What You Need to Know About Real ID and Air Travel

If you’ve been in an airport recently, you may have seen signage at TSA checkpoints that indicate there are going to be changes to what constitutes an “acceptable ID for air travel.” You may then have wondered what exactly this means for you, and then promptly forgotten all about it.

real id and airport security

Well, the time is drawing near when the TSA will require Real ID compliant identification cards for domestic air travel.

We’re breaking down everything you need to know about Real ID and air travel –in a handy set of FAQs.

First of all, what is Real ID?
Real ID came about in the years after 9/11, when the government passed the Real ID Act in 2005. Essentially, the Act establishes minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards. It prohibits federal agencies from accepting these licenses and IDs from states that are not in compliance. The whole reason this came about was to help eliminate airline terrorism by increasing the requirements for documents that would give passengers access to airplanes.

What do the new ID cards have that the old ones don’t?
The new cards are being built with cutting-edge technology that will make them much harder to forge. Another big difference is that to obtain a state ID will require additional backup documents that not all states currently collect.

Why are we talking about this now?
It’s been a pretty tricky business getting all of the states in compliance with the new requirements. In fact, it’s been almost 15 years since the legislation passed and we’re just now getting to a place where implementation at the airports is going to be a reality. All states will need to be in compliance by October 1, 2020.

real id and airport security
credit: shutterstock.com

How do I know if my driver’s license and state are in compliance?
Most state-issued compliant IDs have a gold or black star on the front of it in the upper right hand corner with a few exceptions – Hawaii, Tennessee, Ohio and Utah are compliant, but do not have the star identifier. It’s probably best to confirm with your state or DMV if you’re not sure. State IDs not in compliance say “Not for Federal Identification” or “Federal Limits Apply.” You can also see a current list of compliant states on the Department of Homeland Security’s website.

If my state is on that “compliance list” am I golden?
Not so fast, grasshopper. If your ID doesn’t have the gold or black star in the upper right corner or you’ve been carrying it around for a few years, you should probably get yourself to a DMV and check to make sure you’re good to go.

What happens if I try to travel with my license and it isn’t compliant?
No one knows! Just kidding. The TSA will not allow you to board airplanes after October 1, 2020. You’ll need a passport or passport card to fly domestically if you somehow fall through the cracks and don’t have a Real ID.

States are not generally chasing people down or sending notifications out to give folks a heads up, so don’t wait for someone to hold your hand through this process. You need to be proactive and get the proper ID from your department of motor vehicles (where most people get their driver’s licenses and state ID cards).

What about extensions?
Some states – like California and Alaska, for example, have been granted extensions TO BEGIN ISSUING Real ID cards. If you’re in a state that’s been granted an extension, you should keep checking back to see when they will start issuing (a few states have already filed for additional extension time – those dates might continue to change).

When do I need to start to panic?
You’ve got plenty of time. As we mentioned, the TSA will not be enforcing these new rules until October 1 next year (2020). But time flies. Our best recommendation is to start the process of getting a new ID early. Even if you don’t fly frequently (or at all!) you wouldn’t want to be caught out without proper identification should the need to fly come up.

The good news is that most states are trying to make this process simple and straightforward. The bad news is that you might have to get ahold of your original/certified birth certificate and/or proof of a social security number and they will charge you a fee (some states are charging $25). Every state is different, so find out what your state requires and then give yourself a decent amount of time to collect those documents.

Do I need one to vote?
Nope. The Real ID requirement will not affect voter access or registering to vote. It will not be required to apply for or receive federal benefits and it will not be required to access hospitals. You will need one to access other federal facilities (like military bases and nuclear power plants), but not federal buildings that don’t already require them (like the public areas of the Smithsonian).

One more thing. Real ID doesn’t nullify the passport requirement for international travel. You still need a passport to leave the country.

We know this is all a little confusing. Please hit us up in the comments section with any additional questions you might have regarding your personal situation and we’ll do our best to help out.

Happy travels!


  1. What happens if I don’t get a real ID at all? I have no way to get a copy of my birth certificate as I was adopted and the name on the birth certificate my birth parents do have has a different name on it and I changed my name which is on my license. I have no idea how to get a copy of my name change either.

    1. Hi JT. You cannot fly without a Real ID after October 2020. That is still almost a full year away, however, which is ample time foe you to work out the logistics of what you’ll need. You can’t really avoid compliance unless you don’t need to fly ever again. Reach out to your DMV now and get the process started.

  2. Say I want to travel to NY or wherever in the U.S. after 2020, can I just use my passport for that? Or they have to see both the REAL ID & PASSPORT? So if I don’t have a REAL ID (just the federal limits apply) but, show them my passport, they will still not allow me to fly?

  3. So I can fly to other states without a passport correct? I just need a passport to fly to another country? And I have real ID as of now so do I need to have a passport as of now to travel between states or will real ID cover that as of now aswell? Really curious about this thank you!

    1. Hi John, Thanks for the question. You need a passport for international travel. For domestic air travel, the Real ID is all you need. If you did not have a Real ID by October of 2020 (when the Real ID requirement kicks in), you would then be required to show an alternate valid form of ID (like a valid passport). In your case, all you need to travel between states is a valid driver’s license. Most people are updating their DL right now in order to be compliant by October 2020, when the Real ID requirement becomes necessary. Hope this helps!

  4. Thanks for sharing this post. People are really confused about this real ID concept. Real ID-compliant cards are marked with a star at the top of the card. You can also contact your state driver’s license agency on how to get a REAL ID-compliant card.

  5. Hey. So I have a Washington state id car and it says federal limits apply. Now can I use this until October 1st 2020 I plan on traveling. Next month in February. Can I still use it.

  6. Hi I got federal limits apply id card I can use it travel before oct 2020 and before that date I need get real id at DMV do how much will it cost I just got this id Nov 2019 so just get a new one and I can travel but only here United States or what please help

    1. Hi Juana, Every state department of vehicles is different so I’m not sure exactly how much the new Real ID will be for you. I know it’s around the cost of a regular license. You do not need to worry about travel before October – but please do look into getting that new Real ID compliant ID if you need to fly after October. You won’t be permitted to fly without it or a passport.

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