You've been warned again and again and again over the years, but here's the latest reminder: Exactly six months from today, you'll need a different federally approved ID dubbed “Real ID” to board domestic flights in the U.S.
After more than a decade of delays and several extensions, Real ID requirements are currently set to take effect May 3, 2023. Of course, there's no ruling out yet another extension by the federal government that could push this requirement back yet again. But that hasn't happened yet … so for now, federal officials are still planning to move ahead with Real ID in six months time.
“On May 3, 2023, U.S. travelers must be REAL ID compliant to board domestic flights and access certain federal facilities,” the Department of Homeland Security currently says on a statement on its website.
This new ID law was passed way back in 2005 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to combat terrorism and identity fraud. Real IDs come with some additional hoops to jump through when applying for or renewing a driver's license – they're marked with a gold star showing they're federally approved.
But while Real ID requirements for air travel have been looming for years, they've been constantly pushed back as many states resisted falling in line. Now, they're available in every U.S. state. As the pandemic led to office closures, federal officials delayed the effective date once again from October 2021 all the way back to May 2023.
Thus far, there's been no talk about another extension. So until you hear otherwise, assume this takes effect next May.
Who Will Need a Real ID to Fly?
In a word? Everyone.
The Department of Homeland Security makes it clear: Once these new requirements take effect, you won't be able to get into the airport without one. Read up on more frequently asked questions about Real ID on the DHS site.
The only exception is the same one that exists for IDs today: Children under 18 who are traveling with an adult companion will not need to present a Real ID at the airport.
And now, the countdown is on. Barring another extension – which seems unlikely, though not impossible – Real ID requirements will go live on May 3, 2023.
How to Get a Real ID to Fly
Today, you can get a Real ID-compliant license from your local DMV in every state.
The cost of getting a Real ID will vary state by state. Some states have reduced the costs to renew an older license if it expires after the full Real ID requirements take effect. These new IDs are almost identical to the standard driver's license you're using today – they've simply got a golden star, denoting that they're approved for federal use.
And while you simply go to your local DMV as usual, applying for a new, compliant license is a bit different. Namely, you need to provide some extra documentation.
- One document proving your identity, like a valid passport or certified birth certificate.
- One document with your Social Security number, like your Social Security card or a federal W-2 form.
- Two documents proving your current address, like a valid driver's license, a canceled check, or utility company or bank statements issued within the last 90 days.
If you live in Minnesota, there's an even easier option. A few years ago, Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) airport set up a first-of-its-kind application center right inside the airport. Just set up an appointment and knock out your application before or after your next flight.
Can I Use My Passport Instead? Or Global Entry?
Of course, you may not need a Real ID after all.
You could use a passport (or passport card) to board any flight – then you wouldn't need a Real ID. You'll still need that passport for any international journey, after all. And if you've got Global Entry, your Global Entry card will work as well.
Read more on the alternatives you can keep using instead of getting a Real ID.
What if I Have CLEAR?
CLEAR is one of several programs that can get you through airport security lines quicker. One of the perks of CLEAR vs TSA PreCheck is that with CLEAR, you don't need to show your TSA agent your ID.
That's the whole point of CLEAR: You verify your identity through an iris scan or fingerprint, then skip to the front of the line. Real ID requirements might throw a hitch in that.
The TSA spells it out very (pardon the pun) clearly: “Yes, the REAL ID requirements apply to passengers using CLEAR and passengers enrolled in CLEAR will need a REAL ID or other acceptable form of ID starting May 3, 2023.”
We assume that means CLEAR members will simply need to make sure they have a Real ID (or alternative) on file with the company, but CLEAR hasn't publicly addressed the situation yet.
Read our full review of using CLEAR to get through security faster!
After years of delays and extensions, Real ID is coming six months from today. There's no ruling out yet another extension, but this time it could be official.
Unless you hear otherwise, Real ID will be required to board domestic flights on May 3, 2023. And that means it's time to prepare.