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After Pandemic Pause, PennDOT Once Again Issuing REAL IDs

A REAL ID is technically not required, but it can definitely make things a lot easier for people when flying domestically or visiting federal buildings

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After months of not issuing them due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has once again begun issuing REAL IDs, the federally acceptable identification cards and driver’s licenses that make domestic flights easier for many people.

PennDOT paused issuing REAL IDs back in March “out of an abundance of caution and in the interest of public health,” but people are now once again able to order theirs online or get it in-person at any PennDOT Driver’s License Center or one of 12 REAL ID Centers, the agency said in a press release.

The federal government had long ago set a deadline of Oct. 1, 2020 to start enforcing REAL ID requirements, but the pandemic also caused that date to be pushed back by a year to Oct. 1, 2021.

A REAL ID is technically not required, but it can definitely make things a lot easier for people when flying domestically or visiting federal buildings. To get one from PennDOT, people will need to pay a one-time fee of $30, plus a renewal fee of $30.50 for a non-commercial driver’s license or $31.50 for a photo ID. The upside is people only have to renew every four years.

Here's what the REAL ID is all about and what you need to know to get one.

Why is the government asking people to get a REAL ID?

The new form of ID is a result of the REAL ID Act. The act, passed by Congress in 2005 in response to the 9/11 attacks, establishes "minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards" and prevents federal agencies from accepting those forms of identification from states that don't meet the DHS's standards.

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Can non-citizens apply for a REAL ID?

Yes. Pennsylvania allows legally present non-citizens to obtain driver's licenses, and the requirements are similar to the requirement for getting a REAL ID. For exact requirements, click here. The catch, though, is that non-citizens can’t apply for a REAL ID online.

When will REAL ID enforcement begin?

The final deadline for all states is now Oct. 1, 2021.

What happens after Oct. 1, 2021?

After this date, you won't be able to use your regular driver's license/ID card for boarding domestic flights. To do these things, you will need a REAL ID or alternative forms of approved identification.

Do I already have a REAL ID? How do I tell?

All REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses and state-issued IDs have a white star inside a gold circle on the front of the ID. Check it out in the photo below. If you have one, you're good to go. If not, you'll want to look into getting a REAL ID.

A REAL ID driver's license sample for Pennsylvania.
A REAL ID driver's license sample for Pennsylvania.

How can I get a REAL ID?

If you live in Pennsylvania, you have three options:

  1. Get pre-verified online: If you got your first Pennsylvania driver's license, photo ID or learning permit after Sept. 1, 2003, you will have received a postcard from PennDOT telling you that you're eligible for online pre-verification. Once you've gone through the online pre-verification process, PennDOT will let you know if you're verified and you can then officially order your REAL ID online and wait for it to come in the mail. (Again, that link is here.)
  2. Take required documents to a REAL ID Center: This works the same as taking your documents to a driver's license center, but it has the added advantage of letting you walk away with a REAL ID the day-of, instead of having to wait the 15 business days. You can find your nearest REAL ID Center here.
  3. Take required documents to any PennDOT driver's license center: Once your documents are verified at the license center, you should receive your REAL ID in the mail within 15 business days.

What documents do I need to show to get a REAL ID?

Whether doing it online or in person, your quest for a REAL ID starts with having the required documents in order. The requirements differ slightly by state, but in general, here's what you'll need:

  1. Proof of Identity: You'll need one of either your U.S. birth certificate with a raised seal or a certified copy of the certificate, a U.S. passport or passport card, a certificate of U.S. citizenship or a certificate of naturalization. If you're a non-citizen, you'll need either a green card, a passport with an I-551 stamp, an immigrant Visa or an I-327 re-entry permit.
  2. Proof of Social Security Number: This would be your original Social Security card. If you've lost your Social Security card, you can get a free replacement from the Social Security Administration.
  3. Proof of residency: To prove residency, you'll need to provide two of the following options: your current license or ID, a vehicle registration card, a car insurance card, a utility bill, post-marked mail through USPS, UPS, FedEx or others, a lease agreement or mortgage documents, or your W-2 form.
  4. Proof of name, date of birth, or gender change: This only applies if you've changed your name, date of birth or gender and it differs from your birth certificate or legal status document. If that's the case, valid name change documents would be a marriage certificate, divorce decree, court order approving a name or birth date change, or an original or certified copy of an amended birth certificate showing a name change. 

Is a REAL ID mandatory?

Technically, no. You don't need a REAL ID to vote, apply or receive federal benefits or even drive. Also, though a REAL ID might make it easier and more convenient for you to board domestic flights or visit federal facilities, you can also use alternative forms of identification instead.

What are the alternative forms of identification I can use to fly domestically and enter military bases or federal facilities?

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • DHS-designated enhanced driver's license
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

So if it's not mandatory, why should I get a REAL ID?

For one, a REAL ID could be the cheaper option. The cost to renew your passport can be upwards of $100, whereas a REAL ID will run you $30 plus an applicable renewal fee.

A REAL ID can also be more convenient. For example, if you're someone who frequently travels domestically, it might just be easier to use your license to get through TSA instead of having to remember to bring along your passport, meaning a REAL ID might make sense for you.

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