United States

Real ID Vs. Passport: Understanding Your Options For Domestic Air Travel In The US

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has less than a year left to ensure that state-issued driver's licenses or identification are "Real ID" compliant by May 7, 2025. Real ID compliance is part of a 2005 act aimed at establishing minimum security standards for the issuance of identification materials.

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If you're planning to jet-set across the United States in 2025 and beyond, there's a crucial update you need to know about.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you have less than a year left to ensure that your state-issued driver’s license or identification is "Real ID" compliant.

Real ID compliance is part of a comprehensive act passed by Congress in 2005, aimed at establishing "minimum security standards" for the issuance of identification materials, including driver’s licenses. Failure to obtain a Real ID-compliant form of identification could mean certain federal agencies, such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or DHS, won't accept your state-issued ID for travel purposes.

The implementation of Real ID compliance has seen delays, with DHS initially setting a 2020 deadline, which was then extended multiple times due to various reasons, including backlogged transactions at motor vehicle department (MVD) offices nationwide.

Come May 7, 2025, individuals without Real ID-compliant identification will face restrictions. They won’t be able to board federally regulated commercial aircraft, enter nuclear power plants, or access certain facilities.

Is Real ID compulsory?

While Real ID compliance is not mandatory, if you plan to travel within the United States and don't have another TSA-approved form of identification, such as a U.S. passport or passport card, it's advisable to obtain one.

Other TSA-approved forms of identification include state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses, DHS trusted traveler cards, U.S. Department of Defense IDs, and more. However, for federal facility access, Real ID-compliant IDs are preferred.

What are the alternatives to Real ID?

If you're considering alternatives to Real ID, keep in mind that state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses are accepted by TSA for domestic flights. Enhanced licenses, available in Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont, are designed to provide additional proof of identity and citizenship. Here are all the other TSA-approved forms of identification:

  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License

  •  U.S. passport

  •  U.S. passport card

  •  DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)

  •  U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents

  •  Permanent resident card

  •  Border crossing card

  •  An acceptable photo ID issued by a federally recognized, Tribal Nation/Indian Tribe

  •  HSPD-12 PIV card

  •  Foreign government-issued passport

  •  Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card

  •  Transportation worker identification credential

  •  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)

  •  U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

  •  Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)

These alternative IDs can be used for both travel and accessing federal facilities. Federal agencies, however, will only accept state-issued driver’s licenses or identification cards that meet Real ID compliance standards when accessing federal facilities, including TSA security checkpoints.

How to get a Real ID?

To obtain a Real ID, visit your local department of motor vehicles (DMV). Requirements vary by state, but generally, you'll need to provide documents verifying your identity, such as your full legal name, date of birth, social security number, and proofs of address and lawful status.

Real ID-compliant cards bear a unique marking in the right-hand corner, distinguishing them from non-compliant IDs. The mark varies depending on the issuing state.

With the clock ticking, ensuring Real ID compliance is crucial for seamless travel within the United States. Don't wait until the last minute to secure your Real ID and avoid potential travel disruptions.