October 2021 will bring a brand new requirement to board domestic flights in the U.S.: Real ID. But thanks to some Real ID alternatives, you may not need to get one after all.
These new IDs come with some extra hoops to jump through when applying for or renewing a driver’s license to prove your identity. It stems from a 2005 federal law meant to combat terrorism and identity fraud after the Sept. 11 attacks. Come Oct. 1, 2021, your normal driver's license will no longer get you through the airport.
But getting a Real ID has proven easier said than done. Many states nationwide are reporting long wait times to get the new federally approved IDs as drivers crowd DMVs. Some states only recently started issuing the new licenses at all.
Luckily, there are a handful of other options you can use to keep flying this fall if you can't – or don't want to – get a Real ID.
Grab Your Passport … or a Passport Card
If you've already got a passport, you're in luck. You can keep flying.
U.S. passports definitely meet the requirements for Real ID. So if you're one of the roughly 40% of Americans with a passport, you can hold off on getting a new driver's license for the sake of flying.
Don't love the idea of bringing your passport on every trip? Consider picking up a passport card instead.
These are handy ID-sized cards with all the necessary information you need to get through airport security come this fall. When you're traveling domestically, leave your passport at home and bring your passport card instead.
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as requesting a card from the federal government. It requires a separate application and fee – although, at $65 for a first-time applicant, passport cards are far cheaper than a standard passport book.
Traveling in the U.S. with a foreign passport? Don't worry, those will work too.
Use Your Global Entry Card
Global Entry strikes again!
Global Entry is one of the best tools for frequent travelers. It'll get you through customs and immigration in a breeze when returning to the U.S. And you can whisk through airport security, too, thanks to the TSA PreCheck benefit it carries.
And come October, it'll get even stronger. A Global Entry membership card meets the federal requirements for Real ID. If you've got Global Entry, throw your card in your wallet and forget about picking up a new ID.
Membership cards from other federal Trusted Traveler Programs like NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST also work.
Just beware: If you don't already have Global Entry, it's no slam dunk to get it in time for October. A massive backlog of applications means it can take many months to get through the registration process. And if you're a New Yorker, you're completely out of luck.
Enhanced Driver's License
Before Real ID started rolling out in states across the nation, there was another fancy ID card.
They're called enhanced driver's licenses, and they're meant to aid in crossing the border with Canada and Mexico – but only by land or sea. And if you picked one up, you're in luck: Enhanced driver's licenses will also qualify for Real ID purposes this fall.
Just a handful of northern states issue these border crossing IDs: Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington. If you've got one, you'll want to make sure to keep it in your wallet starting in October for your domestic flights.
A handful of other different federal ID cards will also work, including military ID, permanent resident cards, border crossing cards, and federally recognized tribal IDs. Check out the TSA's fact sheet for a full list of IDs that pass muster.
New ID requirements for flying in the U.S. are coming fast. But if you're stressed about picking up a Real ID in time to fly this fall, consider one of these alternatives. If you've got one, you're already set.