In January, Will You be Able to Board Your Domestic Flight with Your Current Driver’s License?

by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

[co-author: Andrea Ramos – Extern]*


In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, enacting national standards for obtaining state driver’s licenses and I.D. cards. These federally mandated standards require states to use enhanced security features and identification procedures, and to review documentary evidence of legal status, before issuing a driver’s license or identity document. The Act requires that only individuals with a Real-ID-compliant identity document may (1) access federal facilities; (2) enter nuclear power plants; or (3) board commercial aircrafts for domestic flights.


The new Real-ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identity documents have a gold star inside a gold circle in the upper right hand corner of the document. States are also required to utilize photos that are compatible with facial recognition software as well as additional measures to prevent fraudulent production of a driver’s license.


As of November 7, 2017, 26 states are in compliance, 17 have received a one year extension to October 10, 2018, and 7 states are still under review (including New York, Illinois, and Michigan). Unless your driver’s license is from one of the 7 states still under review, you have additional time to obtain a compliant ID.

To check for future update on the status of all the states, see here.


Congress established an initial deadline of 2007 for states to comply with the different phases of implementation. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has granted and continues to grant extensions to many states that are actively in the process of becoming compliant.

Here is the current state of play for residents of three types of states:

Residents of States that are Compliant

Residents of states that have already complied with Real ID have until October 1, 2020 to obtain a Real-ID-compliant ID from their state’s issuing agency and may use their non-compliant ID until then, or until it expires.

Residents of Non-Compliant States that Have Received Extensions

Residents of states that have received extensions may continue to use their non-compliant IDs until the extension expires (current extensions will last until October 10, 2018), the state receives another extension, or DHS certifies that the state has come into compliance. Regardless, residents of these states will need to obtain a compliant ID by October 1, 2020 at the latest.

Residents of Non-Compliant States that Have not Received Extensions

Residents of states that have not complied and have not received extensions will not be able to use their non-compliant IDs to enter federal agencies or board aircraft as of January 22, 2018. They will need to utilize a different form of identification (such as a passport) for such purposes.


As part of the congressionally mandated protocols, states are required to demand and inspect additional documents to verify identity. Here is a list of documents you will need when you apply for a Real ID compliant driver’s license:

  • ID such as your current driver’s license or passport. In some cases, a birth certificate will be requested.
  • Proof of all name changes – certified copy of name change, marriage, divorce, etc.
  • Social Security Card, W-2 or 1099 with social security number
  • Proof of residency in the state and your current address – utility bills, etc.
  • State DMV application form

Please consult with your state DMV for specific guidance.


Individuals that do not have legal status in the U.S. or a valid social security number most likely will still be able to travel domestically using their foreign passport as long as the passport validity has not expired.


Given the looming deadline in October 2020 for all Americans to have a driver’s license that is Real ID compliant, we recommend applying for one as soon as your state begins issuing them. Do not wait until 2020 to do so as the wait times and lines

*Andrea Ramos is an extern in the Corporate Practice Group at Sheppard Mullin.

Graphic Attribution: Department of Homeland Security


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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