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What is REAL ID? Everything You Need to Know About the New Law

Starting in 2020, a REAL ID will be needed to fly domestically. Here's how you get one.

what is real id

Changes are coming to the way we fly … or at least to how we get on a plane.

Beginning on Oct. 1, 2020, 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 within the United States or to enter a federal building, such as federal courthouses and military bases. This is a federal law applicable to all states and all adults 18 and over. Those without a REAL ID  will not be allowed past security checkpoints.

Here’s what you need to know about the new law.

What is REAL ID?

A REAL ID is a driver’s license or other form of state-issued identification cards that meet the minimum security standards set forth by the federal government. It carries with it all the privileges of a standard license/identification. REAL ID cards will look almost exactly like your standard ID. Generally, REAL IDs are marked with a star located in the upper portion of the card.

The change is the product of the REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005. The law was enacted based on a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

How do I get a REAL ID?

You can apply for a REAL ID at any time, but you must apply in person at an RMV/DMV office. AAA members in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have the option of applying at local branch that offer these services.

Your REAL ID card will be mailed to you several weeks after you apply in person. People planning to travel after October 1, 2020 should allow time for processing their application.

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What are the REAL ID requirements?

Specific proof documents are required in order to apply for a REAL ID. Each state has set their own standards as to what documents are accepted, so make sure you check with your state’s DMV office and have all the proper paperwork ahead of time. Additionally, all documents need to be originals – photocopies will not be accepted.

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 name must match the name on your Proof of Identity document. 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/medical/school document. 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 DMV/RMV website.

Is REAL ID mandatory?

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

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

AAA Northeast encourages all members to get a REAL ID as soon as possible. AAA members in Massachusetts and Rhode Island can apply at certain local branch offices.


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