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. Why don’t you say anything about Enhanced Licenses? They are offered by New York State, and I believe they are available at the same downstate NY offices that offer Real ID licenses. As far as I know, Enhanced Licenses are available only in New York and Michigan, but they are one step up from Real ID because you can use them to drive or take a train into Canada and back (and possibly Mexico, although I’m not sure) without having to carry a passport. Most of my friends and I have them for just this reason (and we are people who live in NYC–a long way from the border). You do still need a passport to fly.

    1. Hi Sara. Thanks for the info. A handful of states, including New York, offer enhanced driver’s licenses in addition to Real ID. And our downstate branches processes those transactions as well.

  2. i lost my Social Security card with we’ve covered my local social security office was closed at the time lost it i do think i have the paperwork to get a new one but i want to do that it person i do not travel overseas and do not go on and have not been on a plane since the eighties so i do not if get a real id at this is good for me and love to know if aaa can help me get my new Social Security card

  3. If I make an appointment to upgrade to a REAL ID, can the REAL ID be forwarded in the mail to another address if I will be away for an extended time and not checking mail regularly?

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for the question. For the State of NY transactions only; yes. We can put a onetime mail to address for a license. Other states, we cannot.

  4. My spouse and I are both attempting to get our Real ID’s at AAA in southern CA. He renewed his license last year, so it’s just an upgrade. I am due for a renewal and am choosing the Real ID upgrade. We are both US Citizens (born here) with the same address for 5+ years in CA. BUT, neither of us is being the option to choose a AAA location for our Real ID ANYWHERE in Southern CA! And we are only hearing “AAA will only be offered on the “schedule appointment” section of the DMV site IF you are eligible for AAA Real ID services”. Well, if WE are not eligible with one of us renewing and the other just ‘upgrading’, then who the heck IS eligible?! And the maddening “may not be eligible for varying reasons’ nonsense truly does not cut it! I’ve spent HOURS trying to get our appointments at the AAA office as we are both high risk for Delta and want to minimize ANY time spent in public. We feel much safer in a AAA office than a DMV. But we are being forced to put our health at risk because for some reason we are not eligible for AAA? I’m furious. Oh – i should add: no license violations for either of us; no lawsuits; no criminal activities. Nothing that might be a red flag. And seriously – have you seen the people hired at DMV’s? I’d trust a national security check to someone working at AAA MUCH faster than I would to someone working at a DMV. This is ridiculous

    1. You don’t live in a bubble. The other people around you “living their lives” may be bad actors, and I frankly would rather know the person sitting next to me on a plane has been at least properly identified. Seriously – what is so important about you (or me) that the Gov’t is going to waste resources on tailing your every move? If you’re doing illegal crap, then yeah, you deserve to be tracked. If not, then even if they DO watch you for a half a second (which is all 99.9% of us really would warrant in terms of effort because there are always much bigger fish to fry), if you’re not doing anything that would justify a closer (i.e. MORE COSTLY) look into your life and affairs, then the person who might be watching you for that half a second is going to click NEXT and move on to look for someone that can justify being “of interest”. Play stupid/illegal games, get stupid prizes. Live like a normal person and do the absolute minimum expected of you in a civilized society, and they will click NEXT on you faster than you’ll click next on watching an unwanted commercial. COULD they encroach on our personal lives? Sure. But are any of us THAT flipping high on the “of interest” scale? Not a chance. Lord, the elevated sense of importance people have about themselves when it comes to this subject is truly baffling.

  5. Please consider rolling out the option to obtain Real IDs in NJ offices. The DMV is not a viable option for this service as, even with an appointment, the wait is generally two hours. Thank you.

  6. In Queens new York, the DMV offered a choice of either a REAL ID that allowed for the air travel but NO ACCESS to federal buildings. The other is an ENHANCED ID that allows for all. I chose the Enhanced ID with NO STAR in the upper right corner but there is the American flag in the lower right corner. Does any other state offer the two types?? Also, one DOES COST MORE than the other. Is there a concern here???

  7. 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. Does this mean I can use my income tax form, showing my Social Security number, instead? I ask because I have no idea where my card is, having moved so many times and it was a long, long time ago that I received it.

  8. I applied for a Real ID and even though I had a certificate of marriage from the church I was married in 58 years ago….I was told I needed to get a copy of my marriage lic. from Providence City Hall to prove my maiden name was changed at that time to my married name now. Is this true for women taking their husbands name?????

  9. I walked into the Worcester AAA office on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021 expecting to get my REAL I.D.
    Had all the supporting documents.
    Was NOT issued an I.D. Said my “legal presence” was being challenged.

    Now Aug. 24 and still don’t have either a REAL I.D. or a new driver’s license. My current license expires this Saturday, Aug. 28.

    I am a 73-year-old Navy veteran (1970-75) who served at the Underground Nuclear Test Site in Mercury, NV; has voted in every election since I turned 18 in 1966; and have worked as a volunteer in at least 10 elections.

    Government insanity.

  10. It seems all of these questions and answers are for NY, NJ, Ma, RI. Are any of these questions and answers for the state of CT or is CT not doing this or making appts for the Real ID’S until Oct 1 2021. I have a TSA # and will I be able to travel domestically after Oct. 1st 2021 without a Real ID? I also have a passport. I mean I am confused about this Real ID business. Please reply

    1. Hi Linda, thanks for reaching out. The Real ID Act applies to all states, including Connecticut. However, local AAA branch offices in Connecticut are not able to provide DMV services at this time, so you would have to go to the DMV to apply. The Real ID deadline has been pushed back to May 3, 2023. At that time you will need a Real ID or passport to fly domestically. You can find more info here: https://portal.ct.gov/DMV/Select-CT-ID/Select-CT-ID/Real-ID-Overview

  11. I just saw your emails and had a question. My regular MA ID doesn’t expire until 2023. But I just made an appointment, because my daughter who was turning 21 at the time was told that they would be up grading her to a Real ID’s for free, because of the covid restrictions, so I booked us together on the same day. My question, is it too soon for me to get a Real ID. If I get one now, will I still have to come in later to renew my MA ID in 2023 again?

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