What Is the Difference Between a Real ID and a Driver’s License?

A driver’s license and Real ID both legally allow you to operate motor vehicles in the United States, but a standard driver’s license will no longer grant access through TSA at the airport starting in 2025.

Choncé Maddox
Written byChoncé Maddox
Choncé Maddox
Choncé Maddox
  • 7+ years writing insurance and personal finance content

  • Certified financial education instructor (CFEI)

Choncé was a licensed life insurance agent before becoming a freelance personal finance writer. She’s passionate about helping people learn to protect themselves with insurance.

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Courtney Mikulski
Courtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
  • 3+ years producing insurance and personal finance content

  • Main architect of the Insurify Quality Score

Courtney’s deep personal finance knowledge extends beyond insurance to credit cards, consumer lending, and banking. She thrives on creating actionable content.

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Updated June 12, 2024

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Beginning 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 commercial domestic flights.[1] Instead, you’ll need a Real ID to fly.

A Real ID license differs slightly from your standard driver’s license, and you still have plenty of time to get one.

Here’s the difference between a Real ID and a driver’s license and why it matters.

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 May 2025, a standard driver’s license will no longer grant access through TSA at the airport.

Here are the main differences between a Real ID and a driver’s license.

Real IDDriver’s License
Confirms your identity and permits you to enter or board certain federal facilities, airplanes, and military bases. Can also permit you to operate a motor vehicle.Permits you to operate a motor vehicle and confirms your identity.
The card has a Real ID-compliant star on the top-right corner.The card doesn’t have a Real ID star in the corner.

REAL ID

With the Real ID Act of 2005, Congress established national security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification. The act prohibits certain federal agencies from accepting licenses and ID cards from states that fail to meet these standards.[2]

The TSA uses Real IDs to identify and permit entrance to U.S. residents in three main situations:

  • Accessing certain federal facilities

  • Boarding airplanes

  • Entering military bases

You can tell that you have a Real ID if it has one of the following compliant stars on the top right of the card.[2]

Driver’s license

A driver’s license is a state-government-issued card that confirms your identity and  permits you to operate a motor vehicle. Driver’s license points can also increase your insurance rates, depending on the violation that caused the points.

The main visible difference between a driver’s license and a Real ID is the compliance star on the top-right corner. A driver’s license won’t feature it, while a Real ID will.

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How to get a Real ID

The process of getting a Real ID resembles the process of getting a standard driver’s license. You can visit your state’s driver licensing agency to apply for a Real ID. Your state will likely require more documentation than what’s needed for a standard driver’s license.

Documents to bring to the DMV for a REAL ID

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 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.

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:[1]

  • U.S. passport

  • U.S. passport card

  • DHS Trusted Traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)

  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents

  • Permanent resident card

  • Border crossing card

  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License

  • An acceptable photo ID issued by a federally recognized Tribal Nation/Indian Tribe

  • HSPD-12 PIV card

  • Foreign government-issued passport

  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card

  • Transportation worker identification credential

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)

  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)

How to get a standard driver’s license

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 is similar to getting a Real ID.

Documents to bring to the DMV for a standard driver’s license

If you’re of driving age and need a standard driver’s license, you’ll need to bring the following documents to prove your identity, residency, and citizenship status:

  • 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 Form W-2)

Check with your state’s DMV website beforehand to ensure you have all the necessary documents and information. Preparing helps streamline the process and avoid unnecessary delays or complications.

Required time and money for a standard driver’s license

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.

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Finding your state’s Real ID guidelines

The federal government created Real ID standard requirements for all states and territories. Call your local DMV or visit the website to answer any additional questions. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the TSA also provide helpful information on their respective websites.

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Real ID vs. driver’s license FAQs

Here are answers to some common questions about the differences between a Real ID versus driver’s license.

  • 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 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 military bases — even if you previously qualified for access. You also may not 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.

  • 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. U.S. citizens can use an EDL to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. However, the only states currently issuing EDLs are Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington.[3]

  • 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.

Sources

  1. Transportation Security Administration. "Acceptable Identification at the TSA Checkpoint."
  2. Department of Homeland Security. "REAL ID Frequently Asked Questions."
  3. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "Enhanced Drivers Licenses: What Are They?."
Choncé Maddox
Choncé Maddox

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.

Courtney Mikulski
Edited byCourtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
Courtney Mikulski
Courtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
  • 3+ years producing insurance and personal finance content

  • Main architect of the Insurify Quality Score

Courtney’s deep personal finance knowledge extends beyond insurance to credit cards, consumer lending, and banking. She thrives on creating actionable content.

Featured in

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