You Still Don't Need REAL ID. Deadline Pushed Back to 2023

By: Cherise Threewitt  | 

REAL ID California
Real ID compliant cards are issued after the person applying gets a more thorough ID check. The cards have new security features that make them harder to counterfeit. For instance, the new licenses have a star on the upper right-hand corner. California DMV

If you were scrambling to get a Real ID-compliant form of identification by Oct. 1, 2021, you can hold off a little longer. That's because Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced April 27, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is extending the REAL ID full enforcement date by 19 months, from Oct. 1, 2021 to May 3, 2023.

This isn't the first time the deadline has been delayed. But the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted states' ability to issue REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses and identification cards, so the deadline is being shifted once again.

"Protecting the health, safety and security of our communities is our top priority," Secretary Mayorkas said in a press statement. "As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver's licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card."

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What Is the REAL ID Act?

What in the heck is the REAL ID Act, you ask? It's a law designed to set standards for federal identification by recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. The act was passed by Congress way back in 2005, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the phased rollout in December 2013. All 50 states, Washington, D.C., and four of five U.S. territories covered by the REAL ID Act are now compliant and are issuing REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses and identification cards. So if you've renewed yours recently, it's likely REAL ID-compliant.

The REAL ID Act is designed to establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards, according to the press statement. These standards also require that issuing agencies check with other jurisdictions to ensure that applicants are not using multiple state driver's licenses and IDs to commit identity fraud. The Act also sets standards for state-issued credentials for accessing federal facilities, such as nuclear power plants.

Real ID-compliant cards are issued after the person applying gets a more thorough ID check. The cards have new security features that make them harder to counterfeit. For instance, the new licenses have a star on the upper right-hand corner.

However, the DHS reported that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state licensing agencies were significantly impacted in their ability to renew expiring licenses and issue REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses and identification cards. Currently, only 43 percent of all state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards are REAL ID-compliant.

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Is My ID Still Acceptable?

If you're wondering why the federal government might not consider your state-issued ID good enough, you're not alone. After 9/11, the federal government decided that some states' driver's licenses — which most people use as their default form of identification — aren't "secure" enough. At the crux of the issue is that state-issued IDs are allotted by 56 different states and territories with 56 different standards.

"Driver's licenses were originally developed to prove that an individual is qualified to operate a motor vehicle," emailed Anna Franko, who was spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security in 2018 when we first reported this story. "[The Real ID Act] establishes minimum standards that states must use to document the identity, lawful presence, Social Security number and address of principal residence of an individual if the state-issued credential is to be accepted by Federal agencies."

TSA security check REAL ID act
A TSA official checks the identification of passengers prior to entering a security checkpoint at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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What Does That Mean Next Time I Fly?

Beginning May 3, 2023, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver's license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification at airport security checkpoints for domestic air travel.

Aside from a federally issued passport, the Department of Homeland Security lists several other accepted forms of ID that are compliant, including:

  • DHS "trusted traveler" card (such as Global Entry)
  • Department of Defense ID
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • Federally recognized tribal photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card (a form of ID for employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Canadian driver's license
  • Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker ID
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employment authorization card
  • U.S. Merchant Marine ID

The REAL ID Act does not affect minors — TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with an adult within the United States. And non-compliant driver's licenses can still be used to vote or for other identification purposes.

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Originally Published: Jan 19, 2018

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