How to Get a Real ID License Before the Deadline

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Already planning your big vacation for next year? If you’re flying within the United States, you better add one more item to that to-do list: Update your license to Real ID. Anyone who has a license that isn’t Real ID–certified will not be allowed to board domestic flights in the US starting May 7, 2025. So unless you have a passport on hand, you’ll need to update your license soon.

This regulatory change is two decades in the making. The new identification standard was suggested by the 9/11 Commission in response to the September 11 attacks and signed into law by US president George W. Bush in 2005. While the original deadline for the change was set for three years later, it has been delayed numerous times. But despite previous delays, there has been no indication from the government that this current deadline, set for 2025, will be adjusted again.

Curious about what the new licenses look like, and how to get your own before the deadline passes? Here’s everything you need to know about the switch to Real ID.

What Does a Real ID Look Like?

It looks quite similar to previous driver’s licenses, so don’t expect any drastic changes to the ID’s appearance. Get out your wallet, and check to see whether you have a Real ID by looking for a star in the top right corner of the license. That’s the only major change.

Photo of the Miami International Airport Homeland Security REAL ID message sign.

Photograph: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Just like each state has different designs for their driver’s licenses, the exact implementation of Real ID’s star slightly varies depending on your state. Most of the designs feature a gold circle inlaid with a white star in the top right corner, but California has a gold bear surrounding the white star instead. And while many of the Real IDs feature a gold color, some states opted for a more muted color palette.

How Do I Get a Real ID?

To see exactly what steps you need to follow, visit the Department of Homeland Security’s webpage about updating to a Real ID, and click on the state where you reside. This will take you to another government website with more specific information from your state about the update process.

You’ll likely have to apply for a Real ID in person at a local Department of Motor Vehicles office, and be prepared to bring plenty of documentation with you. Even though the specifics may be a bit different for your state, let’s take a look at Missouri’s requirements as an example to help you understand how much documentation will be required to get the Real ID.

To start off, if you’re a Missouri resident, you will need proof of your Social Security number, which is typically a Social Security card but could also be a W-2 form. Then you’ll have to show one identity document as well as one lawful status document. For this section, a valid passport or a US birth certificate will cover both requirements. Next, two different proofs of residency are required to demonstrate that you actually live in the state, like a utility bill, employer paycheck, or car insurance. Finally, additional documentation is required for any name change, like a marriage license.

In order to save yourself a frustrating, unfruitful trip to the DMV, double check all of your necessary documentation before going to the office. Depending on the state, you may need to make an appointment beforehand for a more streamlined experience. (Well, as streamlined as any visit to the DMV can be.)

What Else Is a Real ID Required For?

Even though many Americans need to update their driver’s license primarily just for travel purposes, there are a few edge cases where a Real ID is also necessary: According to the DHS, you will also need it to enter military bases and some federal buildings. A Real ID is also necessary to visit nuclear power plants in the US.

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