Everything Travelers Need to Know About the REAL ID Act

Everything Travelers Need to Know About the REAL ID Act

Are your days flying domestically using only your numbered SIM? It could be, if you don’t have a new type of license. As the deadline for the REAL ID Act approaches, it is important for you to find out if your current driver’s license does not meet the new criteria.

If you’ve been putting off getting a REAL ID, there’s good news—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just announced that the REAL ID Act won’t be enforced until May 7, 2025, delaying the deadline from May 2023.

Here’s a quick and easy primer with everything you need to know about the REAL ID Act, about when to use REAL ID vs. passports, and about the Department of Homeland Security’s hard deadline for changes.

What is the REAL ID Act?

The REAL ID Act “sets standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses,” said DHS. This law applies to driver’s licenses and state-issued ID, and prohibits certain federal agencies from accepting identification that does not meet the new standards.

This means that when the REAL ID ACT is enforced, only driver’s licenses issued to REAL ID standards will be accepted at the airport.

REAL IDs Changing Timelines: When to Worry About Invalid IDs to Fly

In 2005, the REAL ID Act established a national requirement for state IDs as a post-9/11 security measure. The state has had more than a decade to make changes, but the deadline for completing the transition has been extended numerous times. Some states are struggling to move toward issuing new licenses accordingly; difficulty finding budgets for new licenses, or lack of other logistical means to enforce changes.

May 7, 2025: According to the DHS website, as of this date “every air traveler will need a valid license with a REAL ID, or some other acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel” as well as for entering federal government buildings. If by this date your state license is not compatible with your REAL ID, you will need to bring another form of ID to the airport, such as a passport.

How Do I Get REAL ID?

The process for obtaining your REAL ID is a little more difficult than the last time you renewed your license: you may have to visit the DMV and provide documents, such as proof of residency and proof of valid presence in the United States. However, you can submit these documents (which you still need to bring) online in advance for approval: Check your state’s DMV requirements online for more information.

If you’re not a citizen or you think getting your ID might be more complicated for other reasons, check the Department of Homeland Security’s DHS REAL ID FAQ page for more information on your particular case.

REAL ID vs. Passport

If you can’t get a REAL ID before May 7, 2025, you’ll need to bring your passport or other TSA-accepted document to the airport to go through security. DHS frequently alerts travelers of approaching deadlines, partly because if everyone rushes to get REAL ID all at once, there can be long waiting times in many states.

Does a REAL ID Replace a Passport?

The short answer: no. You will need a REAL ID for domestic travel as of May 2025 minimum, and your passport can works as a substitute for a REAL ID for domestic travel—but a valid passport will still be required for international travel. So whether you have a REAL ID or not, a passport will always get you through airport security. And whether you have a REAL ID or not, a passport will always be required for international travel.

Editors Note: This story was originally published in 2016 and has been updated to reflect the most current information. Caroline Teel, Shannon McMahon, and Jamie Ditaranto contributed reporting.

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