Sunday, April 18, 2021

What Is REAL ID? TSA’s New Requirement for Domestic Flights in 2020 – Here’s How To Get One

Starting October 1st 2020, TSA will require all US citizens to carry a form of REAL ID in order to fly within the US and its territories. It will also be required to have in order to visit federal facilities, military bases and nuclear power plants.

We know there are lots of questions, like:

  • What is REAL ID?
  • Is it mandatory?
  • What if I have a passport?
  • How and where do I get one?
  • What if I have TSA-Precheck?

We answered all of these questions for you, so can be prepared for the new requirement. We want you to avoid any unexpected TSA hiccups for your upcoming travels, because the airport is already hectic enough, ya know?

Now, let’s get to it.

What is REAL ID?

Essentially, REAL ID is a new law, not a specific new piece of ID.

Starting on October 1st, 2020, there are limited forms of identification that will be approved for commercial flights and for accessing federal facilities. Our typical IDs and driver licenses will no longer work at the airport, even for flying domestically.

However, there is a way to “upgrade” your ID or license that will be TSA-approved: by getting an Enhanced Drivers License (EDL) or Enhanced Identification Card (EID) (depending on your state), referred to nationally to as a “REAL ID” or “Secure ID”.

It will replace your existing license or ID, with a special marking in the top right corner indicating it’s REAL ID approved. REAL ID approval requires many more verified forms of identity than regular IDs and driver licenses in order to obtain one, as a measure of security.

State departments started rolling out the new process for REAL IDs in 2018, so if you’ve gotten your ID or license renewed since then, you might already be familiar. Since it does require additional forms of identification forms to get one, it’s something everyone has to do in person (unless you don’t want one, or cannot obtain one.. more on that later).

How Do I know if I Already Have One?

REAL ID-compliant cards are marked with a star at the top of the card.

Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York states issue REAL ID and state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses, both of which are acceptable. Washington state issues enhanced driver’s licenses only.

Photo Credit: DHS
Photo Credit: Alaska Airlines

Not all will have stars, however. State-issued enhanced driver’s licenses (like Washington State’s) are marked with a flag and say “Enhanced Driver’s License”.

California’s is marked with a gold bear in the top right corner. These documents will be accepted at the airport security checkpoint when the REAL ID enforcement goes into effect.

So why is all of this necessary? Well, this new REAL ID enforcement is the result of the REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005.

What is The REAL ID Act?

The REAL ID Act was voted on by Congress as a response to the 9/11 terror attacks, as a security measure for obtaining state-issued identification. According to the Department of Homeland Security:

“Secure driver’s licenses and identification documents are a vital component of our national security framework. The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”

Your regular state-issued driver’s license or photo ID will no longer get you on a commercial airline, which means that it is critical for travelers obtain one if flying in the near future.

Is REAL ID Mandatory if I Don’t Plan to Fly?

Getting a REAL ID is NOT mandatory if you don’t plan to fly domestically or don’t plan to visit federal facilities in the near future.

Your current state-issued ID or driver’s license will still work for voting (or registering to vote), being licensed to drive, jury duty, applying for or obtaining federal benefits, and other more common uses of identification.

Photo Credit: Seattle Times. As you can see, there is no Flag and no “Enhanced” text. “Federal Limits Apply” is instead in the top right corner.

When it’s time to renew and you choose not to get an enhanced version, your license or ID will say “Federal Limits Apply” in the top right corner (instead of a star or other REAL ID marking), indicating that it is not REAL ID approved, and therefore it will not work to fly domestically.

Do I Need a REAL ID If I Have a Passport?

Great News! A passport will be accepted as one of the few alternatives to the new REAL ID rule. So, if you have a passport, you must bring it with you to travel domestically if you decide not to obtain a REAL ID.


For those who fly domestically quite often, it might be worth getting the REAL ID as a fail-safe, in the event you forget your passport, because, let’s face it – you’re probably not used to bringing your passport with you to fly domestically!

Your REAL ID and Passport are both accepted for domestic flights, and since the REAL ID will take the place of your current ID or driver’s license, you’ll likely already have it on hand in your wallet or purse.

Plus, passports are also more expensive to replace, so it might be worth keeping that safe and secure for international travel.

Speaking of International Travel…

A REAL ID does NOT replace the need for a passport for flying internationally(!!!). Pack the passport as usual for international flights.

silhouette of person in airport
Photo Credit: Skitterphoto

What Is a REAL ID “Acceptable Alternative”?

Alternatives to the REAL IDs are as follows:

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

What If I Have TSA-Precheck? Am I Exempt?

Unfortunately, even though registering for TSA Precheck requires extensive verification of identification, fingerprints and more, it is not an exception to the new REAL ID requirement.

You will either need a REAL ID or acceptable alternative, like your passport, to fly domestically and reap those TSA-Precheck benefits.

More from the Blog:
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What if I Was Not Born In The US, Not A US Resident, or An Undocumented Resident of the US?

If you were not born in the US, you will need to bring proof of naturalization or a green card equivalent. A Foreign Passport will also be accepted at TSA.

Unfortunately, undocumented immigrants are now unlikely to get REAL ID-approved ID or driver license since they require so much documentation to obtain one. This means that undocumented residents will not be able to pass through TSA in US airports or fly commercial flights domestically without a foreign passport or other acceptable form of REAL ID.

Critics of the new law fear that the REAL ID is essentially a national ID, and creating a divide between documented and undocumented residents. There is also fear that it will become the new standard for future voting laws, for example.


What if I am Under 18?

Minors are not required to have a REAL ID to fly domestically or other purposes. A state-issued identification card or driver’s license will do. Once they turn 18, they will need to get one to fly domestically without a passport.

Now, for the big finale…

How Do I Get a REAL ID?

If you do not have a passport or other acceptable alternative forms of identification, you will need to obtain a REAL ID if you plan to travel domestically and/or visit federal establishments, military bases and more.

You can find your state’s individual Departments for REAL ID’s, and specific requirements, below.

*Some states and territories have extended the deadline – check below to find your deadline.

If you have other questions, feel free to comment below. You can also visit the Department of Homeland Security’s REAL ID FAQ Page for more information.

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Darby B.
Hi, I'm Darby.My interests are in travel, cooking plant-based meals, music of many genres, human equality and environmental sustainability. I also love to write. When I'm not traveling, you can probably find me drinking coffee or riding a bike around town.I love going to new places and learning as much as possible about history and culture. Even more so, I try to learn about and raise awareness to local grassroots efforts in the areas I am visiting. I believe that communities hold the answers to their trials and I seek to support those efforts however I can.My goal is to never stop learning, always checking my privilege and try to make the world a better place.
Our Constant Journey – Joshua and Darby

Welcome to Our Constant Journey! We are Joshua and Darby, a couple from Seattle with a huge passion for travel and helping others get the best out of their own adventures. You can click here to learn more about us or reach us at the sources below!
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