Photo: Rix Pix Photography/Shutterstock

Stop Procrastinating. You Need to Get a REAL ID, Like, Yesterday

Airports + Flying
by Matthew Meltzer May 8, 2024

Now that tax season is behind you, it’s time you tackle another big, government-required project: Your REAL ID.

May 7, 2025 is the federally mandated deadline for you to obtain a REAL ID if you want to fly domestically. And painful as going to the DMV is, much like taxes and cleaning your bathroom, sometimes you just have to cowboy up and grit through it.

Because as of May 7, 2025, you will not, under any circumstance, be able to board a domestic flight if you haven’t gotten a snazzy new REAL ID. Period, final, no discussion. The federal government has given you years to get this done, and if you can’t have it sorted within the next year, then nobody will have any sympathy for you.

Why do I have to get a REAL ID?

Same as why you can’t bring on a four-ounce tube of moisturizer on the plane. Because the TSA said so, that’s why.

The real reason dates back to a federal law passed in 2005 to make air travel safer in the wake of 9/11. So no, this is not at all a product of the current administration, so if you were using this as some form of silent protest, your efforts are better spent elsewhere. It essentially mandates states produce IDs which require higher scrutiny to prove identification, and are harder to forge. States themselves are welcome to use whatever kind of IDs they want for statewide purposes like driving a car or buying Four Loko. But for federal purposes — most importantly air travel — the new ID will be required.

Why did it take 20 years to finally get this program enacted? Spend a day watching C-SPAN and you’ll understand. The federal government makes the DMV look efficient.

My license is up for renewal soon. Can’t I just renew online and get a new ID so I don’t have to deal with the DMV?

That would kind of defeat the purpose of an ID designed to enhance security. So, no, you cannot. Even those renewing licenses will have to make the pilgrimage to the driver’s license office to get the REAL ID, so the smiling, friendly staff there can ensure the person on the ID is actually you.

You don’t need to take the driver’s test again or anything, and if you just want an ID card, that’s fine, too. But your new ID will include a pretty star in the corner to show it’s federally compliant, or even a radio chip in some cases. This makes it harder to forge, and shows you’ve produced the appropriate documentation to obtain a REAL ID.

And what is that documentation? It’s actually four documents:

  • Something showing your legal name and birthdate (a birth certificate works, as would a passport or legal resident card)
  • Something showing your social security number (SSN cards are ideal, but if you lost that six wallets ago, a pay stub or tax return is also valid)
  • Two documents proving you live at your address. Your cable bill, phone bill, or bank statement will suffice.
  • Proof of lawful status (a permanent resident card, visa, etc.)

That sounds like a lot of paperwork. Can’t I just show them my old license?

What part of “enhanced security” is not getting through here? If you could just use your old ID, there would be no point in getting a new one, other than maybe trying to take a better picture. So, again, no. You until May 7, 2025 to round up four pieces of documentation.

Seems like everyone and their uncle is gonna be at the DMV when I go. Do I have to wait on those lines?

Did you wait on line for the new iPhone? Or free burrito day at Chipotle? Yes? Okay, well think of it like one of those lines, except instead of a $1,500 phone that’ll be obsolete in two years you get access to the entire country without having to spend 37 hours in a car.

But yes, these lines will be extremely long. If you don’t want to spend your entire day at the DMV, get creative. I live in South Florida, and instead of waiting at the Miami DMV I spent the morning scuba diving in Key Largo, then visited the DMV there on my way home since there are usually far fewer people on line. If you can’t do dive-and-DMV, find a sparsely-populated area outside of your city and use the DMV there.

Can’t I just get on the plane without ID? I’ve heard that’s possible.

Hitting the superfecta on the Kentucky Derby is also possible. Is it likely? No. Homeland Security is very clear on that matter: “Travelers who do not present a REAL ID-compliant license or acceptable alternative beginning May 7, 2025 will not be permitted through the security checkpoint.”

What if I booked travel already? Surely they can’t just make me waste my trip because I didn’t get this ID.

Yes, yes they can. And travel insurance doesn’t cover procrastination, so you won’t get any recourse from Allianz if you are denied travel for failing to show a REAL ID. If you’ve booked a trip already, you should probably get on that now. If you haven’t booked one, perhaps you should take care of your REAL ID before booking anything.

I have a passport. Do I need to deal with this?

No you do not! If you have a passport, that will suffice for domestic travel like it has for decades. That said, when it does come time for driver’s license renewal, you’ll still have to go through this whole rigmarole, so you’re just putting off the inevitable. And as the old saying goes, what must be done eventually should be done immediately.

So I really have to go and do this, don’t I?

Well, if you don’t plan on flying anywhere any time soon, then no. You’re good to go with your current ID, and can drive with it no problem. But if you have future domestic travel plans, you should probably just book an appointment at the DMV and have total peace of mind, and the ability to feel all high and mighty when your friends complain a year from now about not being able to travel because they procrastinated.

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