UPDATED: See GUIDE: Can I Fly With My ID? for important new dates!

While you may pass through TSA security checkpoints using other methods of identification, it is highly recommended that you have a REAL ID Card when traveling. Or, better yet, get a Global Entry Card with PreCheck so you have a much greater chance of getting through security in an express line, with more experienced travelers who know the rules as the log-jammed TSA line backs up from confusion. January 2016 could get ugly!

Court Rejects Professor’s TSA Pat-Down Challenge
7 Reasons To Get Global Entry (Instead of TSA PreCheck)!
GUIDE: 11 Traveling Tips For Seniors
GUIDE: Are You Allowed To Bring Alcohol On A Plane? 
GUIDE: Are You Allowed To Smoke E-Cigarettes On A Plane?
COURT: Air Marshal Did Not Violate Law By Leaking TSA Information

Starting in 2016, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) will require a “REAL ID” form of identification in order to board federally regulated commercial aircraft. A driver’s license or identification card from a noncompliant state (compliant list below) will NOT be accepted unless used in conjunction with a second form of ID for boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft. If you do not have a REAL ID card, you may still use other accepted forms of identification for TSA checkpoints such as your passport or your Global Entry identification card.

What is REAL ID?
REAL ID Cards are NOT national identification cards or some new nationwide identification system, rather they are more of a type of identification that may be issued from state agencies with specific reliability and accuracy standards to further protect against fraudulent identification.

The REAL ID system has been phased in by the federal government (9/11 Commission recommendation) to improve identification standards. The major phase of public interaction now comes with the 2016 advent of the prohibition on boarding commercial aircraft without a REAL ID or other approved forms of identification, i.e. your handy state issued driver’s license may or may not qualify as a REAL ID (see below).

Here is an example of a REAL ID driver’s license from Nevada alongside a non-REAL ID. A REAL ID driver’s license or ID card has a gold circle with a star cut-out in the upper right-hand corner. Standard licenses or ID cards that do not meet REAL ID federal standards that are recently issued or renewed should have a heading stating “NOT FOR FEDERAL OFFICIAL USE.”

REAL ID card

Non-REAL ID – This Nevada driver license would not be accepted by TSA. Note the words “NOT FOR FEDERAL OFFICIAL USE”

REAL ID card

REAL ID – The gold star in the corner tells you it qualifies as a REAL ID.

What States Have REAL ID?
States and territories will continue to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards, and may offer REAL ID as an option when renewing or obtaining a new driver’s license or identification card. Note, no federal database is maintained regarding REAL IDs, as states will continue to issue and maintain their own records.

States may issue driver’s licenses and identification cards that are nevertheless not REAL IDs because the extra steps to confirm the person’s identity were not conducted (and/or the person wanted to save money on the cost difference). These ID cards should include the marking “Not for Federal Identification” or a similar mark.

As of this posting, many states have been granted extensions (referred to as being “compliant” but only due to being granted extensions by the federal government to come into compliance) to implement the REAL ID system, as it requires significant state funding, as it is an unfunded federal mandate. The current round of extensions will end on October 10, 2015, regardless of the date of issuance.

States/Territories currently offering REAL ID Cards:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • DC
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • S. Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Check for updates to this list here.

REAL ID Card compliant states should require in person presentation of your proof of identity, lawful status, Social Security number, and two residency documents in person at a DMV office. These would most typically be a birth certificate, a Social Security Card, and two proofs of residency such as utility bills or bank statements with your address.

What If My State Does NOT have REAL IDs (Yet)?
My best recommendation if you fly at least once a year, even just domestically, is to get a Global Entry Card. It costs $100 for 5-years and you are automatically enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program and have an accepted federal ID with your photo for use at TSA checkpoints. See my post 7 Reasons To Get Global Entry (Instead of TSA PreCheck)!

Otherwise, travelers without a REAL ID or an old driver’s license lacking the REAL ID seal will have to opt for other accepted forms of identification. These may include:

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card 
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. military ID (active duty or retired military and their dependents, and DoD civilians)
  • Permanent Residency Card
  • State Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDLs) (available in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington)

Final Thought
I am curious as to what extent the airline ticket counters and/or self check-in kiosks will (1) inform customers of, or (2) demand from customers, their need for a REAL ID before travelers even reach the TSA checkpoint? Regardless, I suggest you do what I do and carry your Global Entry ID Card as your identification for both airline check-in and TSA.


Subscribe in the sidebar!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.