Here’s How the Real ID Act Impacts Travelers

Stacey Ebert

UPDATE: The grace period for noncomplaint states ends in January 2018, however all noncompliant states have filed for extensions. As it stands, state-issued IDs will be accepted through October 10, 2018. If your state has updated their processes to become Real ID compliant by that time, your ID will continue to be accepted after that date.

The easiest way to avoid the entire debacle is to apply for a passport and carry it, even for domestic travel.


With New Year’s resolutions come new travel dreams and with new travel dreams come new government bureaucracy that can suddenly put a damper on those all encompassing plans.

It’s January of 2018, the time when the US government said it would start the roll out of phase 4 of the REAL ID Act program established in 2005. While many try to disregard the constant barrage of information coming out of Washington, this is one of those times that anyone interested in traveling anywhere MUST pay attention. If you can manage to fling together your packing list, shove everything you’re taking in that carry on backpack, maneuver both road and airport traffic and get yourself to the security line on time; I’d imagine that you don’t want to be turned away from heading to Grandma’s 90th, your friend’s wedding, or spending a weekend in Vegas, just becaused of government minutiae. How can you be certain that you have the identification you need? Read on.

What is the Real ID Act?

The Real ID Act of 2005 was recommended by the 9/11 Commission and signed into effect in 2005 by, then President, George W. Bush. Although it is a federal law, state compliance is voluntary. The law mandates that state driver’s licenses meet technical federal standards and Department of Homeland Security verified procedures. In short, there’s a good possibility of bureaucratic headaches in the future.

The REAL ID Act sets up minimum-security standards for states to issue licenses, ensures a more uniform production and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting non-compliant licenses for a variety of purposes (including domestic air travel).

What’s covered by the act are:

  • Accessing Federal facilities
  • Entering nuclear power plants
  • Boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft (including domestic).  

DHS has a phased rollout schedule for the REAL ID Act and although there are extensions in place, there’s no guarantee for any further extensions.

In order for a state to be considered ‘REAL ID compliant,’ it mustrequire applicants to present either a photo ID or an ID which includes a full name and birth date, proof of birth date (generally a birth certificate), proof of resident status, social security number, and proof of address. REAL IDs are also required to have the holder’s signature, gender, a unique identifying number, and certain anti-tampering or counterfeiting measures.’

Why is the Real ID Act Happening?

In the early 2000s, there was grave concern regarding terrorism, counterfeiting of. and tampering with, licenses. Trying to find a uniform system to provide anti-counterfeiting measures was at the forefront of this act. Thirteen years later, the rollout is into its final phase and the impact of that legislation is now on the horizon. With concerns about privacy, bias, and intrusion amidst fear of the unknown, the REAL ID Act is here yet met with many questions and dissatisfaction by travelers and privacy advocates. Don’t worry, amidst all of this federal regulation, states will continue to provide their own licenses, keep their own records and there will not be any sort of federal database of driver information.

Best suggestion – Apply for those passports and passport cards now so you know you have approved federal identification for your next flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas, or Los Angeles to San Diego.

Why Should You Care?

Whether we want to be aware or not, this is happening. Phase 4 begins on the 22nd of January yet many airport signs have yet to be adjusted. The rollout has been postponed a bit to deal with all of the extensions, compliance, and questions about this new regulation. If you’re someone who is strongly connected to your privacy, it’s worth noting that there are presently groups up in arms about this entire debacle and working with their states to protect the rights of all.

Initially it was stated that any non-compliant state licenses will be subject to enforcement at those TSA checkpoints as of January – this is now pushed back till later in the year (October).

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are presently 23 states that are still under the extension program (meaning they’ve yet to meet all of the necessary requirements for those valid licenses) so the mandates will now go into effect on the 10th of October 2018.

States will have to share information with the federal government. Although there is no database being created, the notion of shared state details with the federal government makes many very nervous.

How Does This Affect Me?

Shoes, liquids, laptops, and now very specific forms of identification – let’s just say the logistics of managing those security lines might be even more challenging than they’ve been in the past and you’ll thank yourself even more for that setting up that TSA Pre check or Global Entry. Whether we like it or not, this is happening, so add it to your ‘to do’ list and arm yourself with the most research possible. The best plan of action is to keep up with the DHS website to find out the most up to date information prior to setting off for your next flight (and be sure to tell your friends who rarely travel so they don’t get caught off guard).

