What is REAL ID?

One of the most significant changes to air travel in recent times is the introduction of REAL ID in the United States. When fully implemented by October 2020, it will make the U.S. one of over 100 countries, including those in Europe, that have a national identification document. The REAL ID Act has its origins in the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government establish clear standards for identification documents like driver’s licenses.

The implementation of the Act is under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is a key asset against the threat of Islamic terrorism. For a form of identification to be REAL ID-compliant, it has to have certain basic features:

  • Front-facing photo
  • Full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Residential Address
  • Signature
  • Unique identification number

Travel on both international and domestic air routes is affected by the Act. However, international passports already come under the description of REAL ID. If you have a valid passport, not just from the United States, but from any country or territory recognized by the U.S., it will function as your REAL ID.¬†Since October, 2015, access to almost all federal buildings is granted on the basis of a REAL ID (or ID from a state that has been granted an extension). In certain cases, Enhanced Driver’s Licenses with RFID chips issued by certain states may serve as an alternative to REAL ID. However, the timeline given by the federal government indicates that by October 2020, there will be no alternative to REAL ID. An outreach and information drive by the DHS and TSA (Transport Safety Administration) started in 2016.

After January 21, 2018, domestic air travel passengers not from a state that has been given an extension will need a valid REAL ID to board planes. From October 1, 2020, full enforcement will come into play; anyone without valid REAL ID or another form of identification will not be allowed to board any domestic flights. Currently, the TSA does not extend the policy to minors (below 18 years of age) traveling with an adult companion. That companion, however, will have to comply with the Act. For those concerned with privacy of information, it should be noted that there is no central or federal database of information created through the REAL ID Act. All states and territories maintain and retain control over records as before.The Act gives the nation a key asset in the fight against identity fraud that contributes to international Islamic terrorism without infringing on the rights of citizens.