A lot has been written about Real ID - but there are still many questions that people are asking whenever the topic is brought up.
Do I need a Real ID? When should I get one? Why should I get one? And, of course, what is it?
RELATED: New Jersey rolling out REAL ID program by appointment only
There are plenty of resources out there from agencies across the country to help answer these questions (and we listed a few of them at the bottom), but let's be real - this Real ID talk can get real confusing.
But let's not panic. Instead, let's break it down together and see if we can figure all of this Real ID info out once and for all, while we still have over a year to go.
Last month, we spoke with Real ID expert Alexis Campbell, who will act as our guide through this process. Campbell is the Community Relations Coordinator with PennDOT Driver Vehicle Service and says she talks about this topic a lot.
Explaining Real ID
Let's rewind to 2005. That's the year when the Real ID Act was passed by Congress as a result of the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the Federal Government "set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses."
"Real ID is a federal law that affects how states issue driver's licenses and photo ID cards if they are going to be used for certain federal purposes, like boarding a domestic commercial flight or entering a secure federal building that requires ID at the door," Campbell said.
So beginning on October 1, 2020, with a Real ID, you'll be able to access federal facilities, enter nuclear power plants and military bases, and, board domestic commercial flights.
You can view the act here: https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/real-id-act-text.pdf
"We expect the way that most people are going to interact with needing a Real ID is going to be getting through a TSA checkpoint," Campbell said.
Again, if it's October 1, 2020, and you have a Real ID, TSA will allow you to pass the security checkpoint and board your domestic flight.
But, Campbell points out, Real IDs are optional.
So, if you decide not to opt-in, you would need to bring another form of identification to the airport to fly on that domestic flight - such as a valid passport, federal government PIV card or U.S. military ID. Your regular driver's license will not be enough to verify your identity to get on the flight.
While most people may not be touring nuclear power plants often, some will visit military bases, so Campbell suggests thinking ahead.
"We recommend if a customer knows they are visiting a federal facility and they are not sure what kind of ID is required, every agency has different requirements, so the best thing to do is just to reach out to the facility in advance, make sure you have what you need," Campbell said.
Real ID is more about the standards of issuing the ID than the actual identification card itself, Campbell says. The only difference between the tangible standard driver's license and one that is Real ID compliant is a gold star.
She says those who choose not to opt-in will see something else added on their licenses.
"It's exactly the same as your regular license except it's going to have the words 'Not for Real ID Purposes' on it. That's one of the federal regulations that if states are issuing both compliant and non-compliant IDs than they need to be marked accordingly. All that the star does, it's just an indicator that shows TSA or whatever agency is looking at the ID, it tells them PennDOT verified that this person is who they say they are," Campbell said.
Getting a Real ID in Pennsylvania
Participation by states in the Real ID Act is voluntary, however, each state in the Delaware Valley is either compliant or in the process of becoming compliant.
It did take Pennsylvania 14 years to become compliant.
Campbell says the reason for that was a law in the state that prohibited Pennsylvania from participating. Because of that, Pennsylvania was given extension after extension. Other states, including New Jersey, remain on an extension.
But Pennsylvania's Act 3 of 2017 repealed the prior legislation and allowed PennDOT to seek Real ID compliance.
"We had to submit a package to the Department of Homeland Security explaining what our process is so they can see it from start to finish and then say 'Yes, Pennsylvania, you are now compliant with the Real ID acts,'" Campbell explained.
Real ID-compliant licenses became available to Pennsylvanians back in March.
For several months before that, PennDOT allowed pre-verification where customers could bring the required Real ID documents to any Driver License Center to get verified. When March 1 came around, they just had to go online and sign up to get their Real ID. They did not have to go back to the Driver License Center.
But for those who didn't pre-verify, you'll have to visit your neighborhood PennDOT Driver License Center. And you'll have to bring the required Real ID documentation with you.
"The federal regulations say we need to verify certain documents for our customers before we issue them a Real ID and those documents are: a proof of identity which is either a birth certificate issued by the Department of Health in the state where you were born or a valid U.S. passport; we also need to see a Social Security card; and we need to see two proofs of your Pennsylvania residency, those could be really any number of things, your current driver's license would work as one of those, your vehicle registration, your car insurance card, your bank statement, something that shows your name and address and that is consistent with all your other documents," Campbell said.
The DMV breaks it down like this:
- Proof of Identity
Examples: Original or certified copy of a birth certificate with a raised/embossed seal (not a sticker) or valid U.S. Passport
*Please note that hospital or commemorative certificates are not acceptable
- Proof of Social Security Number
Example: Social Security card
*Please note that the name on your social security card MUST match the name on your proof of identity document
- Proof of all Legal Name Changes
Examples: Certified marriage certificate or court order issued by your county's family court
*Please note: You must show a complete name change history that links your birth certificate name to your current name. If you have a valid U.S. Passport or U.S. Passport Card with your legal name, you may use that as your name change document.
- Two Proofs of Current, Physical PA Address
Examples: Current, unexpired PA license or ID, PA vehicle registration, auto insurance card, utility bill with the same name and address
(In New Jersey, customers will be asked to bring documents that add up to 2+1+6 Real ID points, more on that below.)
If you bring those documents to most PennDOT Driver License Centers, you'll get your Real ID mailed to you within 15 days, Campbell says.