These are the details of how this affects travelers:

Grace period solidified

Initially, January 22, 2018 was the last date that Federal agencies (including TSA) would accept driver’s license and identification cards issued by non-compliant states – this is pushed back till October 10th, 2018 for those states granted an extension.

Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDLs)

EDLs, offered by some of the fully compliant states, are acceptable prior to, and after, REAL ID Act goes into effect.

Officially official date of compliance

As of October 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification for domestic air travel. Check out the REAL ID fact sheet for the most up to date information.

If your state is already fully compliant with the mandated standards of the REAL ID act, anyone holding licenses can put in an application for a REAL ID compliant license, or you can continue to use your pre-existing license.

If you live in a state with an extension, your identification is valid until the date of the extension (now the 10th of October 2018) but after that a passport or other federally approved identification will be necessary in order to fly both internationally and domestic.

What Should I do if my State License Doesn’t Work?

Right now, all is well – after the 10th of October that’s another story altogether. At the present time, there are 9 states out of compliance with the REAL ID Act. Extensions are in place until then, licenses will continue to work until then but after that travelers who do not possess the appropriate license WILL NOT be allowed to fly domestically and without another form of federally approved ID, WILL be turned away at airports.

TSA currently accepts several other forms of identification documents and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. For more information on all acceptable forms of identification for boarding aircraft, check out see TSA’s website.

New requirements for the REAL ID Act will now be postponed until October of 2018. This means that those with licenses from those nine states (Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington) will be able to travel on their present licenses until this autumn. Unless there is another extension after that time (which at the moment the government says will NOT happen), those IDs will no longer be valid and passports (or those other acceptable forms of identification) will be necessary to travel on both international and domestic flights.

At this point, even if you hold a license from a fully compliant state, traditional licenses can continue to be used until October 2020.

What About IDs & the Phase Out of DACA?

This REAL ID Act affects everyone. Any applicants with approved deferred action that presently hold Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) and valid social security numbers may qualify as recipients of temporary REAL ID licenses/ID cards. Those with an approved status, those with valid EADS and SSNs, can also keep their temporary IDs until the expiration date on those documents.

When Can I Stop Paying Attention to This?

If you don’t own a passport, you need to pay attention! If you travel by air at all, this applies to you until 2020. The REAL ID Act is known for its stops and starts, extensions, delays, conflicts, and confusion. As it’s clear that all 50 states are not in favor of the details of the act, the changes and misinformation in the rollout are not met with smiles and sunshine. Many are concerned that there will be people turned away or stranded at airports, perhaps if only to prove a point, and the repercussions of this could be exceptionally difficult.

Dates to take note of:

January 22, 2018

Travelers who do not have a license from a compliant state or a state that has been granted an extension (a complete list of non-compliant states/ territories can be found here) will be asked to provide alternate acceptable identification. If the traveler cannot provide an acceptable form of identification, he/she will not be permitted through the security checkpoint

October 1, 2020

Every traveler will need to present a REAL ID-compliant license or another acceptable form of identification for domestic air travel.

Where do I Look if I Have More Questions?

There are questions about this REAL ID Act from all sides. Travelers are confused, as the signs in airports and the DHS website don’t always match. TSA agents are trying to do their jobs but their information keeps changing with a moments notice. Airlines don’t always have the most up to date information and the average traveler doesn’t tend to check the DHS website prior to heading to the airport. You’re not the average traveler and if you have questions… ask them.

Department of Homeland Security has a REAL ID page set up with colors, maps and information. Check to see if your state is compliant and consider ordering an Enhanced License, available in some states.

Check on your state’s progress and to find out if you’re dealing with a January 22nd deadline or that of the 10th of October (most everyone is in October). The earlier your state becomes compliant, the more likely you will be able to acquire a compliant license as part of the normal renewal cycle.

Check up on the frequently asked questions. 

If you’d rather chat to a human and ask your questions give the TSA people a shout at:


The REAL ID Act is a real thing and it’s happening whether we like it or not. Arm yourself with information and if you really can’t be bothered – bring your passport even on those short hop domestic flights.

  • No, there’s not a state database
  • Yes, it will be a little annoying
  • Yes, lines are likely to be longer

Bureaucracy is slow and information takes awhile to be disseminated – do your research, don’t sweat the small stuff, have patience, and happy travels.

  •      All states are in the process of either compliance or extension
  •      Extension date is 10th of October 2018
  •      ALL STATES will have to be fully compliant by October 2020
  •      When in doubt – bring your passport

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