Travelers make their way through Reagan National Airport on May 24. Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, domestic air travelers will be required to present a Real ID-compliant license or another acceptable form of identification, such as a U.S. passport. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Come fall 2020, every U.S. air traveler will be required to present a Real ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification such as a U.S. passport, to board a domestic flight.

The change, the last phase of implementation of the federal law known as the Real ID Act, goes into effect Oct. 1, 2020. The law has changed how states issue driver’s licenses and identification cards, requiring residents to present more documents than were previously required to prove their identity and legal residency — and it makes the rules consistent nationwide.

States and residents have struggled with the new document requirements, which include obtaining birth certificates, Social Security cards and multiple proofs of residency.

McLaurine Klingler, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said most states have made progress in meeting the federal deadline. If your license or ID card is marked with a star in the upper-right corner, it is compliant with the Real ID Act.

“The majority of states have already been determined to be fully compliant by DHS and all the remaining states have committed to becoming compliant by October 2020,” Klingler said in a statement. That means compliant states have submitted, and DHS has approved, documentation certifying that they meet the Real ID requirements.


A sample Maryland driver’s license. The star in the upper-right corner signals that it is a Real ID license. (Maryland Department of Transportation)

The federal government has found Maryland, Virginia and the District compliant. But, just because your state is compliant, it doesn’t mean your license is. We’ll repeat: In most places, including the District, Maryland and Virginia, a Real ID license must have the star in the upper-right corner to comply with the law; some states use different symbols.

To try to make things easier, we’ve compiled answers to some common questions about the Real ID requirement.

What’s Real ID?

A federal law enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the act tightened national standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards, overhauling how they are issued and produced, to combat forgery and fraud. The program was the result of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission; 18 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers obtained state IDs, some of them fraudulently. Nearly half of the hijackers obtained their driver’s licenses in Virginia.

How is it being implemented?

Implementation of the law was first to take effect in 2008, but deadlines have been extended to give states more time to comply.

About half of the states objected to the program after it was approved, and at least 13 legislatures passed laws prohibiting their states from complying. But pleas to DHS and Congress for modifications to the law and its implementation were unsuccessful. All states are now compliant or have been granted extensions to comply.

Five states and one territory — Oregon, Oklahoma, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maine and,American Samoa — have been granted extensions, with varying deadlines for meeting the federal mandate. Some have until Oct. 10, 2019, to comply.

DHS has been phasing in enforcement. Anyone entering nuclear sites, military bases and federal facilities has been required to present a Real ID since 2014.

The last phase, affecting air travel, goes into effect next year. If your driver’s license or ID card is from a compliant state, the Transportation Security Administration will accept it at airports until Sept. 30, 2020. But starting Oct. 1, 2020, licenses and IDs from these states will need to bear the star that shows it meets the new security standards.

What is the status of the District, Maryland and Virginia?

The District Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing Real ID credentials in 2014. D.C. license holders have been going through the process of converting to the Real ID during their renewal period. A DMV spokeswoman declined to provide any other details about the city’s Real ID program.

Virginia began issuing a new driver’s license last fall to bring the state into compliance. So far, the commonwealth has issued more than 390,000 Real IDs, as it works to replace as many as 2.7 million licenses before October 2020. Virginia officials say that anyone whose license does not expire until after October 2020 and wants to get the Real ID can go to any DMV, whenever it is convenient. If it is not time to renew (you can renew up to one year before the expiration of your credential), you can request a replacement driver’s license or identification card and get your Real ID at that time.

In Maryland, more than 1.8 million people already have the Real ID license or identification card, out of a total of nearly 5 million who have a state credential. But about 1 million of the drivers with a Real ID are not yet in compliance because the state does not have copies of the documents used to verify their identity and residency. Those residents must return to a DMV office and have the appropriate documents scanned to be kept on file per a DHS rule change — which DHS declined to explain.

The state has set deadlines for the cardholders to bring in the paperwork and is threatening to recall the licenses of those who don’t respond. A group of about 40,000 license holders have until July 3 to comply. After that date, the license or ID card is subject to recall action and could be confiscated by law enforcement, said Kellie Boulware, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Do I have to have a Real ID?

Residents who want to use a driver’s license to board a commercial aircraft will need to get the new card by October 2020, when it becomes the only identification accepted by the TSA.

If you don’t need a license to board a flight, either because you don’t travel or you use a U.S. passport, you don’t need a Real ID.

In Maryland, everyone who has a regular driver’s license or ID will eventually transition to a Real ID credential, officials said.

Virginia is not requiring everyone who has a state driver’s license to get the new Real ID but predicts many residents will request it. Virginia anticipates that 40 percent of Virginia drivers — about 2.7 million — will want a Real ID.

If you get a Real ID, your standard license will continue to be valid for all the same purposes: driving, voting and as proof of identification to cash a check or any other daily business.

If I don’t have a Real ID come October 2020, are there other documents I can use to get through a TSA checkpoint?

Other acceptable forms of identification include a U.S. passport, a passport card, a military ID, a permanent resident card, and other such options as a Global Entry traveler card. Visit the TSA website for a complete list.

What documents are required to get the Real ID?

You will be asked to bring two proofs of residency (utility bills, bank statements, etc.); proof of identity and legal residence in the United States (a birth certificate, U.S. passport or permanent resident card); and a Social Security card (not just the number). A W-2 form listing your Social Security number is an acceptable alternative to a Social Security card.

Residents who have changed their names from what is on their birth certificate need to provide documentation of the change (for example, a marriage certificate or a court order granting the name change).

The process will require an in-person visit to a DMV or MVA office, even for those who have been licensed for decades.

How much does it cost?

In Virginia, the Real ID card has a one-time $10 fee on top of the cost of a regular driver’s license.

In Maryland, if you have the older-style driver’s license or identification card and you want to get the Real ID card before you are due for renewal, you will pay a $20 fee. There are no additional fees when renewing your driver’s license to obtain a Real ID, just the standard renewal cost.

In the District, the usual driver’s license fees apply, according to the city DMV website.

When should I get a Real ID?

Ideally, you should apply for the Real ID card when you are due to renew your driver’s license or identification card. But, if you want a Real ID and your credential does not expire until after October 2020, officials are asking you to get all the required documents together as soon as possible and to not wait until next fall to get the new ID. In Maryland, you can make an appointment to get the Real ID. In Virginia, you can walk into any of the DMV branches.

“One really important part of the process is coming to DMV prepared with the proper documents that are necessary to obtain your REAL ID,” Virginia DMV spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker said in an email.

Anyone getting the Real ID this and next year should expect longer-than-usual waits at DMV or MVA offices. State officials say they are adding staff to customer service offices, but demand could be higher because many people who are used to renewing their licenses by mail or online will be required to come in to the office for the Real ID.

Have more questions?

In Maryland, call the MVA at 410-768-7000 for more information. The MVA website has a lookup tool at realid.mva.maryland.gov that people can use to check whether their file is missing documents. It also provides a checklist of documents needed and facilitates making an appointment at the MVA.

Virginians can visit the DMV website, dmvnow.com/realid, to go through a document guide.

Visit dmv.dc.gov, and search for Real ID for more details about how to get the credential in the District.