REAL ID: What you need to know about the new official identification for flying within the US

Starting May 7, 2025, the TSA and other agencies will only accept IDs that meet REAL ID security standards

A worker at a bank checks a man's ID.Getty Images
Alonso Martínez

The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, was designed to implement a 9/11 Commission recommendation to improve the security of identification documents, particularly driver’s licenses and state-issued ID cards. Under this legislation, in order for citizens to enter federal buildings or travel within the country, they will require a valid REAL ID.

Once the REAL ID Act goes into effect, federal agencies will only be able to accept driver’s licenses and issued IDs if they were issued by a state that meets REAL ID security standards and includes its compliance mark. They will also accept enhanced driver’s licenses (EDLs) that were issued in Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Vermont, as they are considered acceptable alternatives to REAL ID-compliant cards.

What is REAL ID?

REAL ID is a new security standard for issuing identification such as driver’s licenses and ID cards. In order to gain access to federal buildings, board a commercial flight, or enter a nuclear power plant, you will need a valid REAL ID card. This is not a new ID, but will be “upgraded versions” of other common cards, which will include details highlighting that it is legally valid.

How to get a REAL ID card?

The process to get a REAL ID is simple. Simply visit the driver’s license agency website for the state in which you reside. Typically, the solicitor has to present documents showing full name, date of birth, Social Security number, proof of residency and legal status. Other requirements may be established by each state. Once all requirements are met, the applicant will receive a valid REAL ID card.

When does the REAL ID Act go into effect?

The law goes into effect on May 7, 2025. After that date, a valid REAL ID will be required to enter federal buildings and pass through the security screening area at the airport, and passports cannot be used as an alternative option.

Which states will issue REAL ID-compliant cards?

All states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories are REAL ID compliant and issue REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards.

What will REAL ID valid IDs look like?

Valid REAL ID cards will have one of five different markings on the top of the card. If the card does not have these markings, it will not be accepted as proof of identity and you will not be able to board a commercial flight. The markings are: a five-point star in gold, a black five-point star, a white star surrounded by a gold circle, a white star surrounded by a black circle, and a bear in gold with a white star on the back. Examples of these can be seen on the Department of Homeland Security site.

Do minors need identification to travel?

No. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not require minors to have an ID. However, their companion must have a valid card.

Do I still need a passport if I already have REAL ID?

For domestic flights, you will not need a passport. However, a passport is essential for international travel. On the other hand, REAL ID cards cannot be used to cross the border into Canada, Mexico or for international travel (a passport will be required).

Are EDLs valid?

Yes. Enhanced driver’s licenses (EDLs) can be used to cross the border, and are acceptable alternatives for official federal purposes such as accessing a federal facility or boarding a commercial aircraft.

Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington are the only states that currently issue EDLs.

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