Will You Be Able to Use Your ID for Domestic Travel?

The REAL ID Act, decoded.

By Lisa Cheng

If you’re one of those Americans who use a driver’s license or state ID to board a domestic flight, pay attention: The Department of Homeland Security’s REAL ID Act has implications for travelers across the country.

What does the REAL ID Act do?

The REAL ID Act established new security standards for issuing driver’s licenses and ID cards and prohibits federal agencies such as the Transit Security Agency (TSA) from accepting driver’s licenses and ID cards that do not meet these new standards. Implementation of the law has been rolled out in stages—and because of changing deadlines, which vary by state, many domestic travelers have been confused by the new requirements.

Currently, most Americans who don’t want to use their passport can use their state-issued ID cards and driver’s licenses to fly domestically. By October 1, 2020, however, every American traveler needs to switch to a REAL ID license, which allows for domestic travel, or an Enhanced driver’s license, which also allows for border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico, Canada and some Caribbean islands.

How does the Real ID Act affect me?

Whether or not a current driver’s license or state ID can be used at a TSA checkpoint depends on whether the issuing U.S. state or territory is compliant with the Real ID Act, which means Homeland Security believes that the process for issuing licenses and IDs meets the new security standards outlined in the act. To check the status of your state’s or territory’s compliance, visit Homeland Security’s website.

My state or territory is noncompliant.

Some states or territories have been granted an extension to update their procedures to meet the guidelines laid out in the Real ID Act. (Check here for those deadlines.) Travelers using identification issued by states that do not meet the extended deadline will need to provide an acceptable second form of ID when boarding a domestic flight. (The TSA’s website lists acceptable forms of identification here.)

Travelers with IDs issued by a noncompliant U.S. state or territory that has not been granted an extension may need to present multiple alternate forms of ID. Homeland Security outlines what to do if you are traveling but do not have an acceptable ID on its Public FAQ page.

My state or territory is compliant.

Travelers have until October 1, 2020 to get a REAL ID–compliant or Enhanced license. Some states and territories whose security measures meet the new guidelines have started issuing REAL ID–compliant licenses; you can check your state’s department of motor vehicles site for more information.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: April 2018