After years of changed dates, extended deadlines, and general defiance at the state level, there’s still a lot of confusion around the REAL ID Act, particularly when it comes to air travel. The act was slated to become law on Oct. 1, 2020. However, the unprecedented circumstances of the last few years — and traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular — pushed the execution date back yet again.
Now, as of the time of this writing, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), all U.S. travelers must meet the REAL ID requirements to board domestic flights by May 3, 2023. So, what does this mean, and how should you go about it? In this post, we’ll clear things up regarding this issue and also explain the use of your passport when traveling domestically.
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), all adult passengers (18 and above) must show valid identification at the airport to travel. The identification must show your picture, name, and state of residence. It doesn’t necessarily need to be your passport, which means you can fly domestically in the U.S. in 2022 without a valid passport for travel.
If you don’t have a passport, there are several other acceptable forms of identification, including:
- A U.S. passport card
- A driver’s license
- A DHS trusted traveler card
- State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
- U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential
- Border crossing card
- A permanent resident card
- U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) ID
- Tribal-issued photo ID
If you don’t have any form of ID because, say, you forgot it at home, it’s lost, or you’re a “sovereign citizen,” you can still fly within the United States. You’ll need to complete an identity verification process as required by the TSA. Don’t plan on breezing through airport security though, because you’ll be subject to additional (i.e., much lengthier) screening. Children under the age of 18 are not expected to provide identification when traveling domestically.
While you can still travel in the U.S. with any of the alternate IDs listed above, that will likely change once the REAL ID requirements take effect in May 2023. In this case, you’ll still be able to use your state-issued ID or driver’s license to board flights. However, it must have the REAL ID star. REAL ID cards have a star at the upper left- or right-hand corner. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “all 50 states are now in full compliance issuing these cards, with most states becoming compliant in the last four years.” If you received your last ID before your state was compliant, you’re now able to receive a REAL ID-compliant version at your next renewal.
In the absence of a REAL ID, you will be able to use a valid passport, a U.S. military ID, or a federal government PIV card for domestic travel. Even if you opt to use your passport, make sure it’s updated by May 3, 2023. This can take about seven to 10 weeks for routine service and four to six weeks if expedited, but there’s no guarantee, according to the Department of State. Without a passport, REAL ID-compliant card, or any other accepted forms of identification, you’ll not be allowed through TSA checkpoints, meaning you won’t be able to fly within the U.S.
Beginning May 3, 2023, all U.S. travelers will need a REAL ID to fly if they don’t have a passport for domestic travel. The ID will also be required to access any federal facility. For example, you won’t be able to visit some national monuments, federal buildings, or loved ones at military installations without one.
This law will apply to all 50 U.S. states and territories, including Guam, the U.S Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Without the ID, you can still use your passport to fly locally. But, that could still be a potential challenge for the almost 60% of US citizens who don’t have a passport.
You can get your REAL ID through your local Department of Motor Vehicles office, AAA, or regional state offices. It’s possible to complete the necessary documentation online before visiting the necessary office. Be sure to check the minimum requirements before applying.
When traveling as a resident, you’ll need a valid passport, driver’s license, state ID, or military ID. Before traveling, be sure to check your identification to ensure they’re valid and current. Also, take some time to learn about the laws of the state you’re flying to — that helps avoid delays and frustrations.
U.S. citizens can also use state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses (EDLs) to fly locally. EDLs, however, are only available in select states, including New York, Washington, Minnesota, Vermont, and Michigan. They’re typically given to residents in states close to U.S. borders to comply with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
If you’re a foreign national traveling within the U.S., you’ll need your passport. Be sure to keep your passport safe. Flying within the U.S. without a passport as a foreign national can be quite stressful.
On the other hand, green-carded residents must have their regular photo ID and green card to fly within the U.S. The card can also function as a driver’s license or other ID. You’re not required to have a passport for domestic travel.
As of October 2022, there are no states that require passports from U.S. citizens to fly domestically. Your airline or the TSA should never ask you to present a valid passport. Of course, you can always carry it with you for additional photo identification in case you lose your other forms of ID.
In short, you can fly to all 50 U.S. states and territories without a passport. Just make sure to carry either your driver’s license or a state-issued ID. To avoid frustrations in the future, ensure your driver’s license and other ID are REAL-ID compliant before May 2023.
You’ll need a passport (with a protective passport holder) to travel internationally, though. So, it’s vital not to leave it at home if your travel plans are likely to change.
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