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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

If you try to board an airplane without the new form driver’s license come October 1, 2020, you’re going nowhere. That’s the day federal laws go into effect to turn away travelers at TSA checkpoints unless they own a passport or a REAL ID.

That means that three out of every four Americans cannot get on a flight because they don’t have acceptable identification. US reports that almost 72% of Americans do not own a “REAL-ID compliant driver’s license or approved form of identification” that will make them eligible for domestic air travel.

What is a REAL ID? Why do you need to get it? How do you get it?

Each state follows its own process to issue the new driver’s licenses, but here are some FAQs to get started.

What is REAL ID?

REAL ID is a new kind of drivers license or identification card issued by the California DMV (and all other state DMVs) that meets the new federal regulations for identification standards. It requires more proof of identity and residence to obtain. The intent is to create standardized, federally approved driver’s licenses in all states.

The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”

What’s the difference between my old ID and a REAL ID?

Your old, preexisting California drivers licenses and identification cards no longer meet federal standards.

Why do I need a REAL ID?

Starting on Oct. 1, 2020, you will need a Real ID (or passport) for the following:

  • To board a flight within the United States.
  • Enter secure federal facilities like military bases, federal courthouses and other secure federal facilities.

Do I have to get a REAL ID?


Is there an alternative ID I can use while traveling instead of a REAL ID?

You may use a valid U.S. passport or U.S. passport card, military ID or other federally approved identification to travel after October 1, 2020 if you do not have a REAL ID.

Do I need to make an appointment to get a REAL ID? How do I make an appointment?

An appointment is not required, but strongly recommended if you do not want to wait in long lines. You can make an appointment on the DMV website.

Can I get a REAL ID by renewing my current driver license by mail or online?

No. Since a REAL ID is a form of federal identification, you must visit a DMV office in person when applying for a REAL ID for the first time.

Once you have a REAL ID driver license or identification card, you may be eligible to renew by mail or online in the future.

Do I have to wait until my current ID expires, or can I get a REAL ID sooner?

If you are planning to fly after the date your current ID is expiring, then you should make an appointment and get a REAL ID before. If you have a passport, you can use it to travel after October 2020, then apply for a REAL ID when it is time to renew your current ID.

What documents do I need to bring with me to my appointment?

In order to receive a REAL ID, you must bring the following documents to a DMV field office:

  • Proof of identity which includes one of the following: an original or certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, employment authorization, permanent resident card or unexpired foreign passport with valid U.S. visa and approved I-94 form. No photocopies will be accepted.
  • Proof of Social Security number which includes a Social Security card, W-2 or paystub with full SSN. Original or certified copies are required and no photocopies will be accepted.
  • Two different proofs of residency – street address, such as a home utility or cell phone bill, vehicle registration card, mortgage or lease agreement, bank account or property tax bill.

The Residency documents must show the applicant’s name and list the SAME address that will appear on the federal compliant REAL ID driver license or identification card.

What should I do to get a REAL ID?

Fill out the online application, make an appointment or check wait times at your local office, and create a checklist of everything you need to bring to DMV.

What are DMV office hours?

DMV office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Offices open at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays. Select DMV locations are open Saturdays. Check your local DMV here for more information regarding Saturday hours.

How long does it take to get your REAL ID in the mail?

Allow approximately 2 weeks after the date of application for your photo document to arrive by mail. You can check the mailing status of your photo document online.

Do minors need a REAL ID to board a domestic flight?

No. The TSA does not require anyone under the age of 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the U.S.

To learn more:

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Contributing Editor, Meera Kymal

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Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Producer/Founder of DesiCollective Media, where she creates audio, video and written content that impacts the South Asian diaspora. She is also a writer for magazine...