It’s been a long time coming, but the REAL ID deadline is approaching, whether travelers like it or not.
The current deadline for REAL ID is May 7, 2025, which gives Americans just over 700 days to get set up for what is expected to be a huge change in how travelers move through airports.
Ahead of that change, here’s a guide for travelers:
What is REAL ID?
REAL ID is the name of the act passed by Congress in 2005 that has its roots in recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. The Act set minimum standards for identification cards, including driver’s licenses, which can be used for boarding a plane, accessing federal facilities, or entering nuclear power plants.
The Act essentially boosts what is required to be part of an identification card in order for it to be used to do any of those things, most notably boarding an aircraft. It makes sure that states are better able to verify the identity of license holders.
Most driver’s licenses right now are not up to that standard, so those planning on using their driver’s licenses to board a plan will most likely need to update them.
What does enforcement mean?
Starting on May 7, 2025, only those with REAL IDs will be able to use them for those previously mentioned purposes. Most notably, for travelers, DHS and TSA will only let you proceed through security if you have a REAL ID.
Otherwise, travelers will need to use a passport, except for those in Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont, who will be able to use Enhanced Driver’s Licenses, which are considered acceptable alternatives to REAL ID-compliant cards. Travelers in those states still need to get their licenses enhanced before enforcement.
REAL ID-compliant IDs and driver’s licenses will usually have a marking on the top portion of the card—most often a star—that will prove its compliance. Some non-compliant ones will have a message “not for federal purposes” to distinguish themselves from compliant ones.
Some examples of REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses.
How can you get a REAL ID?
The DHS says that travelers’ first stop is to go to their state’s driver’s licensing agency website to find out exactly what is needed to get a REAL ID. Typically, at minimum, those applying for a REAL ID will need the following:
- Full Legal Name
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- Two Proof of Address of Principal Residence
- Lawful Status
Other requirements could be needed depending on the state. New York, for instance, will require, on top of those previous requirements, a valid U.S. passport, birth certificate, permanent resident card, or employment authorization card.
The state-by-state guidelines can be found here. For more on what the process is like, read a piece from TMR’s Paul Ruden on his experience obtaining a REAL ID.
Will there be another delay?
There certainly could be another delay, but the full enforcement of the REAL ID has been a long time coming. The DHS had been set to enforce the new rules a number of times, including way back in 2016, before delaying it a number of times, most recently late last year from May 2023 to May 2025.
The most recent delay was supported by the U.S. Travel Association, which had been pushing for an extension in order to account for the COVID-19 pandemic. After the news of the delay broke, U.S. Travel Association's Tori Emerson Barnes said "Extending the REAL ID deadline is the right decision, and U.S. Travel appreciates DHS leadership for recognizing that with more than 100 million Americans still lacking a REAL ID, now is not the time to create significant travel disruptions. This delay helps give travelers the time necessary to get the credential needed to fly domestically."