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What You Need in Your Wallet to Fly Domestic in 2018 and Beyond

Driver’s license, REAL ID–compliant license, enhanced driver’s license…are they the same thing? And will you be able to fly domestically in the U.S. with the state-issued ID in your purse or wallet right now? The short answers are “sort of” and “maybe.” The long answer may be easier to understand.

Twelve years ago, with security concerns raised by 9/11 in mind, Congress passed the REAL ID Act to establish “minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards.” REAL ID–compliant driver’s licenses should prevent ID fraud by ensuring applicants don’t have multiple licenses in different states, verify Social Security numbers and immigration status, and be machine-readable and harder to forge. Under the new law, everyone wishing to fly domestically must provide this new, technologically advanced license to the TSA upon check-in.

REAL ID–compliant licenses will not cost more than the old standard licenses and are marked with a star in the upper right corner.

The states of Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington offer state enhanced driver’s licenses (EDLs), which are classified as acceptable border-crossing documents by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be used when traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. EDLs are REAL ID–compliant; however, instead of a star in the right corner, they are marked by an American flag next to the ID holder’s photo.

Unlike EDLs, REAL ID-compliant licenses will not contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip.

Starting October 1, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID–compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification (like a passport), to board a domestic commercial flight. Currently, fifty-five of the fifty-six U.S. states and territories are compliant with REAL ID or have a compliance extension in effect (the exception is American Samoa). The residents from these states and territories may continue using their current, un-expired driver’s licenses or identification cards for boarding domestic commercial flights.

At this point, all states and territories should have already or be in the midst of phasing in REAL ID–compliant licenses and/or giving their residents the choice to select a REAL ID–compliant license upon their next renewal.

For more information, visit the Department of Homeland Security’s website: https://www.dhs.gov/real-id-public-faqs