What to Know About Pennsylvania’s REAL ID Rollout

Pennsylvania has begun issuing REAL IDs, which are federally complaint forms of ID meant to replace standard ID cards or driver's licenses.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

What to Know

  • Pennsylvania has begun issuing drivers' licenses and identification cards that comply with the federal REAL ID Act.
  • You will need a REAL ID or alternate identification to board domestic flights, visit a military base or enter other federal facilities.
  • The deadline to get a REAL ID for those uses above is Oct. 1, 2020.

Pennsylvania on Friday began issuing drivers' licenses and identification cards that comply with the federal REAL ID Act.

Under that act, all states must meet Department of Homeland Security standards for their licenses and ID cards to be accepted for such things as boarding domestic flights or visiting military bases or other federal facilities.

In other words, if you don't want to bring along your passport, you'll need a REAL ID to fly domestically.

Why is the government making people 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.

Can non-citizens apply for a REAL ID?

Yes. Pennsylvania allows non-citizens to obtain driver's licenses, and the requirements are similar to the requirement for getting a REAL ID.

When will REAL ID enforcement begin?

The final deadline for all states is Oct. 1, 2020.

What happens after Oct. 1, 2020?

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.

How can I get a REAL ID?

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 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.

3. 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.

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. 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 Pennsylvania residency: To prove residency, you'll need to provide two of the following options: your current license or ID, a Pennsylvania 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. "It's definitely cheaper to get a REAL ID than a passport," PennDOT Community Coordinator Alexis Campbell said. She's right, too. The cost to renew your passport can cost 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 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.

"It's really up to the user to consider their own travel habits are and what they want," Campbell said.

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