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July 29, 2021

REAL ID and the Reality of Not Having It

Claudia Culmone

Updated April 8, 2023

Since January 22, 2018, travelers with a driver’s license issued by a state that is not REAL ID-compliant are required to present an alternative form of identification before boarding a commercial aircraft. Luckily, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website shows all states and territories are compliant or have been granted an extension. As of May 7, 2025, however, anyone planning to travel on a federally-regulated aircraft will be required to present a REAL ID or other acceptable form of ID.

Alternative, acceptable forms of identification for travel

A previous blog post on REAL ID mentions other forms of identification that are accepted in the place of a REAL ID when traveling, and these include the following:

  • Enhanced Driver’s License: Washington State, New York, Minnesota, Vermont and Michigan issue what is known as an enhanced driver’s license (EDL). An EDL enables officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to verify the holder’s identity through a barcode or through a chip that shows the EDL holder’s biometric and biographic information.
  • Global Entry: Global Entry is a program managed by the CBP through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is intended to make it easier for U.S. travelers to re-enter the U.S. when traveling internationally. To be approved for this program, participants must undergo an in-person interview and an extensive background check. They must also possess a valid passport.
  • NEXUS: The NEXUS program, managed by the CBP, is similar to Global Entry but is only for entry into the U.S. from Canada. Unlike Global Entry, NEXUS can be used at marine reporting locations as well as airports for faster processing.
  • SENTRI: SENTRI stands for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection and is another program available to international travelers through the CBP. It operates in a similar manner to Global Entry; applicants are required to complete an in-person interview and undergo a rigorous background check process. It is used to enter the U.S. from Mexico and Canada.
  • FAST: Also offered by the DHS as part of its Trusted Traveler Programs, FAST is a program for truck drivers who regularly cross the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders. It provides access to the FAST lanes and expedited Customs processing.

Additionally, anyone who holds a U.S. or foreign-issued passport may present that passport as an alternative form of ID if they do not have a REAL ID. For a complete list of all forms of identification accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), click here.

NOTE: Travelers under the age of 18 will not be required to show identification when traveling with another person. However, the companion of the minor will be required to show their REAL ID or an alternate acceptable form of identification.

Not just required for travel

Many people associate REAL ID with traveling on aircraft, but the REAL ID Act of 2005 “prohibits Federal agencies from accepting State issued driver's licenses or identification cards unless such documents are determined by the Secretary to meet minimum security requirements, including the incorporation of specified data, a common machine-readable technology, and certain anti-fraud security features.”

TSA states each federal agency retains authority to decide what the minimum-security access requirements will be for their facilities. For instance, once the 2020 deadline occurs, the Department of Defense will no longer accept non-compliant IDs at any of its installations or facilities.

Without a REAL ID, people will not be permitted to enter federal buildings or facilities that require an ID to access such as:

  • Power plants
  • Federal courthouses
  • Social Security offices
  • Public Works

Federally-owned lands, vessels or contractor-operated federal facilities may also be off-limits to those without an acceptable form of identification. People who are planning to visit government buildings or properties should contact those locations beforehand to make sure they have the appropriate ID if they do not have a REAL ID. Remember, the deadline to comply is May 7, 2025.

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