REAL ID UPDATE: What you need to know

  • NOTE:  A more recent post on REAL ID can be found here.

The updated top line: your current driver’s license will remain valid as TSA-approved ID for boarding aircraft on domestic flights for a while.  The DHS  compliance deadline for states to provide REAL ID driver’s licenses is expected to be extended to October 2018.

Here’s the background and what you should know about REAL ID and the TSA security protocol.

The REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005 establishes minimum security standards for license issuance … and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards.” 

One of those “certain purposes” is boarding aircraft for domestic flights. REAL-ID compliant driver’s licenses are currently offered by twenty-six states and the District of Columbia.  The good news is that the DHS is now in the process of reviewing “non-compliant state” extensions to run until October 2018.  In October 2020 the REAL ID requirement becomes mandatory.

 Am I in a REAL ID compliant state? And what if I’m not?


 GREEN states are REAL ID compliant, meaning you can obtain a REAL ID driver’s license in those states.  The District of Columbia is also compliant.

If you live in a ‘green’ state, you’re good to go.  You’ll know that your license is REAL ID compliant by the star or some other designation on the upper right corner.  If you’re unsure, check with your state’s DMV – generally the information is available online.

This Washington Post article offers a clear explanation of REAL ID and what a compliant license looks like.

BLUE states are, as of October 11, 2017, “under review” by the DHS. The DHS told me the review generally leads to an extension for 12 months.

The DHS further responded to my query with an email saying, “Beginning January 22, 2018, residents that are from states that are either REAL ID compliant or non-compliant with extensions, will be able to continue using their current state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards for….boarding commercial aircraft.”

 Are there any alternatives to the REAL ID driver’s licenses?

YES!  The TSA will accept Enhanced Driver’s Licences (EDLs) from the five states which issue them. Or you can simply apply for an Enhanced ID card. It’s the same thing, just no driving privileges.  Click to see each state’s requirements.

The requirements for New York, where I live include specific proof of one’s Social Security Number (SSN), proof of U.S. citizenship and proof of residency in New York.  Pretty much the same as for the REAL-ID.

If I’m concerned about my state’s extension status, what can I do?

A passport is NOT required at present and won’t be for a while. A full list of alternative documents acceptable to the TSA is here.


Here’s my take:

  • We’re good for right now, but it’s best to upgrade to a REAL ID driver’s license NOW if your state offers it.  Then you’ll be done.
  • If you live in a non-compliant state, keep checking your state’s DMV website.  New York State has just announced REAL ID licenses will become available on October 30, 2017.  I’ll be upgrading.
  • The REAL ID initiative has nothing to do with the current political environment in the U.S. It was kicked off by an Act of Congress in 2005 out of a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission and has been in the works for years, implemented in stages.
  • There is very clear information about REAL ID  on both the DHS and the TSA websites.

Finally, don’t let this get you down. Make those reservations, book that trip.  Here’s to a travel-filled 2018!  Up, up and away….


As always, would love to know your take – please leave a comment below.

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