REAL ID and Flying: What You Need to Know

One of the biggest changes to hit air travel in years, REAL ID, means you will need a compliant identification card to be able to fly. Full-scale implementation at U.S. airports and other ports of entry is coming up soon. Are you ready?

Before you can answer whether you’re ready, you might want answers to the other questions that are probably coursing through your mind: 

What is REAL ID?

REAL ID is the outgrowth of legislation passed in 2005 that establishes minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards, and prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses and cards that don’t meet the standards.

Also read: How Travel Insurance Can Help When You Fly

When do you need a REAL ID to fly?

Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or other acceptable form of ID to fly within the United States.

REAL ID will have its main impact on how you interact with the Transportation Security Administration and go through airport security. However, you’ll also need a REAL ID to visit federal facilities or enter nuclear power plants, if those ever become a part of your travel plans.

How to get a REAL ID

For most people, a REAL ID will not be an identification card separate from their driver’s license. However, Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York are issuing REAL IDs as well as REAL ID-compliant enhanced driver’s licenses, both of which will be accepted by the TSA.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security is working with all 50 states to integrate REAL ID compliance into their driver’s licenses. The challenge is making sure you get a REAL ID-compatible drivers’ license in advance of the deadline, even if your license isn’t technically up for renewal.

For residents of some states, such as California, getting a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license may mean an extra trip to the DMV. Curb your enthusiasm.

See Airport Security and Travel Advisory Quick Links

What does a REAL ID look like?

REAL ID-compliant cards are marked with a star at the top. If you’re not sure whether your ID is compliant, contact your state driver’s license agency on how to obtain a REAL ID-compliant card.

In addition, state-issued enhanced driver's licenses are marked with a flag. These documents will be accepted at airport security once REAL ID enforcement starts.

What ID do you need to fly?

If you forget or lose your REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or ID card, you’re not completely out of luck. The following ID types are also acceptable:

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense IDs, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

Also read: How to Replace a Lost or Stolen Passport on a Trip

Who needs a REAL ID to fly?

Every adult needs a REAL ID-compliant card to be able to fly.

Do children need REAL ID?
No, children do not need a REAL ID to fly. The TSA will not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States.

On the other hand, individual airlines may have ID requirements for children under 18, so it’s probably a good idea for that juvenile driver of the house to take along a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license when they travel.

Also read: What to do if Your Flight is Canceled

Can I fly without a REAL ID?

One of the biggest questions travelers have regarding REAL ID is whether they’ll be able to fly if they forget their ID.

Fortunately, the answer is yes … probably.

When REAL ID requirement kicks in on October 1, 2021, if you get to the airport and find that you’ve forgotten your REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or ID card, you may still be allowed to fly.

The TSA will try to confirm your identity by having you complete a verification process which includes you supplying your name, current address, and other personal information.

If the TSA confirms your identity, you’ll be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint, though you’ll be subject to additional screening, including a pat-down and screening of carry-on property.

Also read: Top 5 Reasons to Get Travel Insurance

On the flip side, if the TSA can’t confirm your identity you won’t be able to enter the security checkpoint, and you’ll either have to hustle back home for your ID or find alternative means of transportation.

While REAL ID should make the ID-card process more standard, it won’t have much of an impact on the amount of time it will take you to make it through airport security. The TSA still recommends that you arrive at least two hours in advance of your flight time.

For more information on REAL ID when flying, check out TSA resources and FAQs.

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