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What Is Real ID? Everything You Need to Know

Starting in 2023, a REAL ID will be needed to fly domestically. Here's how you get one.

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 on May 3, 2023, a REAL ID (or other form of identification) such as a valid passport, federal government PIV card or U.S. military ID) will be required to fly domestically, enter a federal building, or visit a military base.

What is REAL ID?

REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005 on a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, is a federal law applicable to all states and all adults 18 and over.

REAL ID is a driver’s license or other form of state-issued identification card that meets the minimum security standards set forth by the federal government. It carries with it all the privileges of a standard license/identification.

A REAL ID will look almost exactly like your standard ID, however, it is marked with a gold star in a circle located in the upper portion of the card.

How do I get one?

You can apply for a REAL ID at any time. License/ID holders must apply in person (with required documentation) at an RMV/DMV office.

AAA REAL ID service is available to members in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Those who are renewing their current standard license or ID card can apply for a REAL ID in person (with required documentation) at a local AAA branch. REAL ID services are also available at select New York branch locations in Queens (Whitestone), Brooklyn, Manhattan (Lincoln Center), Garden City, Yonkers and Nanuet locations.

Your REAL ID card will be mailed to you several weeks after you have successfully applied. People planning to travel after October 1, 2021 should allow time for processing their application.

What are the REAL ID requirements?

All customers need documents showing United States citizenship or lawful presence, in addition to other identification documents, as required by federal and state law – even if you already have a state-issued driver’s license or ID card.

Each state has set its own standards as to what documents are accepted, so make sure you check with your state’s RMV/DMV office and have all the proper paperwork ahead of time.  All documents need to be originals – photocopies will not be accepted.

Please note Massachusetts does not accept laminated social security cards or any type of document.

The following categories of documents are all required:

Proof of identity

This can be in the form of a U.S. birth certificate, valid U.S. passport, employment authorization document, permanent resident card, or foreign passport with an approved form I-94. If your current name doesn’t match the one that appears on your lawful presence document(s), you must prove your legal name change in order to qualify for a REAL ID driver’s license/ID card. If there are multiple name changes, documentation for each name change must be provided.

Proof of Social Security number

Social Security card, W-2, or pay-stub showing the full 9-digit Social Security number are all acceptable. Your social security number will be verified with the Social Security Administration. Massachusetts does not accept laminated SSN cards, but Rhode Island does.

Proof of residency

You will need to show two documents proving your residency. Examples include a mortgage bill, utility bill, property tax bill, rental or lease agreement, or an employment/school document. Massachusetts also accepts medical documents

Massachusetts and Rhode Island both require that these documents be dated within the previous 60 days.

This list of documents is not inclusive. Documents other than the ones listed above may be accepted as proof of Social Security number and residency. For additional types of documents, visit your state’s RMV/DMV website.

Is REAL ID mandatory?

No, you are not required to own a REAL ID. It is not required to drive any motor vehicle or to vote. It is only required for domestic air travel, to enter federal buildings, and military sites that require identification.

In fact, you can still fly domestically and enter federal buildings without it as long as you have another acceptable form of identification, such as a valid passport, permanent resident card, or U.S. Department of Defense ID.

AAA Real ID 

AAA encourages everyone who wants a REAL ID not to wait until 2023. Start gathering your documents now and avoid the last-minute rush. You can apply for a new driver license or ID card up to one year before expiration.

Learn more about REAL ID requirements and applications.

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

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

Comments
  • KISOON L.

    Thanks for unusual ,unbelievable, funny TSA gate stories and very reliable,important, information on Real ID. Do they plan to increase fee for real ID?

    Reply
    • Andrew S.

      Hi, no fee increases are known to us at this time. However, if someone wants to transfer to a REAL ID but before their state allows you to renew your license, there may be additional charges. For example, you can renew a MA driver’s license within one year of expiration with no fee. That includes moving to a REAL ID within that year. But, Rhode Island only allows you to renew within 90 days of the expiration.

      Reply
  • ROBERT S.

    Does a New York State Enhanced Driver’s license meet the requirement for “Real ID” if it does not have the Gold Star?

    Reply
    • Andrew S.

      Hi Robert, both Enhanced Driver’s Licenses and REAL IDs can be used for domestic flights, to enter a federal building or get onto a military base. REAL ID is available at DMV offices and costs the same as a standard license, but the Enhanced License costs $30 more. The biggest difference is that Enhanced ID allows you to travel to Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean countries without a passport, but not by plane.

      Reply
  • CHRISTOPHER C.

    My drivers license expires October 31, 2020. I’m planning to fly on October 3, 2020. Can I get the Real ID license in September 2020? If I do will it be good for 4 years?

    Reply
    • Andrew S.

      Hi Christopher, you can get a REAL ID at any time. The length of validity varies by state but generally it is the same length of time as a regular driver’s license. According to the DHS, “the appropriate validity period of the driver’s license or identification card will be consistent with the state’s regular expiration period.”

      Reply
  • dianeinboston@gmail.com

    If I go to get my Real ID with all the necessary documents… yet my licenses does not expire for 2 more years. Do I have to take another picture or will they just use my current picture and print a Real ID.?

    Reply
    • jk43@optonline.net

      My drivers license expires in Oct. 2020. When can I apply for a real ID license in NY?

      Reply
  • VIRGINIA S.

    My MA Drivers License expires 3/14/2022. can I get a Real ID now?

    Reply
  • ROBERT G.

    i have a CDL Class B License can i my RealID done at my local AAA

    Reply
    • Veronica

      For the real ID, is a new picture required to be taken or can it be my current license picture?

      Reply
      • Andrew S.

        Hi Veronica, thanks for the question. Yes, a new picture is required for Real ID. You cannot use your old license photo when upgrading.

        Reply
  • Roberta M.

    My license expires on 3/19/2021 when should I come in to renew and can I have an appt.

    Reply
  • I have AAA, does my husband have to be on the card also in order to get the RealID license?

    Reply
    • Andrew S.

      Hi Paula, thanks for the question. Your husband would have to have a AAA membership in his name in order to get a REAL ID at a AAA branch. He can always sign up for a membership at a branch and then go through the license upgrade process. Otherwise, he can always go to the local DMV to apply for a REAL ID.

      Reply
  • Kevin X.

    Can I visit AAA to upgrade to REAL ID now from a regular ID? I renewed my regular ID in July 2020 under the RMV’s renew now, get REAL ID later COVID procedure. All the news said to go back to RMW after Feb. 2021 to upgrade to REAL ID. However when I made an appointment and went to RMV in March, I was told that because REAL ID is not needed for TSA purpose until Oct. 1, 2021, RMV is not giving out REAL ID until after Oct. 1st. Can a AAA member visit AAA to upgrade to REAL ID before Oct. 1, 2021?

    Reply
    • Andrew S.

      Hi Kevin, yes you can upgrade your license at a AAA branch now. Click here to make an appointment: AAA.com

      Reply
  • Scott E.

    As an aide for some during COVID and getting a new picture taken – I took a deep enough breath then took off my mask in the AAA office, smiled for the picture (no teeth showing and had my lips closed, then immediately put my mask back on and started to breath again. I didn’t care how my picture turned out (wasn’t bad on the preview screen) – the picture is simply a requirement and nobody is going to care how I look on it.

    Reply
  • Katrina

    If you already have your Real ID card and hate your picture on it, and just want to come in and get another picture taken, do you have to bring in again all of your documents that you had to the first time or just come in, show your card and go straight and get your picture taken?

    Reply

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