As you pass through security on your holiday travels, glance over at the little signs telling you to get a Real ID. They’ve been there for awhile, but you’ve probably ignored them for years. Now, you have to pay attention. After many delays, on October 1, 2020, you will only be able to use your driver license as proof of identification if you have this so-called Real ID. This is supposed to make things more secure, but at least in the beginning, it’s going to be a complete mess.
Who Needs to Pay Attention
Let’s start with who shouldn’t care about this. First, if you’re under 18, you need no ID. Beyond that, if you travel using your passport, trusted traveler card, or any other form of photo identification issued by the federal government, then you are good to go. Further, if you have an “Enhanced Driver License” from your state, that’s ok too. But for those who travel using their driver license, this is a really big deal.
Why You Wouldn’t Get a Real ID
Congress decided back in 2005 that the states were too lax about the standards required to procure a driver license. So, they put together legislation that required stepping up standards for that ID to be used to access areas controlled by the feds. Today most states will offer you the choice of getting a regular driver license or a Real ID. Why would you get the former? There are a couple reasons.
In some places, it’s cheaper. So if you won’t be flying using that ID (or trying to enter restricted federal facilities that require ID), then there’s no reason to pay for the more expensive one. Pennsylvania, for example, charges a one-time $30 fee to get a Real ID issued. California, New York, Illinois, and others, however, charge the same amount whether you get a Real ID or a regular one, and that leads to the second point.
It is not simple to get a Real ID. You need a lot of documentation to get it, and you have to do it in person. Some may just not want to deal with the hassle if they won’t be flying or visiting federal facilities. If you’re an American reading this blog, however, then you’ll want the Real ID.
A Problematic Roll-Out
There have been a ton of problems in this rollout, but most have been smoothed over. Early issues of states issuing IDs that didn’t meet the guidelines seem to have been fixed. (Technically, the feds just changed their minds on what the right process was. So that’s fun.) And New Jersey finally started issuing Real IDs recently, but there are two states that still aren’t ready.
- Oklahoma says it will start issuing Real IDs on April 30 of next year in limited locations.
- Oregon is the ultimate slacker. It won’t start issuing Real IDs until July 6.
For everyone else, Real IDs are available, and you may even have one. How do you know? If there’s a star of some sort at the top of your license, then you have a Real ID. (In California, the star is embedded in the ass of a bear.) It should look like one of these things:
If you don’t have one, but you want one, prepare for some fun. In many states (*cough* California *cough*), going to the Department of Motor Vehicles is a miserable experience that takes hours. You need to fill out an application and bring in multiple documents to prove your residence.
Getting a Real ID Isn’t Fun
At least in California, first, you need to bring something that proves your date of birth and your name, something like a passport or birth certificate. Second, you need proof of your social security number. That must either be the original card, a W-2, or something similar that proves the number. Then you need two documents proving residence. That could be your deed, a mortgage bill, tax return, utility bills, etc. There are a ton of options for that, but it’s a real pain to gather all this.
Does this all sound terrible? It is, and that’s why I expect this to be such a nightmare. When October 1, 2020 rolls around, do you think everyone who flies is going to have a Real ID or a federally-issued ID? No way. There’s a better chance of the Florida Marlins selling out a game. And this is where things get really tricky.
What Will Happen If You Try to Fly With a Non-Real ID? Good Question.
Today, you can technically still travel with no ID at all as long as you submit to enhanced security screening. But best I can tell, that will not be an option going forward. According to the FAQ:
Q: What happens to travelers who show up without a compliant license? Will TSA turn them away?
A: Travelers who do not present a REAL ID-compliant license or acceptable alternative beginning October 1, 2020 will not be permitted through the security checkpoint.
There is zero chance of everyone showing up with a compliant ID, so are they really going to tell everyone to pound sand and come back with the right ID? That is going to cause severe disruption.
I would hope that the feds would have some sort of grace period, or possibly even a system where people get fined if they don’t have their ID but they can still travel for some time. Otherwise, we’re in for some serious chaos. So far, I haven’t heard anything definitive on this.
The big concern at this point is that it has been pushed off so many times that any discussion about Real ID sounds like the little boy calling wolf. Nobody thinks it’ll ever actually happen. This time, however, it is happening. It’s coming, and it’s not going to be delayed again, so this could end being very ugly.