What you need to know about the REAL ID Act

Passport with global map
Travel News 03 Feb 2016

A timeline of the final phase of the implementation of the REAL ID Act has been announced, affecting how air travelers will board commercial domestic flights over the next several years.

In 2004, the 9/11 Commission recommended that the U.S. government set standards for the issuance of “sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The Commission acknowledged that “sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”

In accordance with that recommendation, Congress enacted the REAL ID Act. This law prohibits federal agencies from accepting, for official purposes, driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by states that do not meet the law’s standards for secure issuance and production. For a license or identification card to be REAL ID-compliant, the state issuing it must, for example, incorporate anti-counterfeit technology into the card, verify the applicant’s identity, and conduct background checks for employees involved in issuing driver’s licenses and identification cards.

The ultimate goal of the REAL ID Act passed by Congress is to prevent the fraudulent issuance and use of driver’s licenses and identification cards, thereby ensuring the safety and security of the American public.

Effective immediately: Air travelers with a driver’s license or identification card issued by a state that does not meet the requirements of the REAL ID Act (unless that state has been granted an extension to comply with the Act) must present an alternative form of identification acceptable to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in order to board a commercial domestic flight. Over the next two years, those states that are not REAL ID-compliant are strongly encouraged to meet the requirements of the law for the benefit of their residents. The Department of Homeland Security will conduct different methods of outreach to inform the traveling public about the timeline below, and continue involvement with states to encourage compliance with REAL ID standards.

Starting July 15, 2016: TSA, in coordination with airlines and airport stakeholders, will begin to issue web-based advisories and notifications to the traveling public.

Starting December 15, 2016: TSA will expand outreach at its airport checkpoints through signage, handouts, among other methods.

Starting January 22, 2018: Passengers with a driver’s license issued by a state that is still not compliant with the REAL ID Act (and has not been granted an extension) will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel to board their flight. To check if your state is compliant or has an extension, visit dhs.gov/real-id-enforcement-brief. Passengers with driver’s licenses issued by a state that is compliant with REAL ID (or a state that has been issued an extension) will still be able to use their driver’s licenses or identification cards.

Starting October 1, 2020: Every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, or another acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel.