The process, and reason, for the Real ID


By Caleb Lunetta

Signal Senior Staff Writer

Although it’s a term that has been floating around in the news over the past few years, only a quarter of Californians have actually gone through the process and received their Real ID.

But while only a minority of the state has acquired one as of the publication of this article, the possession of a Real ID may have a major impact on every resident in the near future.

So, what is the Real ID, what does it do and how can one go about acquiring one?

What is a Real ID?  

The Real ID Act, which was adopted by Congress in 2005, modified the way in which federal law handled security, authentication and issuance of driver’s licenses and identifying documents.

According to the original plan, the first restrictions limited access to certain buildings and sites — such as Department of Homeland Security facilities, nuclear power plants and military bases — and affected only a small number of people. 

However, the original law would expand out to the general population when it ordered that by October 2020 domestic airline passengers within states compliant with the act would no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses as identification to get on their domestic flights.

That component was delayed to May 3, 2023, as a result of COVID-19, and people were able to kick the can a little further down the road. But for that very reason, officials say it’s more important than ever now to get the Real ID.

Why the Real ID?

“A Real ID is a driver’s license or identification card that is a federally recognized form of identification,” said Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Gore said that starting May 3, 2023, anyone wishing to use their driver’s license or identification card to get on an airplane, go into a federal facility or go onto a military base, among a few other locations, will need to present a Real ID.

“At that point, you will not be able to use your driver’s license to get on a domestic flight, for example,” Gore added.

Those wishing to not use a Real ID may be able to use a passport, however.

The differences between the look of both cards is slight, but apparent, according to the DMV’s website. In the top right corner of the Real ID, as opposed to the current state driver’s license, a golden bear with a star is in place, whereas the normal California license reads: “Federal Limits Apply.”

How to get a Real ID?

With the need for anyone flying domestic to possess the Real ID, unless using other forms of federal identification, one could imagine the process to obtain might be lengthy. But according to Gore, the DMV has worked to create a streamlined process for those applicants seeking an ID, and roughly 11.7 million California residents have already gone through the process, as of September. 

According to Gore and the DMV website, for one to receive a Real ID you will need to provide your Social Security number as well as show one identity document that shows your date of birth and true full name, such as a valid U.S. passport, certified copy of U.S. birth certificate or a valid permanent resident card.

Secondly, you’ll need two different documents proving California residency that include the first and last name and mailing address that will be shown on your REAL ID driver’s license or identification card, such as a mortgage bill, home utility or cell phone bill, vehicle registration card and/or bank statement.

“So, you start the application online, you upload your documents, you’ll be guided to make an appointment (at a DMV office) and then you can come in,” said Gore. “And if you take care of all of the things that you can do at home before you get there, it’ll be a real quick process.”

On average, if a person completes all the necessary steps at home before coming to the office in person, the average time from start to finish once at the DMV is roughly 10 minutes, Gore said.

When asked what the sales pitch is by the DMV for people to start the process of getting their Real ID, despite the restrictions coming into effect more than a year away, Gore reminded people that waiting in line at the DMV can already take some time — why then wait until everyone is going through the Real ID process last minute?

“If you wait until the last minute — people are procrastinators by nature — we know that there will be a rush at the end,” said Gore. “If you want to fight lines and wait times, as the deadlines come near, then we suggest you just go ahead and do it now.”

“There’s no time like the present to get a Real ID,” she added.

For more information about the Real ID process, visit the DMV website at

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