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Is Your Driver's License a Real ID? The Deadline is Approaching

In May, Real ID-compliant identification will be required on domestic flights.

Security area in Palm Beach International Airport.
A sign for Real ID at the security area in Palm Beach International Airport.
Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Beginning next spring, a standard driver's license will no longer be good enough to get you through airport security. Real ID-approved identification will be required to board any domestic flight. 

Passed in 2007, the Real ID Act enforces consistent and secure standards for identification used for air travel and to enter federal facilities. The US Department of Homeland Security was slated to start enforcing the law on Oct. 1, 2020, but pushed the deadline back to October 2021 after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

In April 2021, the agency postponed enforcement again until May 3, 2023.

May isn't as far off as it seems. And many Department of Motor Vehicle offices still require appointments, so you don't want to leave it to the last minute.

Here's everything you need to know about Real ID, including where to apply, what you'll need to bring and what happens if you don't have one after the May 3 deadline.

For more on travel regulations, find out how to renew your passport online and what you're entitled to if your flight is delayed or canceled.

What is Real ID?

Essentially, Real ID is an enhanced version of your standard state driver's license or identification card, intended to help authorities crack down on terrorism and identity fraud.

As of 2022, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are complying with Real ID standards. So if you recently renewed your driver's license it's likely already compliant. If it's been a few years, however, you'll probably have to get it updated.

You can tell by looking at your license: If there is a gold, black or white star in the upper-right corner, you have a Real ID. (There are some minor variations -- California places a white star over the state's bear logo, while Maine puts it in an outline of the state.)

Stars on the Real ID

Real ID-approved licenses will have one of these stars on the upper-right corner.

Department of Homeland Security

What do I need to get a Real ID card?

Real ID sample

An example of what a driver's license with a Real ID logo looks like.

Ohio Department of Public Safety

Whatever state agency issued your driver's license is responsible for distributing Real IDs. The paperwork required will vary but typically it includes proof of identity and status as a US resident or citizen, proof of your Social Security number and multiple proofs of your current address.

Originals or hard copies of documentation -- birth certificate, Social Security card, US passport -- are required, with photocopies and screenshots not accepted. Check your state's driver's licensing agency website for more specifics.

After you apply, you should receive a temporary paper ID until your Real ID-compliant license arrives in the mail about three or four weeks later.

With a few exceptions, the cost of getting a Real ID-compliant license is the same as renewing your license or non-driving identification card. If you're not due for a license renewal yet, though, you'll have to pay now.

What happens once the Real ID Act is enforced? 

New Jersey license with Real ID star

The Real ID is not a separate identification but an enhancement to a standard driver's license or other approved state ID.


Beginning May 3, 2023, federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), will only accept Real ID-approved licenses and identification cards "for purposes of accessing federal facilities," according to DHS, including airport security checkpoints.

Without one, US adults will have to show a valid passport, even to fly domestically. The TSA will also accept these other forms of ID:

Enforcement of the Real ID Act will not affect other uses of a driver's license, including verifying an individual's ability to operate a vehicle or proving they are of legal age to purchase alcohol, firearms or tobacco.