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How to Get a Real ID

What you need to know about the new requirements going into effect on Oct. 1, 2021.

You'll soon need a Real ID, or its equivalent, to fly. 

IProgressman / iStock

Most travelers know the airport routine: Before you enter the security checkpoint, you show your boarding pass and a picture ID. It’s the law—and it’s about to get stricter.

As of Oct. 1, 2021, all states will need to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005, which established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. If you want to board a commercial flight (or enter some federal buildings and military bases) after Oct. 1 next year, you’ll need to present a Real ID card or its equivalent, such as a valid passport or U.S. military identification.

The differences between Real IDs and older forms of identification? The new cards must incorporate new security features and can only be issued after applicants provide documentary proof of their identity. Most states— including California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah—are already issuing Real IDs; Oregon will begin doing so in mid-2020.

Unfortunately, this is one car-related chore you can’t take care of at your local AAA branch. Rather, you must appear in person at your state motor vehicle office. There, you’ll need to provide that proof of identity (such as a birth certificate or passport), evidence of your Social Security number (such as a Social Security card or W-2 form), and two documents attesting to your home address (a rental agreement, utility bill, or something similar); the residential addresses on the latter must all match. To learn more about the requirements, visit dhs.gov/real-id.

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This article was first published in August 2019 and last updated in March 2020.