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What to Know: New Deadline to Get Your Real ID Driver's License in California

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about Real ID lately.

The murmurs started a few years ago, when the initial deadline was looming, and crowds rushed to the DMV to wait in line for hours — scrambling to get the new kind of driver’s license that will soon be required to board a commercial airline flight. But the roots of Real ID go back much earlier than that.

What’s a Real ID?

The Real ID Act is a federal law passed in 2005, originally billed as an anti-terrorism measure after the attacks on 9/11. Some of the attackers are believed to have used fake IDs to board the planes they later hijacked. Supporters of Real ID argued that a more secure standard for driver’s licenses would prevent that from happening again.

The principle is simple: Your driver’s license is basically your key to everything. You need it to go to a bar, pick up a concert ticket, or get on an airplane. So, now the federal government wants to make that key harder to copy. They gave states a deadline to design a new, more secure driver’s license — and after most states missed that deadline, they extended it.

Fast forward a few years, and the deadline was extended again due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and then again in late 2022. Now, the deadline to get your Real ID is May 7, 2025.

Starting on that day, you’ll need a Real ID-compliant driver’s license to enter secure federal buildings, nuclear power plants, military bases, and of course, the big one: airport security. That means in just over two years, your old driver’s license will no longer get you onto an airplane. 

How to Get a Real ID

So, how do you get a Real ID? Basically, you have to prove that you’re… you.

First, you have to go to the DMV in person. They’ll take a brand new photo of you, and also capture your thumb print. Those go into a massive new database, along with copies of the documents you have to bring to the DMV with you. And that’s where it gets tricky.

The combination of documents you’ll need to bring looks something like this:

  • The first document needs to establish identity. That could be a passport, a birth certificate or a green card.
  • The second document needs to show your social security number. That could be a social security card, or it could be something from your employer like a W-2, a 1099 or a pay stub.
  • The third thing you need is proof that you actually live where you say you do. A utility bill, a lease, a mortgage or any other official document with your address on it should suffice.
  • You might need a fourth piece of documentation if you’ve ever changed your name — for instance, a marriage license or a court document with a record of the name change.

Of course, getting a Real ID is technically optional. You can still get a regular California driver’s license without the little golden bear insignia in the corner. But if your driver’s license doesn’t have the Real ID seal on it, it won’t get you through airport security. You’ll need to bring a passport to the airport instead.

Criticisms of Real ID

Real ID certainly has its critics, including privacy advocates, and those who say it will basically prevent undocumented immigrants from traveling by air. The Real ID Act is also the law that paved the way for former President Trump’s border wall — with specific language to let the federal government skip the environmental review process for roads and fences at the border.

It’s true that border security has little to do with your driver’s license, but the American political process can be a convoluted one indeed. Real ID is now the law of the land, and if you want to fly out of U.S. airports, you have until May 7, 2025 to get yours.

Source: NBC Bay Area

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