Is Your Driver's License a Real ID? How to Make the Switch

Does your driver's license qualify as Real ID? If not, you'l want to make the switch before the 2025 deadline. Pictured here is a pile of United States identification cards. Credit - Marvin Joseph—Getty Images

If you have plans to fly domestically— or enter a secure federal facility—this time next year, you will need to ensure that your driver’s license is the federally-approved kind of driver’s license.

Starting May 7, 2025, domestic flyers will need to ensure that their ID is a Real ID to ensure that air travel is done with a federally-approved document. Furthermore, it will be needed if one wants to enter a military facility, or somewhere where agencies like Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) need to admit entry.

Travelers can also use a passport for this purpose, and will still need one for international travel.

There are several types of ID available currently in the United States: standard, Real ID, and enhanced. Real ID will get you on flights within the U.S. and enhanced allows you entry to Canada without a passport. Enhanced IDs are also Real ID-compliant after the deadline next May.

Here is all you need to know to ensure you have a Real ID-compliant driver’s license.

What is a Real ID?

The Real ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005 in hopes of enacting the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses,” according to the DHS website.

Though the Real ID Act technically came into effect on May 11, 2008, there has been over a decade of delays on enforcement of the act. The most recent delay was from 2023 to the current enforcement date of May 2025. These delays can be attributed to historical state opposition,  potential administrative burdens and expenses on state governments, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This extension will give states needed time to ensure their residents can obtain a Real ID-compliant license or identification card,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro  Mayorkas in a statement released by the Department of Homeland Security in December 2022. “DHS will also use this time to implement innovations to make the process more efficient and accessible. We will continue to ensure that the American public can travel safely.”

The ACLU opposes the Real ID Act, stating that when implemented, it will “facilitate the tracking of data on individuals and bring government into the very center of every citizen’s life.”

Information about the Real ID requirements posted at the Secretary of State's driver's license facility in the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, Ill. on March 27, 2019. <span class="copyright">Brian Cassella—Getty Images</span>
Information about the Real ID requirements posted at the Secretary of State's driver's license facility in the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, Ill. on March 27, 2019. Brian Cassella—Getty Images

The Act establishes more standardized security requirements for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibits certain federal agencies from accepting, for official purposes, licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards.

Real ID-compliant cards will all have a star-like shape in the upper right corner of the card, though the size/color vary state by state.

When is the deadline?

Travelers will need a Real ID by May 7, 2025 in order to use their driver’s license to pass checkpoints. After that date, federal agencies will not accept other driver’s licenses.

How can citizens ensure they have Real ID-compliant IDs?

If people do not have Real ID-compliant cards, they can apply through their state’s driver’s license agency. Each state may have varying qualifications necessary to receive the REAL ID, but Homeland Security published an interactive map whereby people can click on their state for further information and instructions.

At minimum, though, people will need to provide documentation showing their full legal name, date of birth, social security number, two proofs of address—which can include anything from a utility bill to a bank statement—and lawful status. In some states, an applicant will need to visit their state’s DMV to complete the process.

TSA still does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the U.S. , though their companion will need a federally-approved document.

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