What is happening with Real ID?

For years, travellers in the US have been warned that, at some point, they would need to obtain a Real ID-compliant identification if they wanted to fly in the US.

It appears that the deadline may be upon us. Again.

The Department of Homeland Security recently stated that Real ID will be enforced starting on 7 May 2025, meaning Americans have just under a year to make sure their IDs are compliant, at least if they intend to use air travel or access federal buildings.

Real ID was introduced under a 2005 Congressional act intending to set a “minimum security” standard for citizens’ IDs, including driving licences.

The DHS originally set 2020 as a deadline before it was pushed back a year, and then another two years, as the coronavirus pandemic grounded most Americans. The official reason given for the delays was “backlogged transactions”, according to USA Today.

“Following the enforcement deadline, federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, will be prohibited from accepting driver’s licences and identification cards that do not meet these federal standards,” the DHS said in 2022.

Air travellers with up-to-date passports or permanent resident cards likely won’t need a Real ID-compliant driver’s licence. However, they will still be ineligible for entering nuclear facilities or other federal facilities, should they have reason to do so.

The US Department of Homeland Security announced that Real ID enforcement will begin on 7 May 2025 (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
The US Department of Homeland Security announced that Real ID enforcement will begin on 7 May 2025 (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

There are a few TSA-approved alternatives to the Real ID for those unwilling to update their driver’s licence.

Those exceptions include state-issued “enhanced” driver’s licences, DHS trusted travellers cards, US Department of Defence IDs, border crossing cards, Tribal Nation/Indian tribe photo identification, foreign government-issued passports, transportation worker credentials, I-766 cards, US Merchant Mariner Credentials, and Veteran Health Identification cards.

Right now, it takes about two weeks for state DMVs to process requests for updated Real ID compliant driver licences.

Travellers unsure if their licences are Real ID compliant can look to the upper right-hand corner of their driver’s licence. If there is a small logo in the upper-right-hand corner, it’s likely a Real ID. Many licences that are not federally compliant will include a message stating as such.

For example, a compliant licence in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and other states has a circle with a star inside it in the top right corner. Non-compliant licences may say “FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY” or another message noting that it is not compliant with federal standards.

In California, a compliant licence will have a bear logo with a star on its rear.

Americans can upgrade their existing licences by going to their DMV and asking to have their licence brought into compliance with Real ID.

At a minimum, you’ll be asked to produce your full legal name, your date of birth, social security number, two proofs of address, and your lawful resident status in the US.