In the past several months, there has been plenty of conversation about the Real ID Act and how it will affect air travelers. Passed by Congress in 2005, the act is intended to prevent identity fraud, and starting on Oct. 1, 2020, all fliers who reside in the United States, even if they’re flying domestically, will need Real ID identification to pass through Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints at airports.
Who exactly is affected and what exactly is Real ID identification? Here, answers to questions about what the Real ID Act means for travelers and why having a passport now may be more important than ever.
What exactly is the Real ID Act?
The act is intended to enhance national security by establishing minimum standards for the secure issuance of driver’s licenses and identification cards, according to Steve Yonkers, the director of the Real ID program for the Department of Homeland Security.
“The act is meant to stop the production of fake IDs,” Mr. Yonkers said.
Why is the act being implemented?
Congress passed the act on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which advised that the federal government set minimum security standards for how states issue identification and for how that identification is used. “The commission recognized that sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists,” Mr. Yonkers said.
When does it go into effect and for which states?
Currently, all 50 states are either compliant or have extensions, meaning none of these residents need alternative identification. There are 28 states that are now Real ID compliant, including Texas, Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Colorado, while 26 states and territories have been granted extensions until Oct. 10, 2018 by the department. Note that travelers from states with extensions will not likely need to have Real ID compliant identification by Oct. 10 — the date is only a deadline for the Department of Homeland Security to receive a state’s request for a renewed Real ID extension, if needed. In past years, the agency has provided a grace period for approximately 90 days before enforcement would begin for a state not granted a renewed extension. The department will issue information about the next extension cycle later this year. For a complete list, visit dhs.gov/real-id.
“Every state is working on getting compliant with all Real ID requirements,” Mr. Yonkers said. “The states that aren’t yet compliant are the ones that are requesting extensions to give them additional time necessary to complete implementation of secure identification standards.”
How does a state work to get compliant?
According to Mr. Yonkers, the Department of Motor Vehicles employees in a compliant state have to undergo background checks. Employees also have to be able to verify an applicant’s identity and lawful status — they can do the latter by checking an applicant’s immigration status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Also, the licenses the D.M.V. produces in a compliant state must have anti-counterfeit technology built into them such as a hologram. “They [licenses] have to be very secure documents,” Mr. Yonkers said.
But what does the Real ID Act mean for air travelers?
Right now, nothing. On Jan. 22, however, residents of two United States territories, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands, could be the subject of Real ID enforcement because they are still under review to get extensions. But as of Oct. 1, 2020, the T.S.A. will ask all travelers to have a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or alternate acceptable identification to fly domestically.
Travelers won’t be able to pass through security without this acceptable identification.
Will I have to apply for a new, compliant license? Or will my state send me a new, compliant one automatically?
In order to get a Real ID-compliant license, residents must physically go to a D.M.V. office with their identification documents such as a birth certificate and passport.
What exactly qualifies as acceptable identification?
The Department of Homeland Security has designated more than a dozen forms of acceptable ID, including a passport; a border ID card; a trusted traveler card, such as Global Entry; a Real ID-compliant driver’s license; and a permanent resident card. For a complete list, visit tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/identification.
Is one form of acceptable identification better than another?
The department does not recommend any particular form of acceptable identification, but Brenda Sprague, who oversees passport services for the State Department, encourages all United States residents without a passport to apply for one now. The turnaround time to get a new passport during the winter is usually around four weeks. In the summer, when passport applications peak, the wait for a new passport could be up to eight weeks.
Around 136 million Americans have passports in circulation, according to the State Department — that’s only around 40 percent of the population in the United States.
O.K., you’ve convinced me, and I’m ready to apply for a new passport. What’s the best way?
Ms. Sprague said that there are more than 8,000 passport application locations around the country. Around 60 percent are post offices while the rest are courthouses and libraries. Visit the State Department’s Where to Apply link for more details. In addition, there are 27 passport agencies, where travelers can apply for rush passports. “These agencies are for people who are traveling within two weeks,” Ms. Sprague said.
Also, the State Department is collaborating with Hilton Hotels & Resorts on the Hilton Passport Project, an initiative meant to encourage more Americans to apply for passports. Every few weeks, a Hilton location in the United States will have a Passport Concierge booth, where guests and the general public can have their passport pictures taken for free and apply for or renew a passport. Between one and three employees from the State Department will be on hand to answer passport-related questions and help fill out applications. The next Passport Concierge will be at the Travel and Adventure Show, in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20 and 21. At this event, applicants will actually be able to submit their applications to a State Department employee. For a list of coming locations, visit facebook.com/Hilton.
How much does it cost to get a new passport?
First-time applicants pay $110 and a $25 application fee. Passport renewals cost $110 and expedited passports are an additional $60. If you’re renewing your passport, you can do it by mail, but if you’re getting a new passport or if your existing one is lost or stolen, you must apply in person.