(NEXSTAR) — Soon, if you want to fly in the U.S. or visit certain federal buildings, you’ll be required to have a small feature on your driver’s license or identification card — a star. And though the federal deadline to have that star on your ID is months away, many officials recommend starting the process sooner rather than later.
That star, which can have five different appearances, signifies that your driver’s license or state-issued identification card, is a REAL ID.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a special commission recommended that the federal government enact certain minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards. In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act to do just that.
As part of the REAL ID Act, federal agencies, like TSA, are prohibited from accepting state-issued IDs that don’t meet the federal minimum standards, according to the Department of Homeland Security. This means that if you don’t have a REAL ID by the current federal deadline of May 3, 2023, you won’t be able to fly domestically, visit certain federal facilities, or enter a nuclear power plant.
While you still have over 200 days to get a REAL ID, here are a few things you should know.
What documents do you need to get a REAL ID?
When the REAL ID Act first passed, states required different types of documents to obtain a driver’s license, with some wanting more than others.
Thankfully, all states now require, at minimum, that applicants provide the same information: proof of legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, legal residency, and two forms of your address.
Acceptable documents for these cards include a valid passport, birth certificate, consular report of birth abroad, valid permanent resident card, U.S. certificate of naturalization, unexpired employment authorization document or foreign passport with a valid U.S. visa. Federal officials recommend checking your state’s requirements before you go to the DMV as other documents may be accepted.
You’ll need to present these documents in person to get a REAL ID but, depending on your state, you may be able to start some of the process online.
A handful of states — Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont — issue REAL IDs and state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses. Washington issues only enhanced driver’s licenses. These, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, include a chip intended to make it easier to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean by land or sea.
State-enhanced driver’s licenses are marked with a flag rather than a star and will be accepted at airport security checkpoints when the federal REAL ID enforcement date arrives.
Can you fly without a REAL ID?
You can, until the federal deadline of May 3, 2023.
At that point, TSA says every traveler flying within the U.S. will need to present a REAL ID-compliant identification card or state-issued enhanced driver’s license.
If you don’t have a REAL ID, you can use other acceptable forms like a valid passport or U.S. military ID. TSA lists other forms of ID that can also be used to board a plane.
When do I need to apply for a REAL ID to meet the deadline?
While you still have roughly eight months before you’ll need a REAL ID to fly or visit federal facilities, officials throughout the country recommend you get it sooner rather than later.
If your license is set to expire in the next few months, however, most state-level officials say you can wait until closer to that date. Otherwise, starting the process sooner will help you avoid a rush of REAL ID applicants some officials believe they’ll see next spring.
How soon you need to apply for a REAL ID to meet the deadline depends on the state you live in.
In some states, like Missouri, Oregon, and Florida, identification cards usually arrive in your mailbox within seven to 10 days after you’ve applied. In others, including New York, California, and Indiana, it can take up to two weeks. For states like Utah and Texas, it can take up to six weeks. In Hawaii, it may take two months.
Ultimately, you’ll want to check with your local DMV to determine roughly how long it will take for your REAL ID to be available.
There is a chance you already have a REAL ID-compliant identification card. While the exact appearance varies by state, if your driver’s license has either a gold or black star in the upper right corner, you are already the proud owner of a REAL ID. Or, if you live in a state that uses an enhanced driver’s license, you meet the REAL ID requirements.