However, if you visit one of PennDOT's Real ID Centers, you can get your Real ID right there and then. No waiting 15 days.
"In Pennsylvania, we're one of the only states that actually issues your card over the counter when you get your photo taken, like when you get a renewal or when you get your first driver's license," Campbell says. "Because our customers in Pennsylvania are used to having that convenience, we couldn't take it away completely. Real ID has a lot of real specific rules about the security of our facilities if they're going to be issuing Real ID products over the counter. It didn't make fiscal or logical sense to upgrade all 71 of our locations to those standards so we upgraded 7 and we added more."
In the Philadelphia area, there are three Real ID centers:
Besides the pre-verified group and those who need to visit the Driver License Center, there is a third group - drivers who got their first Pennsylvania driver's license after September 2003. If you fall into that category, Campbell says, you can still go online to get your Real ID.
"We may already have the required documents on file for those customers because it was at that point that we started scanning documents to customers' driving records as we gave them their first product. And they are the same documents that Real ID requires us to verify. You can still go online and ask that we check your record and see what's on file for you. If you already have everything, you don't need to come into PennDOT at all, you can go straight to our website and order your Real ID right then and there and it will be mailed to you without having to come in at all," Campbell said.
TSA does not require ID for people under 18 who are traveling with an adult, as long that adult has proper identification. Campbell points out that PennDOT does offer non-driver ID cards for children as young as 10, but it's not required at this point.
"And then for new drivers, like 16-year-olds who are getting their first licenses, they can opt-in for a Real ID version of their junior license, too. But it's not required by TSA at this point. We do have them available if you want them," Campbell said.
Because of the ability for some to get their IDs online and the new Real ID Centers, Campbell says PennDOT is hoping to avoid long lines seen at centers in other states.
"In Pennsylvania, we are trying to do everything we can to make sure this is easy and as painless a process for our customers as possible. So that is why we added new locations, especially in our more populated areas," Campbell said.
Campbell says there are specific lines at the Driver License Centers for those looking to get a Real ID.
"We do anticipate the closer that we get to October 2020, more customers will realize that they want to get a Real ID so we want to be able to accommodate that influx of customers," Campbell said.
Cost and License Renewal
Campbell says you can come into PennDOT to turn your regular driver's license into a Real ID anytime, even if your license is not yet set to expire. She says they'll just renew you early.
"What that will do is it will allow you to keep the time that is still on your license and then we'll add four more years to it. So for example, if you have a year left on your license, you'll get to keep that year, you'll get four more and you'll have a five-year license," Campbell said.
She says if you do that, you'll pay a one-time fee of $30 when you opt-in to Real ID and then because they're renewing the license, you'll pay an additional renewal fee of $30.50.
"Then when your first Real ID expires, whenever that is, whether it's 5, 7, 8 years from now, then you'll go back to the regular four-year cycle and you'll never pay any additional fees to have a Real ID versus a non-Real ID. The only time you'll pay extra is when you pay that one time $30 opt-in fee and then never again," Campbell said.
N.J. Rolls Out Real ID Via Appointment
The Real ID rollout officially got underway on Wednesday, September 18 in the Garden State. Like Pennsylvania, it's optional to get one.
For now, the licenses will be issued at the Trenton agency and five other locations by appointment only. Following this pilot program, the Motor Vehicle Commission hopes to expand statewide by December 1.
To make an appointment, New Jersey residents can go to REALIDNJ.com.
Those interested must bring two proofs of residential address, proof of full Social Security Number, and identity documents that add up to 6 Real ID points.
NJMVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton Fulton advised New Jersey residents that if an agency near you is not yet issuing Real ID, you will not be able to make an appointment, but the MVC will email you as soon as Real ID is available in your area.
In New Jersey, there will be an $11 fee associated with changing your standard NJ driver license or non-driver ID to a Real ID if not done at renewal.
New Jersey officials are rolling out the Real ID program, offering it by appointment only.
The new "take-a-ticket" queuing system is now operational in 14 of the 39 Motor Vehicle agencies in the state and is scheduled to be in all agencies by December 1.
Delaware's Early Start
If you live in Delaware, chances are you probably know all about Real ID - since the First State has been issuing them for close to a decade.
On July 1, 2010, the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles began offering secure driver licenses and identification cards to their customers.
At the time, they updated the look and security of the licenses and changed the process of obtaining a photo ID while at the DMV.
Like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Delaware residents do not have to opt-in the Real ID program.
"While we felt it was absolutely necessary to comply with federal identification standards, we also understand that some existing customers may not want or be able to bring the necessary source documentation for obtaining a compliant DL/ID card. For individuals in this situation, you may obtain a non-compliant driver license or identification card," Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles said.
As for pricing, Real IDs in Delaware costs the same price as non-compliant ID cards.
"If during mid-cycle you decide to 'upgrade' your DL/ID card from non-compliant to compliant, then you would pay a $20 duplicate fee like you currently would," they said.
On its site, Delaware's DMV debunks some myths about Real ID, confirming it does not control, restrict, or affect gun sales, it does not create a National Identification Card and does not require a national database of information.
For even more information, including details on Real IDs and CDLs, non-US citizens, and name changes, check the links below.
But get your questions answered now because October 1, 2020, is getting closer. For real.