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U.S. Travelers Will Need REAL ID Cards To Board All Flights Starting Next Year

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Starting May 3, 2023, Americans will need REAL ID Cards to board domestic flights in the United States, as the federal government seeks to address security issues and further improve identity checks at U.S. airports. Essentially, those who do not meet the one-year deadline will be denied boarding from next year.

With domestic travel having returned to pre-pandemic levels, in-flight mask mandates being dropped, and more people taking to the skies following two years of an endless Covid loop, many travelers are now wondering what non-Covid specific requirements are now in place. And, more specifically, how they can ensure a smoother experience when traveling.

Airport Workers Checking Travel Documents Upon Check In

Being in possession of a valid REAL ID Card is one of those requirements, and this is all you need to know about this new mandatory document:

What Is A REAL ID CArd?

To put it simply, this form of ID is considered to be any personal document, including a driver's license, that can be verified across the whole national territory. Any of the IDs below will be valid:

Traveler Scanning An Electronic Boarding Pass At The Airport
  • A REAL-ID compliant driver's license
  • A State-issued enhanced driver's license
  • A valid U.S. passport

A year from now, the Department of Homeland Security's plan of enforcing REAL ID usage for air travel will finally come into place. Due to the Covid pandemic, it has suffered a long delay from its announcement to the implementation, though it finally looks set to be fully operational on May 3, 2023.

Male Traveler Going Through Security Gate At Airport

The measure was introduced in the Federal REAL ID Act, which ‘places new rules on which forms of identification may be used to board flights within the United States'. This means that, from 2023 moving forward, Americans who are 18 or older will only be allowed to board flights when in possession of a REAL ID Card.

So far, the only U.S. states issuing both REAL ID, and the so-called enhanced driver's licenses are Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York, while Washington state residents can be issued an enhanced driver's license only. Those residing in any other U.S. states not mentioned will need to apply for REAL ID.

Group Of Traveling Friends Checking Their Phones At The Airport

An extensive list of other documents that will continue being accepted for travel is available here, though those listed above apply to the vast majority of Americans.

Security Is The Prime Concern Here

As all U.S. states have the autonomy to issue their residents statewide documents, and may observe different standards when doing so, forgery has always been the prime concern at the Department of Homeland Security.

Traveler Going Through Security Check At Airport

The new IDs will reduce counterfeit and enhance security at boarding gates, as airport staff and security will be able to look for more specific, standardized features when checking travel documents.

While the application process may vary across different states, it generally includes a pre-issued proof of identity, residency proof, and an appointment at a local DMV office, such as in California.

Traveler Gazing Out The Window At A Departure Lounge As Plane Takes Off

Those who routinely use their driver's license as a travel document within the United States are now advised to check their state-specific requirements for obtaining a REAL ID ahead of the deadline.

In summary, all Americans now need REAL ID unless they use a passport for travel, even those who have a TSA PreCheck® status or use CLEAR. On an extent, mobile or electronic driver's licenses, which have become incredibly common in recent years, will not be accepted as a travel document.

Female Friends Walking By Window At Airport

How To Check Whether My ID Is Accepted For Travel?

While the new requirement will certainly add to the woes of travelers who are not in possession of a U.S. passport, it is bound to make ID checks much less complicated. After all, every American traveler is now required to hold a standard form of ID when flying.

And then there's the burning question: how to find out whether a travel document is REAL ID-compliant or not? In fact, it is pretty simple.

Businessman Having Passport Checked At Airport

The United States advises its citizens to ‘check for the star‘, as all new REAL ID cards come with a star at the top. Americans can now also use this new interactive map to find the REAL ID issuer closest to them. It helps ensure travelers they will obtain it through official means and avoid scammers.

The star and other new security features will be reviewed by airport security when the REAL ID mandate starts being enforced. For more information on REAL ID cards, including costs, travelers should follow updates from the TSA website and their own state's official means of communication.

Reiterating, if a driver's license is your only travel document, you have until May 3, 2023 to apply for a REAL ID, an enhanced driver's license, or a passport.

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