take much longer to secure a REAL ID driver’s license than you initially thought. Opposed to the dozens of RMV/DMV services that can be done online, REAL ID application requires an in-person visit.

AAA members in Massachusetts and Rhode Island can apply at certain local AAA branch offices. Reserve your spot online ahead of time at AAA.com/Reservations.

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If your license does not expire in 2021, and you currently have one of the other valid acceptable forms of identification, consider using that ID until your license expires. When you do renew your license, you can then upgrade to REAL ID. This will allow you to avoid long lines and be better prepared for when it’s time to upgrade to REAL ID.

To ensure that you have your REAL ID before Oct. 1, 2021, AAA encourages members not to wait. If your license is available to renew, considering renewing now, well before the deadline. There is no additional cost for REAL ID during a renewal. If not at renewal, only the standard duplicate license fees would apply.

Most states use a central issuance method for Drivers Licenses and IDs. You apply at the DMV/certain AAA branches and receive a paper temporary document until your plastic credential is mailed to you. Unfortunately, the TSA does not recognize a temporary paper document as an acceptable form of ID. Normally, you would receive the plastic credential in two weeks. With the increased demand of individuals applying for the REAL ID at the same time, it’s likely the delivery of licenses will be delayed. Therefore, if you are traveling and in need of a REAL ID compliant form of ID, you will need to plan for additional time to receive your plastic credential.

But simply getting to the REAL ID issuing agency is only half the job. It’s critical that when you show up you have the proper documents. Here is a rundown of the REAL ID requirements.  Requirements vary by state, please check with you local DMV.

REAL ID Requirements

Each state is authorized to issue the federal REAL ID driver’s licenses and state IDs. The federal requirements have three main categories:

    • Proof of lawful presence/birth. You will also need legal proof of a name change with court documents, if your current name on your driver’s license/state ID does not match your lawful presence/birth document.
    • Proof of Social Security number. Your full name and full social security number must be shown.
    • Proof of residency. This will need to be demonstrated by two items from each state’s checklist.

For a list of documents that apply to each category, follow each state’s DMV REAL ID checklist.

REAL ID Driver’s License Application Challenges

    • REAL ID requires in-person physical and electronic verification of all documents.
    • Only original, non-laminated, unaltered documents are accepted.
    • Documents cannot be issued from a church, hospital or non-city/state/federal agency.
    • Inaccurate documents. You will not be successful if you deviate from the state’s DMV REAL ID checklist.
    • Name changes. All name changes must be proven with legal documents from birth to current name if a person has had name changes. Therefore, people who have had changes in their name should bring all documents showing the name trail from their lawful presence/birth document to their current name on their Driver’s License/State ID. These documents must be issued by a city or state, church marriage certificates cannot be used.
    • All of the above has led to longer wait times at AAA and the DMV/RMV.

Best Practices and Considerations

    • Be prepared. Obtain the state issued checklist prior and adhere to it. Just because a church-issued marriage license, laminated Social Security card or a photocopy of a birth certificate was used at the DMV/RMV prior, it will not be accepted now due to new federal rules.
    • A valid passport can be used for lawful presence document and in most cases for a female, will most likely match their drivers’ license/state ID name. If this is true, no name change documents need be presented. Please note an expired passport, even by one day cannot be used for this requirement.
    • If you have had multiple name changes and you are not using a valid passport:  Bring ALL names changes from birth to current name.
    • If the Social Security card has been laminated, altered in any way, bring another document from the list or apply for a new card (approximately 14 days to receive). Not to confuse this but Rhode Island does accept a laminated, but otherwise unaltered Social Security card. Massachusetts and other states do not.
    • All Social Security documentation must show the person’s full name and full social security number from the state checklist.
    • Birth Certificates must be original and issued by city/town/state. No hospital or church birth certificates can be accepted. Certified copies and/or birth abstracts may be acceptable but are subject to additional screening and verification processes. The rules vary by state. Best bet is to go back to original location where birth certificate was issued and request a new un-laminated one.
    • There are other acceptable forms of ID that will be accepted as of 10/01/2021 for the REAL ID requirement to board an aircraft within the U.S., enter a nuclear facility and to enter certain federal buildings. These include:

U.S. passport

U.S. passport card

DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)

U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents

Permanent resident card

Border crossing card

State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License

Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID

If you do not fly within the U.S., enter nuclear facilities or access federal buildings you may not need a REAL ID or other acceptable ID.

Read more about REAL ID.

Do you have your REAL ID driver’s license yet? Are you planning on getting one soon? Let us know about your experience or if you have any other questions in the comments below. 

Information subject to change without notice. Refer to State REAL ID websites for the most up-to-date information.

Comments
  • Jeanne N.

    I find it interesting that there is no mention in this article of COVID-19, which will have something to say about the timetable for getting a REAL ID driver’s license. During the late winter, spring and early summer DVM offices were closed due to COVID-19, and in my state at least you must appear in person to apply for a REAL ID, even if you already have a driver’s license that is expiring. That’s a bit of a catch 22! And now, even though the DVM offices are open, millions of drivers are still sheltering, or partially sheltering to the extent that they cannot go personally to a DVM office. As well, millions of people are not flying during the pandemic, so no need for a REAL ID right now for them.

    The solution might be to extend the deadline to ensure that everyone in the U.S. has had an opportunity to be vaccinated, assuming that there is a viable COVID-19 vaccine by fall 2021, whether it is a live vaccine or not, and that there is an adequate amount of the vaccine and that it can be distributed to everyone. Another solution might be to set up a system to apply for a REAL ID license online or by mail (assuming the Executive Branch discontinues its efforts to slow the US mail process). After all, if we can apply for a mortgage online and both to register to vote and actually vote by mail, we should be able to apply for a REAL ID online and by mail.

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