Updated February 10, 2023 | Reading time: 5 minutes
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Beginning on May 7, 2025, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will no longer accept a standard driver’s license from U.S. residents looking to fly on domestic commercial flights. Instead, you’ll need a REAL ID to fly. A REAL ID only differs slightly from your standard driver’s license, and you still have plenty of time to get one.
Here’s what you need to know about this change and the steps to obtain a REAL ID.
REAL ID vs. driver’s license
Though standard driver’s licenses and REAL IDs have similarities, notable differences exist. Both allow you to legally operate motor vehicles in the United States, but a REAL ID complies with higher security standards. Starting in 2025, a standard driver’s license will no longer grant access through TSA at the airport and more. Here’s what you need to know about both forms of identification.
Congress established a national set of minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification with the REAL ID Act of 2005. The act also prohibits certain federal agencies from accepting licenses and ID cards from states that fail to meet these standards.
REAL IDs are used to identify and permit entrance to U.S. residents in three main situations:
Accessing certain federal facilities
Boarding a federally regulated commercial aircraft
Entering nuclear power plants
You can tell that you have a REAL ID if it has a compliant marking of a star on the top right of the card.
A license issued under a governmental authority, a driver’s license permits you to operate a motor vehicle. The main visible difference between a license and a REAL ID is the compliant marking. Without a REAL ID-compliant marking, the card is a standard driver’s license.
A driver’s license is used to confirm your identity for other purposes as well, including if you need to show emergency personnel, pick up your child from school, or buy alcohol or tobacco.
What happens if you don’t get a REAL ID by the 2025 deadline?
If you don’t have a REAL ID by May 7, 2025, you’ll be unable to enter certain federal facilities or nuclear power plants — even if you previously qualified for access. You also may not be able to board federally regulated domestic commercial flights if you don’t have an approved alternative form of identification. A standard driver’s license will no longer suffice for these purposes.
Alternatives to REAL ID for domestic travel
Traveling domestically without a REAL ID will still be possible after the May 2025 deadline. Some alternative options exist to take the place of a REAL ID, such as a U.S. or foreign government-issued passport, an Enhanced Driver’s License, or a DHS trusted travel card.
Here’s a list of alternatives that will be accepted for domestic travel below, according to the TSA:
The process of obtaining a REAL ID resembles the process of getting a standard driver’s license. You’ll need to visit your state’s driver licensing agency to apply, making it clear that you want a REAL ID. Your state will likely require additional documentation compared to the documents needed for a standard driver’s license.
Documents to bring to the DMV for a REAL ID
You’ll need to check with your state’s driver licensing agency, like the department of motor vehicles, to confirm the documents required for your REAL ID. You’ll typically need to provide proof of your legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, address, and lawful status.
This means, at minimum, you should plan to bring:
A birth certificate or other proof of identity
Passport or other proof of lawful status
Social Security card or W-2
Bank statement and utility bill or two other documents showing proof of address
Required time and money for a REAL ID
The time it takes to get a REAL ID can vary depending on your state’s processing times. Visit your state’s DMV website to find information about fees, wait times, and an estimate of when you’ll receive your REAL ID after applying for it.
How to get a standard driver’s license or ID
To get a standard driver’s license, you’ll need to go to your local DMV with the required documentation. You may even be able to complete license renewal online, depending on your state’s laws and process. In general, the process looks similar to the process of getting a REAL ID.
Documents to bring to the DMV for a standard driver’s license or ID
To get a standard driver’s license, you’ll need documents such as:
Proof of identity (U.S. passport, state ID, birth certificate, or certificate of citizenship)
Proof of residence (current utility bill, insurance policy, or telephone bill)
Proof of Social Security number (Social Security card or W-2 form)
Required time and money for a standard driver’s license or ID
The time it takes to get a standard driver’s license depends on your state’s DMV office and processing times. Visit your state’s DMV website to find estimates of how much it costs and how long the process takes.
The federal government set REAL ID requirements, so they should be the same in all U.S. states and territories. You can call your local DMV or visit the website to answer any additional questions you may have. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the TSA also provide lots of helpful information on their respective websites.
REAL ID vs. driver’s license FAQs
Here are answers to some common questions about REAL IDs and standard driver’s licenses.
Will the TSA turn you away without a REAL ID-compliant license?
Yes, TSA could start turning away people without a REAL ID-compliant license as early as the May 2025 deadline. However, you could still fly domestically with an approved identification alternative, like a U.S. passport or state-issued Enhanced Driver’s License.
What is an Enhanced Driver’s License?
Following a secure issuing process, an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) provides proof of identity and U.S. citizenship. An EDL can be used for entering the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. However, the only states that currently issue Enhanced Driver’s Licenses are Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington.
Can you use a REAL ID or driver’s license for international travel?
No, a REAL ID only allows for domestic travel within the U.S. If you travel internationally, even to Canada or Mexico, you need a passport.
What do you need to bring to the DMV to get a REAL ID?
You’ll need to provide proof of your legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, address, and lawful status. You can do this by bringing a number of different documents. For example, a birth certificate, Social Security card, U.S. passport or other proof of your legal status, and two recent bills to show proof of address will suffice.
Choncé Maddox is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) and personal finance freelance writer. She graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in Journalism and has been covering personal finance topics surrounding saving, debt payoff, credit, and home insurance for seven years. Chonce briefly held a life insurance license in Illinois where she developed a passion for helping people learn how to protect themselves and their property through insurance coverage. Her work has been featured on LendingTree, Business Insider, RateGenius and more.