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 star in the upper corner 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 all downstate New York branch locations in Queens (Whitestone), Brooklyn, Manhattan (Lincoln Center), Garden City, Farmingdale, Smithtown, East Meadow, Yonkers, Yorkstown Heights and Nanuet locations.

Your REAL ID card will be mailed to you several weeks after you have successfully applied. People planning to travel after May 3, 2023 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.

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65 Thoughts on “What Is Real ID? Everything You Need to Know

  1. When I went to get a Real ID in MA I was told that a social security card cannot be used as proof of legal name. Since my marriage license from another state (30 years ago) does not indicate my married name (with birth last name for a middle name instead of birth middle name), I need to go before a judge to have my named changed legally in the eyes of Massachusetts. Correct? How much does that cost?

    1. Hi Jane, thanks for the question. Unfortunately a SS card cannot be used towards a name change. It may have been accepted 30 years ago when you were married, but after the Real ID act was passed, it cannot be used. In order of preference:

      Do you have a valid US Passport in your married name that matches your driving record on file with RMV? If you do, use that in lieu of your Birth Certificate and Marriage Certificate requirements.
      If you do not have a valid US Passport, you’ll need your original, raised seal birth certificate and Marriage Certificate that proves the name change from your birth name to current name. You indicated your current marriage certificate does not show the full name of taking your birth last name as your middle name: in SOME instances this maybe acceptable, but the documents must be reviewed in person.
      In this scenario we would need the original birth and marriage certificates and social security card all at one time. Your social security card must match your current name on your drivers license record. If we can see the correlation between all names, it’s possible that it can be used for Real ID. It’s important to note that we need all originals and may need the RMV Business Support’s approval.
      We can have one of our MA branch managers review this with you over the phone, and in some instances if we have access to zoom and can view your documents ahead of time, we can determine if it’s acceptable or not.
      Please note that information provided in this email is to assist you but is in no way a guarantee that the documents would be acceptable. They need to be screened in person and validate electronically to qualify for a Real ID
      In regards to cost to change a name, that we cannot answer, but here are links that may assist.
      https://www.mass.gov/how-to/legally-change-your-name-as-an-adult
      https://courtforms.jud.state.ma.us/publicforms/PFC0005

  2. My wife’s driver’s license, along with almost all of the identification she has [e.g., bank accounts, credit cards] show the first name she has been using all her life. Her passport shows her “official” first name [probably the one on her birth certificate, if we had any idea where that is]. There is no formal “legal” name change involved.

    Someone on a New York State website said this would be a problem, but they never gave a hint as to what we’re supposed to do about it. I guess she’s going to have to carry her passport on domestic trips and remember to reserve flights using the name she dislikes intensely.

    If anyone wonders why voter ID can sometimes be a major obstacle, I imagine this is an example of what some people have to put up with.

    1. Your town office will have copies or an original birth certificate. You may have to go there for a copy. Expect to pay for it. I did.

  3. I renewed my license,it was issued to me 01/14/2021
    It doesn’t expire until 2029. My license does have a Star in a circle in the upper right top side of my license,however, the star is not gold. Please reply regarding the star not being gold.

    1. Hi Sabra, the star does not need to be gold. Different state licenses have different designs. Thanks for reaching out!

    1. Hi Tim, you can use a passport instead of a Real ID to fly within the United States or enter federal buildings.

  4. I was able to easily renew my MA drivers license with Real ID at my local AAA office (appointment needed). It was quick and efficient. I would suggest people fill out the form online before showing up to save time. My husband, who is also an AAA member was not able to renew at the AAA office. He had to go to a DMV site because he is a veteran (information that is included on his MA license). He made an appointment on line and it was reasonably efficient there also.

    1. Things are a mess in NJ when it comes to the DMV. Even if you have an appointment, that office might close if there has been any covid there.

  5. I visited my local AAA office on 8/6 for my RealID – just wanted to say thanks, it was smooth, fast, efficient, and I got my new RealID in the mail in just under a week. The checklist you provided for requirements made it so that I had everything ready, and I was very happy to find that they had extended the no-fee period for the upgrade. Thanks!

  6. I have a MA drivers Licence that expires one year from now. But my passport has expired and we plan to travel by land to Canada in one week. Canada allows Americans to cross the border with an enhanced ID. Is there any way to expedite getting an enhanced drivers Licence (eg within a few days)?

    1. Hi Anni, thanks for your question. Unfortunately, only select states offer the Enhanced License for border crossings and Massachusetts does not. These states are normally ones that have a land border crossing with Canada. In your situation, if travel is necessary, you may have to pay to have your passport renewal expedited. See: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/get-fast.html for additional information. Pay particular attention to the response time to see if it meets your schedule.

      You are probably aware, but there are new border crossing information for Canada that can be found here: https://travel.gc.ca/travel-covid/travel-restrictions/border in regards to Covid and vaccination requirements. These regulations change often so it’s suggested that you check them frequently right up until the time you are scheduled to cross the border.

      If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to your local AAA branch location. You can find the closest one here

  7. 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?

    1. I Upgraded to a real ID a few years ago. I am assuming I don’t have to do it again when my license expires. Is that correct?

      1. Hi Arlene, correct — you will not have to apply for a Real ID again, simply renew your license as you normally would. Thanks for the question!

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

    1. 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.

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

  10. 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.?

  11. 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?

    1. 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.”

      1. I applied and paid for one feb 2020 still haven’t received. Got an email 6 months ago that they are processing

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

    1. 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.

      1. What do you mean to Caribbean countries but not by plane. Does that mean you can only go to certain Caribbean countries by boat?

  13. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. Hi,
      My daughter currently is out of state in college. How can she apply for her REAL ID if she is not in Mass currently? Could she just do it online? Please advise.

      1. Hi Kimmi, you must apply for a Real ID in person, so your daughter would have to wait until she is back in Massachusetts. Thanks for the question!

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