COVID-19 and the REAL ID Program

The COVID-19 situation has impacted every facet of daily life. The rollout of the Department of Homeland Security's REAL ID program is another one of the casualties.

Due to circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the national emergency declaration, the enforcement deadline has been pushed back to October 1, 2021.

If you've been worried about getting to the DMV and standing in line to get a REAL ID for yourself or an elderly loved one, there's no need to rush. You have an extra 12 months to get it done.

Should you invest the time and effort to get a REAL ID for an elderly relative? Read on.

What is the REAL ID?

In 2005, Congress passed what is called the REAL ID Act. The law created a series of minimum-security standards for states to implement and prohibited federal agencies from accepting IDs that do not meet such standards. The legislation requires that anyone who wants to use federal facilities, such as a military base or nuclear power plant, or fly on a commercial airplane have a REAL ID or an acceptable alternative such as a U.S. passport. This legislation was originally scheduled to go into effect on October 1, 2020, but the enforcement date has been pushed back to October 1, 2021.

Does everyone need to get a REAL ID?

It depends. If you or someone you're caring for plans to fly on a commercial airline or visit a military base, you might want to consider upgrading to the REAL ID. However, a valid passport will get you through the airport security checkpoint just fine. If you want to skip getting the REAL ID for yourself or an elderly loved one, just make sure that you have a passport and that it hasn't expired.

Why keep a regular driver's license?

In most states, you will still be able use a regular driver's license for any number of things, including driving, voting, and purchasing alcohol. The REAL ID requirement is only for access to federal facilities.

How can you get a REAL ID?

Unlike renewing or purchasing a replacement driver’s license, which can be done at kiosks or online, you must go to a driver's license facility with required documents in order to get a REAL ID. This is where things can get sticky. If you plan to go to a driver's license center to get your REAL ID, plan to arrive early and wait. The lines are long. However, depending on where you live in the country, you may not be able to get a REAL ID at the moment. For instance, in Tennessee, the state stopped issuing them during the pandemic and didn’t start up again until July 6, 2020. You’ll want to check your state’s website. The Department of Homeland Security’s website at https://www.dhs.gov/real-id is a good place to start.

What documents are required to get a REAL ID?

Be prepared! The documentation requirements to get a REAL ID are much stricter than the requirements to renew your driver's license. You are required to present three types of documents: proof of citizenship or legal presence, proof of Social Security number, and proof of residence.

To prove your citizenship or legal presence, you must produce one of the following documents:

  • Birth certificate
  • Unexpired U.S. passport
  • U.S certificate or consular report of birth abroad
  • Valid and unexpired permanent resident card provided by DHS or INS
  • Unexpired employment authorization document provided by DHS
  • Unexpired foreign passport with a valid U.S. visa and approved I-94 form
  • Certificate of naturalization issued by DHS
  • Certificate of citizenship issued by DHS

If you have changed your name, including if you were married or divorced, then you will also need to bring in additional documents, such as a marriage certificate, a divorce decree or a court order.

To prove your Social Security number, you must produce one of the following documents:

  • Original Social Security card
  • W-2 form issued within the last year
  • 1099 issued within the last year
  • Payroll check stub

To prove residency in your state, you must produce two of the following documents:

  • Home utility bill issued in the last four months
  • Current vehicle registration or certificate of title
  • Current voter registration card
  • IRS tax return, issued within the last year
  • Bank statement, issued within the last four months
  • Payroll check stub, issued within the last four months
  • Current mortgage or rental contract
  • Current homeowner or renter insurance policy
  • Current automobile, life, or health insurance policy
  • Receipt for personal property or real estate taxes paid in the last year
  • Installment loans, including for automobiles, student loans, or bank loans
  • Current employer verification of residence documents
  • Current driver's license
  • Current handgun carry permit

All of these documents must be originals or certified copies. Photocopies will not be accepted.

Where can you get a REAL ID?

If you’re already a resident with a state-issued driver’s license, then you can go to any state-run facility that provides driver’s license services. If you have an out-of-state driver’s license, you will need to go to a full-service driver’s license facility. In some parts of the country, county clerks are also able to issue REAL IDs.

Is there a deadline for getting a REAL ID?

All states are required to comply with the REAL ID Act by October 1, 2021. The state will continue to issue REAL IDs after that date, but if you want to fly on a commercial plane or utilize other federal facilities, you will only be granted access if you have a REAL ID or a valid passport.

How do I know if I have a REAL ID?

Look at the right side of your ID. If you see a white star inside a yellow circle, then you have a REAL ID.

Visit https://www.dhs.gov/real-id for more information about the REAL ID program nationwide as well as links to information about the REAL ID rollout in your state.