COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has rocked markets and impacted almost every industry, including food, retail and travel. Today, the Department of Homeland Security announced the latest change to impact travelers: Americans will now have until Oct. 21, 2021, to comply with the Real ID Act, pushing the original deadline back by a year.
Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 to ensure a minimum security standard for state-issued personal identification, like driver's licenses, by requiring Real ID-compliant documentation to pass through security at domestic airports, as well as accessing federal buildings and military bases.
"Our state and local partners are working tirelessly with the Administration to flatten the curve and, therefore, we want to remove any impediments to response and recovery efforts," Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement. "States across the country are temporarily closing or restricting access to DMVs. This action would preclude millions of people from applying for and receiving their Real ID. Extending the deadline will also allow the Department to work with Congress to implement needed changes to expedite the issuance of Real IDs once the current health crisis concludes."
The move comes on top of an already changed travel landscape. On March 11, President Donald Trump suspended all travel from Europe to the United States for 30 days. Several airlines have done their part to help by canceling flights to and from Europe while providing fee-waivers for customers who wish to change their flights. All people traveling over the next couple of months should keep the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State Department's guidelines in mind.
If you’re completely puzzled by the concept of a Real ID and why you need it, you’re not alone. Currently, only about 72% of Americans either don't have one or may be confused, according to a 2019 study done for the U.S. Travel Association.
In 2005, a few years after the tragedy of attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, Congress passed a bill called the Real ID Act. According to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the act was passed to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” This act will increase the requirements of documents you have to present in order to obtain the license, and according to NBC News, it will “create a single, robust national standard for all states and territories.”
What is a Real ID, and how do I know if I have one already?
Starting Oct. 1, 2021, all airline passengers traveling domestically will be required to present a Real ID before entering security. But how do you know if your ID is a Real ID?
Real IDs have a gold or black star at the top, signifying compliance. If your ID says “not for federal identification” or “federal limits apply,” it isn't compliant with Real ID standards, and you will need to obtain one before Oct. 1, 2021. Some states have been issuing these licenses for years, so it’s best to check your current ID to see if you already have one, especially if you live in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont or Washington.
If you live in Hawaii, Ohio or Utah, take note of the fact that Real IDs issued in these states do not have a gold or black star on the top, so it's best to confirm with your state directly if you don’t see this symbol on your ID.
How do I know if I need a Real ID?
If you’re not an avid traveler, getting a Real ID may not be necessary for you. You also don't need a Real ID if you’re under 18, only need your ID for identification purposes, and are OK with only using your passport to travel.
If you want to fly internationally, you still need to bring your passport or passport card. You can also use your passport or passport card instead of a Real ID to fly domestically.
A Real ID is also not required if you want to:
- Gamble, purchase alcohol or cash checks
- Vote or register to vote
- Access U.S. health services
- Apply for or receive medical benefits
- Obtain a license to drive
Where can I get a Real ID?
Obtaining a Real ID is simpler than you might expect. To make an appointment at your local Department of Motor Vehicles, go to its website and schedule a time to get your Real ID. Alternatively, you can just show up to your DMV during operating hours, but be prepared to wait (and note that your local DMV could be impacted by various coronavirus closures and shelter-in-place orders).
What is needed to get a Real ID?
Visit your state’s DMV website to see what documents are required for your appointment. Typically, you will have to provide documentation that shows:
- Proof of identity that shows your full legal name
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Two different proofs of your principal residence (such as utility bill, bank statement or mortgage statement)
- Proof of U.S. citizenship
Again, it is important to check your with your state’s DMV for more information to see if there are any additional requirements.
How much does a Real ID cost?
Most states distribute them for less than $60, but it varies from state to state. According to Upgraded Points, the most expensive state is currently Massachusetts at $85, while North Dakota comes in at $15.
How long does it take to get a Real ID?
Check with your local DMV's office to see how long processing takes, as each state varies (Pennsylvania can take 15 business days, while New York can take a couple of weeks). Keep in mind that coronavirus closures have shut down many DMVs across the country, which will no doubt slow processing. And if you wait until close to the deadline to apply, there's a greater chance that a crush of last-minute applications will also be rolling in, which could also cause delays.
Even with the Oct. 1 deadline extended by a year, it’s important to keep all of these things in mind. If you can’t get a Real ID before the deadline, be sure to bring your passport, passport card, military ID or Global Entry card when traveling to avoid any issues.
—Callie Patteson contributed to this article.