If you’re not a hard-core globetrotter, but still enjoy exploring the national parks throughout the year or have plans to visit out-of-state family once you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, then you need to be aware of the changes for US citizens traveling domestically going into effect on October 1, 2021.
In 2005, the United States passed the REAL ID Act mandating that all state-issued identification be compliant with their minimum security standards meant to improve the validity of an ID by adding security markings. States have been given over a decade to phase in compliant IDs, with over half of the United States given extensions to achieve compliance. What this means for you is that if your state-issued ID, such as your driver’s license or your identification card, is not compliant, TSA will no longer be able to accept them for domestic flights beginning October 1, 2021.
These security measures only matter if you’re flying in a regulated commercial airplane domestically, or need to enter a federal building or a nuclear power plant. They will not apply to you if you’re boarding a bus or train throughout the US.
What do I do if my state is not compliant with the REAL ID enforcement?
The only US territory currently not fully compliant with REAL ID enforcement is American Samoa. American Samoa is currently under review for REAL ID enforcement. If you live there, get moving. Apply for a passport, or a passport card now, even if you only intend on traveling domestically. Passport applications can take some time, and if you’re behind on your taxes, you may be denied one, so get organized and start the process as soon as you can. We suggest that you order a 52-page passport at no extra charge, so that if you ever go abroad, you’ll have room for all the visas and stamps required.
Is my state-issued enhanced driver’s license acceptable by federal agencies?
Yes, a state-issued enhanced driver’s license will be sufficient. If you’re lucky enough to reside in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, or Washington, these are currently the only states that issue Enhanced Driver’s Licenses. State-issued enhanced driver’s licenses are marked with a flag.
Will I be turned away by TSA if I don’t have a license from a compliant state?
Yes, you’ll be turned away if you don’t provide an alternate form of ID that is compliant with the REAL ID Act, such as a passport. REAL ID-compliant cards are marked with a star at the top of the card. Acceptable forms of ID are:
- US passport
- US passport card
- DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
- US Department of Defense ID
- Permanent resident card
- Border crossing card
- State-issued enhanced driver’s license
- Driver’s licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent)
- 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
- US Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card
- US Merchant Mariner Credential
- Veteran Health Identification Card
Does this apply to minors?
No, children under 18 don’t need to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. The companion will still need to have valid compliant identification.
Will my REAL ID allow me to travel to Mexico and Canada?
No. Travelers wanting to cross international borders need a valid passport. A REAL ID only does not allow border crossing into Mexico or Canada.
A version of this article was previously published on July 30, 2018, by Evangeline Chen, and was updated on April 26, 2021, by Morgane Croissant.