What is a REAL ID?

A REAL ID is a state-issued identification card (either a driver's license or non-driver's ID) that meets the security standards outlined in the REAL ID Act of 2005. All states now offer a REAL ID-compliant card, but residents can choose whether to apply for a compliant card or a standard card. The compliant card requires more documents to obtain than the standard card does, but it carries important benefits, especially for travelers.

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Requirements for a REAL ID

Obtaining a REAL ID is more complicated than getting a standard state ID. Federal law requires, at a minimum, documents that show:

  • Your full legal name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your social security number
  • Your lawful status
  • Two proofs of your address

Each state can choose to impose more stringent requirements, though, so check with your state's DMV (or equivalent) before making an appointment. Doing so will ensure that you have all the necessary documentation. If you've changed your name for any reason – including marriage – you may need to bring an official document indicating the name change.

Thanks to the REAL ID Modernization Act of 2020, states can accept digital submissions of these documents. Some states require an in-person visit to issue a REAL ID regardless. You may be able to streamline the process by submitting documents online for pre-approval. Check your state DMV website for specific details about electronic submissions.

Do I need a REAL ID to fly?

Airlines will only accept standard driver's licenses and ID cards for domestic flights until May 7, 2025. After that date, standard licenses will no longer be accepted for commercial flights. Travelers will need a REAL ID or an alternate form of federally recognized identification — such as a passport, permanent resident card, or acceptable photo ID issued by a federally recognized Tribal Nation — to fly commercially within the United States.

Some states issue a third kind of license, called an "Enhanced Driver's License," that meets the REAL ID security criteria and has limited passport functions. These licenses are REAL ID compliant, and you can use them in place of a REAL ID for domestic flights. Enhanced ID passport functions are only valid for land and sea travel between countries included in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), so they can't replace a passport for international flights or any international travel outside of the WHTI member states.

REAL ID vs. passport

A REAL ID will soon be required to fly domestically, but it won't take the place of a passport. You'll still need a passport to fly internationally even if you have a REAL ID.

Do I need a REAL ID to drive?

A REAL ID is no different from a standard driver's license for most functions. Both can be used to drive, vote, and prove identity or age in many situations. The most significant difference for most people is that you can use the REAL ID for domestic air travel, but the standard ID cannot.

Can I use a REAL ID to enter a federal facility?

A REAL ID is also valid for access to many federal facilities and nuclear power plants that require an ID to enter. A standard driver's license will not be valid to access these facilities after the REAL ID enforcement date of May 7, 2025. You'll need another federally recognized document to access those facilities if you don't have a REAL ID driver's license.

How can I tell if my ID is REAL ID-compliant?

If you aren't sure whether you have a REAL ID license or not, check the license itself. REAL ID-compliant IDs will have a star on the front or the word "ENHANCED" in the case of enhanced driver's licenses. Non-compliant IDs must indicate that they are "not for federal ID." Many states also implement two different color schemes to make identification easier.

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