REAL ID: What you need to know


REAL ID is a coordinated effort by the states and the Federal Government to improve the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents, which should inhibit terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent identification. REAL ID implements a 9/11 Commission recommendation urging the federal government to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”

Starting January 22, 2018, passengers with a driver’s license issued by a state that is still not compliant with the REAL ID Act (and has not been granted an extension) will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel to board their flight. Is New Mexico compliant? Click here » TSA will continue to accept driver’s licenses issued by all states through January 2018 and, then, will continue to accept licenses from all compliant states or noncompliant states with an extension.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is implementing REAL ID through a period of phased enforcement over the next several years. In particular, the date for implementing the prohibition on boarding aircraft travel will be set after an evaluation of earlier phases and will not occur sooner than 2016.

What does the REAL ID Act require?

The REAL ID Act of 2005:

  • Establishes minimum standards for the production and issuance of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and authorizes grants to assist states in implementing the requirements;
  • Prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for official uses driver’s licenses and identity cards from states unless the Department of Homeland Security determines that the state meets the standards. Official uses are defined as accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and boarding federally-regulated commercial aircraft.

Which states, territories, and tribes are affected?

The REAL ID Act covers 56 jurisdictions, including the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The current list of states from which a Federal agency may accept driver’s licenses for an official purpose is found at REAL ID Enforcement In Brief.

As of Jan. 10, 2016, New Mexico drivers’ licenses will no longer be considered valid forms of identification to enter federal facilities because New Mexico state’s drivers’ licenses do not comply with the the REAL ID Act of 2005.

Related Coverage

What does this mean for New Mexico?

The decision to deny New Mexico for an extension means New Mexico driver’s licenses and IDs won’t be valid for federal purposes, including, eventually, boarding commercial aircraft next year. REAL ID Act requirements require proof of legal U.S. residency for holders who want to use them to access certain areas of federal buildings.

New Mexico state law allows immigrants suspected of being in the country illegal to obtain driver’s licenses.

Is REAL ID a national identification card?

No. REAL ID is not a national identification card. States and territories will continue to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards, and there is no Federal database of driver information. Each jurisdiction will issue its own unique license and maintain its own records.

Does REAL ID mean that I must use a driver’s license for official purpose?

No. Each agency determines whether identification documents are needed for the purpose it oversees and, if applicable, which documents are acceptable. REAL ID only applies if a person is presenting a driver’s license or state-issued identification card for official purposes.

For what uses will I need to show a driver’s license?

For the first two years of enforcement, REAL ID primarily affects persons seeking to access Federal facilities where identification is required to be presented.

Is my driver’s license unsecure if a Federal agency does not accept it?

No. All states and territories have made tremendous progress in strengthening the security of their driver’s licenses since 9/11. Not being on the list of compliant jurisdictions means that the Department of Homeland Security has not received sufficient information to determine that the jurisdiction has met all the requirements of the REAL ID Act.

What happens if my state does not meet all of the REAL ID requirements?

Individuals without licenses from compliant jurisdictions may present alternative forms of identification – such as a U.S. Passport – accepted by the agency. Some agencies may have additional processes to accommodate individuals lacking the prescribed identification documents.

What does it mean if a person possesses or presents a state license or ID indicating that the document is not acceptable for official Federal purposes?

A “Not for Federal Identification” or a similar mark means that the issuing state offers its residents the option to obtain a driver’s license or identity card which is not compliant with REAL ID and that the license holder has chosen to exercise that option. A variety of reasons may underlie that choice, including personal preference, religious conviction, or the inability or decision not to provide original documents needed to verify identity, citizenship, or lawful status in the United States. No inferences or assumptions should be drawn about the particular reason an individual possesses a card with this mark, including inferences or assumptions about the person’s citizenship or immigration status.

May an agency, or frontline personnel, reject a particular identification document based upon an individual’s real or perceived race, ethnicity (including limited English proficiency), national origin, immigration status, or religious beliefs?

The standard for acceptance of an identity document for Federal facilities where identification is required to be presented is the same for all persons regardless of race, ethnicity, limited English proficiency, national origin, immigration status or religious beliefs.

Can I use my driver’s license to board an aircraft?

Yes. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will continue to accept driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards from all jurisdictions at least until 2016.

DHS will ensure the public has ample advanced notice before identification requirements for boarding aircraft change. That notice will include information on the process for individuals with a non-compliant driver’s license or identification card to be able to travel by aircraft.

Will TSA accept identity documents other than driver’s licenses?

Yes. TSA currently accepts other forms of identity documents such as a passport or Permanent Residency Card and will continue to do so.

For more information on acceptable forms of identification for boarding aircraft, please see TSA’s website

May Federal agencies accept my Enhanced Driver’s License?

Yes. State Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDLs) designated as acceptable border-crossing documents by DHS under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) are acceptable for official federal purposes such as accessing a Federal facility or boarding a commercial aircraft. Individual agency policies may still apply.

Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington are the only states that currently issue EDLs. For more information on EDLs, please go to

REAL ID does NOT apply to the following:

  • Entering Federal facilities that do not require a person to present identification
  • Voting or registering to vote
  • Applying for or receiving Federal benefits
  • Being licensed by a state to drive
  • Accessing Health or life preserving services (including hospitals and health clinics), law enforcement, or constitutionally protected activities (including a defendant’s access to court proceedings)
  • Participating in law enforcement proceedings or investigations


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