Where You Can and Can’t Go With a REAL ID (Or Without)

Business traveler with a real ID at airport

After several postponements (largely due to the global pandemic) the REAL ID will officially be enforced in all 50 states in the spring of 2025.

Most people know it will affect travel somehow, but it has business travelers, frequent flyers and travel managers asking: “Can you fly without a REAL ID?”

Don’t let 2025 sneak up on you.

Here’s everything you need to know about REAL ID, including how to get one.


What is a REAL ID?

REAL ID is a state-issued and verified identification card that replaces state-issued driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs. They only exist in US states and territories.

Where did REAL IDs come from — and why?

The REAL ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005 to create new security standards for how states and territories verify IDs.

In the past, applying for a state ID or driver’s license only required basic information from US citizens, such as name, date of birth, address and gender identity. These REAL IDs require much more information from individuals to verify their identity, including their social security numbers.


Where and when will REAL ID Be Required?

Starting May 7, 2025, a REAL ID will be required to:

  • Board any federally-regulated commercial aircraft (unless you have another TSA-accepted form of ID)
  • Access certain federal facilities and federal buildings (including military bases)
  • Enter nuclear power facilities

As of May 7, 2025, travelers will no longer be able to show their traditional driver’s license or state ID at TSA security checkpoints. They will need proof of identification that meets REAL ID requirements.

This will be enforced for all domestic flights, including travel to and from:

  • Contiguous states
  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Puerto Rico
  • United States Virgin Islands
  • American Samoa
  • Guam
  • Northern Mariana Islands

So, yes: you can still fly without a REAL ID specifically. They’re not mandatory and many states will continue to offer non-REAL driver’s licenses and identification cards.

However, you’ll need another kind of TSA-accepted identification to board a domestic aircraft.

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What do I do if I don’t have a REAL ID?

Travelers can use a variety of other identification cards for domestic flights, including:

  • U.S. passports
  • U.S. passport cards
  • Veteran Health identification cards
  • Permanent resident cards
  • U.S. Department of Defense IDs

Do I need a REAL ID to travel internationally?

No. The introduction of REAL IDs has no bearing on international air travel. International travel still requires that U.S. citizens show a valid U.S. passport at airport security checkpoints and borders.

Related: A Travel Manager’s International Travel Checklist

 

How do I know if I have a REAL ID?

REAL ID example

Many states have been issuing REAL IDs for years, and some people apply and get them without even realizing.

To determine if your ID is REAL ID-compliant, look for a star in the upper right corner.

The color of the star will vary. Some states use a white star on a gold or black background; the the state of California uses a gold bear with a white star.

If you already have a REAL ID, you can fly domestically before and after May 7, 2025; nothing will change. Just make sure to renew it when it nears its expiration date!

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How do I get a REAL ID?

Individuals can obtain a REAL ID through the department of motor vehicles in their state.

Different states require different documentation to issue a REAL ID. Every adult over the age of 18 should check their state DMV website to make sure they have the proper paperwork to convert their current ID card into a REAL ID.

 

Do I have to get a REAL ID?

At this point in time, REAL ID is not mandatory. Depending on your state, you may still be able to get an ID that is not REAL ID-compliant after the 2025 deadline — but that ID won’t work at TSA.

Related: How To Improve Your Business Travel Experience


What type of documentation is required for REAL ID?

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The Department of Homeland Security requires individuals to provide three types of proof for a REAL ID:

  • Proof of identity
  • Social security number
  • Proof of residency (2)

Examples of proof of identity would be your Passport or Passport card, a certified copy of your birth certificate, or a permanent resident card — and each state has specific alternatives.

For proof of residency, it’s typically a document in your name with your current address, like a utility bill, insurance document, government document, etc.

Check your state’s DMV website to confirm your options before your appointment.

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When should I get my REAL ID?

REAL ID enforcement will begin on May 7, 2025.

According to the DHS website, May 6, 2025 will be the last day that non-compliant ID cards will be accepted for air travel or for entry into federal facilities.

Anyone planning to renew their driver’s license or ID between now and April 2025 should consider applying for a REAL ID instead, to avoid the travel restrictions.

Keep in mind that DMV lines will get longer closer to May 7, 2025 as more people rush to get REAL IDs before the TSA deadline.

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Conclusion

REAL ID-compliant cards will be the new form of ID for individuals who want to access certain federal buildings or travel domestically without a passport.

Experts recommend getting them now — no matter how often you fly or where you travel.

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