The deadline for obtaining a REAL ID to board domestic flights is being extended until October 1, 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump announced the extension at a press conference on Monday, March 23. The announcement was confirmed and a new deadline was announced by the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday, March 26.

Prior to the announcement, passengers boarding domestic flights were being required to obtain a compliant REAL ID card by October 1, 2020. With the deadline approaching later this year, department of motor vehicle offices around the country have been seeing higher than normal activity. Due to the social distancing measures put in place because of COVID-19, pushing the deadline back will help to limit crowds gathering at these offices – if they are even open – to obtain their compliant ID cards.

“At a time when we’re asking Americans to maintain social distancing, we do not want to require people to go with their local DMV. We will be announcing the new deadline very soon,” said Trump.

The move has been cheered by those in the travel industry, including U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.

“Extending the REAL ID deadline is clearly the wise course of action at this juncture. We’ve asked DHS that the delay of the REAL ID enforcement deadline remain in place until the current economic environment improves and DHS can certify that access to air travel will not be negatively impacted after REAL ID enforcement begins.”


Wait, What’s a REAL ID Anyway?

Haven’t heard about the REAL ID Act? You’re likely not alone. The policy, however, has been around for quite a while.

Congress passed the REAL ID act in 2005 as part of their response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Effectively, this law provides an extra layer of security for state issued identification cards – including ID cards, drivers licenses and more. Applicants are required to provide multiple forms of identification in order to receive their REAL ID compliant card.

The law has been slowly rolled out for the last 15 years. If you have traveled on an airplane in the last several months, as you moved through TSA, you likely saw information about the forthcoming REAL ID requirements. This is because all states were required to be compliant with the act by October 1, 2020. However, recent issues with the spread of COVID-19 have forced government officials to push back the date until October 1, 2021.


Is My ID Already Compliant?

If you’ve been issued a new driver’s license or state identification card in the last few years, chances are good that your card is already REAL ID compliant. Most states have been preparing the the deadline and have been issuing compliant IDs, as such.

So, how can you tell if your card is compliant? In most states, there is either a gold or black star in the upper right-hand corner of the ID, indicating the card meets REAL ID requirements.

Here’s a peek at how a REAL ID compliant card looks in Indiana:

Indiana REAL ID compliant card

As you can see, REAL ID compliance is indicated by the black star in the upper right corner of the card.

In addition to state-issued identification cards, a passport also serves to meet REAL ID travel requirements.


Why Do I Need a REAL ID?

So, when does needing a REAL ID actually come into play? There are really only three instances where you’ll likely need it:

  • To get on a U.S. domestic flight without a passport
  • To visit a secure federal facility without a military ID
  • To enter a nuclear power plant

Keep in mind, you’ll only need to show your REAL ID if you plan to fly without a passport. So, if you’d rather bring your passport to the airport when flying, you are welcome to do that instead.

It’s also important to remember that a REAL ID compliant card is not a substitute for a passport. You will still need a passport to travel internationally, including to and from Canada and Mexico.

You’ll also want to note that the law applies to federally run services and programs only. States are responsible for issuing identification cards, so you may not be required to obtain a REAL ID compliant card in order to:

  • Vote
  • Register to vote
  • Legally operate a motor vehicle
  • Purchasing alcohol
  • Travel by air under age 18

How to Obtain a Compliant REAL ID

Getting an ID that is REAL ID compliant is pretty easy. Simply visit your local department of motor vehicles office and bring the proper documentation with you.

Because ID requirements are handled at the state level, you’ll need to check exactly which documents are accepted at your local branch. At a minimum, however, you’ll need to bring:

  • Proof of Identity – A document which includes your full legal name and date of birth (typically a birth certificate or unexpired passport). If your name, date of birth, or gender has changed, you may be required to provide legal proof of the change (typically with a marriage license, adoption papers, divorce decree, etc.).
  • Proof of Lawful Status – A document which proves you are legally allowed entry to the United States (typically a birth certificate, unexpired passport, or foreign passport with visa and I-94 forms).
  • Proof of Social Security – You’ll need to bring your Social Security card with you. If you do not have access to your card, please check with your state to see what type of documentation will satisfy this requirement.
  • Proof of Address (x2) – You’ll need to bring two documents that provide proof of your principal place of residence (typically utility bills, credit card bills, doctor bills, current bank statements, current paycheck stubs, etc.) These documents must have both your name and your address listed.

Again, please check with your state department of motor vehicles for clarification on the specific requirements for obtaining an ID in your state.

It’s important to remember that many state agencies and field offices will be closed until the social distancing recommendations due to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted. Also, keep in mind that the deadline for obtaining a REAL ID card to fly is being extended until October 1, 2021.

Even if you haven’t cancelled your travel plans yet, don’t feel like you need to run out and get a new ID card right away. Please check with your local department of motor vehicles office regarding their current hours and any closures before making plans.

Is your identification card compliant? What do you think of the federal government extending the REAL ID deadline? Let us know in the comments below.

(The original article was edited to include the new deadline information.)