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The Real Deal on REAL ID

REAL-ID   driver’s licenses


Most travelers have time to get the new high-security driver’s licenses they’ll need to fly.

If you haven’t yet received your state's REAL ID compliant driver’s license — the new higher-security ID that will be required to board domestic flights — you probably won't need to worry about it for a while: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has pushed the official deadline for enforcement from Jan. 22, 2018, to Oct. 1, 2020, for the 27 states that already have them available; other states have been granted extensions.  

These new, security-enhanced driver's licenses are needed to enter federal facilities such as military bases and to board all commercial flights, a requirement established by 2005's terrorism-inspired REAL ID Act (you will also be able to use other forms of identification such as passports, but the old-style licenses won't pass muster). Some travelers in those 27 states have been scrambling to get new licenses to meet the previous Jan. 22 deadline, but now they have more than two years to get themselves to their local DMV for a shiny new card. 

There's no shortage of confusion about REAL ID, especially surrounding these deadline changes. While some news outlets have reported that the two-year reprieve from enforcement applies to all states, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesperson Mike England has confirmed by email that this is not the case. The 23 states, plus Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, that still have yet to produce the new driver’s licenses have different deadlines.

You can check your state’s status on the Department of Homeland Security’s site, which has a color-coded clickable map. A breakdown, according to England:

  1. Residents of the 27 states and the District of Columbia that already have begun issuing the new licenses, highlighted in green on the DHS site's map, have until Oct. 1, 2020, to obtain a REAL ID compliant license. (The DHS website still puts it at Jan. 22, as of this writing, but England has confirmed the new date.) Note that the new licenses have a little star in the top right-hand corner; many drivers may not realize they already have REAL ID compliant ones, since some states have been issuing them for a few years. 
  2. If you have an old-school driver's license from one of the map's yellow-colored states that have been granted an extension for compliance, your license is good for air travel through Oct. 11, 2018. (Unless your state obtains another extension beyond that, which seems likely based on past DHS moves.) Those states include California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia. 
  3. U.S. territories whose extension approvals are still pending — American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands (blue on the map) — can use their licenses until Jan. 22, 2018. However, England noted, "DHS may grant extensions before then."

Bottom line: Everyone will need a compliant ID before or by Oct. 1, 2020. But stay tuned.

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