BY Christopherson Business Travel |

The Ultimate Guide to REAL IDs for Business Travelers

Editor’s Note: Since the time of posting, the Department of Homeland Security announced a 19-month, pandemic-related delay of the deadline to obtain compliant Real IDs. The new deadline is May 3, 2023.


Vaccinations, laptop, sunscreen – check. REAL ID. What? You might be ready to travel, but starting October 1, 2021, you’ll need a compliant REAL ID or another acceptable ID form for domestic travel. Here’s what you need to know before you take off.


The REAL ID Act, passed in 2005 in response to 9/11 Commission recommendations to prevent terrorism, was designed to make our forms of personal identification more consistent and secure.

But enforcement of the Act has been a long time coming. According to the New York Times, “The rollout has been delayed many times over the years after some states complained that the original deadline of 2008 was unreasonable.”

Timing may not have been the only factor. The cost, about $3.9 billion, was largely footed by the states, as federal aid to implement the Act totaled only $225 million. States also had difficulty getting the databases used to verify residents’ paperwork to function correctly.

And just as states were lining up their ducks for the Act’s enforcement deadline in 2020, a global pandemic blew them out of the water.

Many states responded to the pandemic by closing their Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices, the agencies largely responsible for issuing REAL ID-compliant documentation.

State and federal agencies responded by granting grace periods for expiring driver’s licenses to minimize in-person contact and its inherent risk of infection to DMV employees and the general public.


In response to the pandemic, the National Governors Association sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March 2020 requesting a minimal year-long extension of the REAL ID enforcement deadline.

That time is almost up: enforcement of the REAL ID Act begins on October 1, 2021.

Source: Department of Homeland Security

According to the Federal Register, “Beginning on that date, federal agencies may not accept a state-issued driver’s license or identification card for official purposes from any individual unless such license or card is a REAL ID compliant driver’s license or identification card issued by a state that DHS has determined is in full compliance.”

Without a REAL ID, you will be unable to travel within the United States by air—or enter certain federal buildings, Department of Defense installations, and nuclear power plants.

To prepare for Act enforcement, the DHS maintains a map showing state compliance. If your state is compliant, and your driver’s license or non-driver identification card is due to expire before the October 1, 2021, deadline, the new ID issued to you will have a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip, indicated by a star symbol, or will be “enhanced,” depending on your location.

A compliant license will be marked with one of the star symbols shown below, and an enhanced license will be marked “enhanced.”

Source: Department of Homeland Security

Since many driver’s licenses lapsed during the pandemic and resultant REAL ID-enforcement grace period, travelers should ascertain the status of their documentation and act quickly. The DMV lines are likely to be long—and we all want to get back in the air.

To help you become compliant, questions regarding REAL ID enforcement are addressed in the following FAQ section. Additional information can be obtained from your state or local DMV office and the DHS.


When is the Real ID deadline?

  • All driver’s licenses will be accepted until October 1, 2021. On that date, TSA will only accept compliant state-issued IDs.
  • Passengers without a compliant form of ID will not be allowed through TSA security checkpoints beginning October 1, 2021.

Who needs a REAL ID?

  • All U.S. travelers flying domestically need a REAL ID or other acceptable form of ID unless they are minors traveling with a REAL ID-compliant adult.
  • TSA PreCheck flyers need a REAL ID or another acceptable ID form.
  • Passengers using and enrolled in CLEAR need a REAL ID.

How do I tell if I have a REAL ID?

  • State compliance doesn’t guarantee that your ID is compliant. If your ID isn’t marked with a star, check with your state driver license division.
  • Most compliant driver’s licenses are marked with a star at the top of the card. Check with your state DMV if you are unsure of compliance.
  • Some states—New York, Michigan, Minnesota, and Vermont—issue both “enhanced” driver’s licenses and REAL ID-compliant licenses; both of these forms are acceptable.
  • Washington State issues only enhanced licenses, which are also compliant with the REAL ID Act.

How do I get a REAL ID?

  • To get a REAL ID, present acceptable identity verification documents in person at your DMV office.
  • You can use the interactive map on the DHS’s website to make a plan with your local DMV to be REAL ID ready.

What kinds of documents are acceptable?

  • At a minimum, you must have documentation of:
    • your full legal name
    • date of birth
    • Social Security number
    • two proofs of principal residence address
    • lawful status

Some states may have additional requirements, so check with your DMV before visiting in person.

Are other forms of identification acceptable?

  • If you don’t have a REAL ID, other forms of identification are also acceptable:
    • A federally recognized tribal-issued photo ID is also an acceptable form of identification.
    • A valid passport can be used as identification for international travel instead of your driver’s license.

What forms of identification are not acceptable?

  • The TSA currently doesn’t accept mobile driver’s licenses.
  • Paper temporary/interim driver’s licenses are not an acceptable form of ID.
Source: Department of Homeland Security