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REAL ID Federal Enforcement

REAL IDSecure driver's licenses and identification documents are a vital component of our national security framework. The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” The Act established minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards.

There are four phases of enforcement:

Four Phases of REAL-ID Enforcement
Phase REAL ID Official Purposes Full Enforcement
1 Restricted areas for DHS HQ 4/21/2014
2 Restricted areas for Federal Facilities & nuclear power plants 7/21/2014
3 Semi-restricted areas for Federal Facilities (i.e. facilities where public can access but must present ID)  
3a Federal Security Levels 1 and 2 1/19/2015
3b Federal Security Levels 3,4, and 5; military facilities 10/10/2015
4 Boarding Commercial Aircraft  
4a Passengers from noncompliant states without extensions ("state-based") 1/22/2018
4b Passengers from all states without compliant documents ("card-based") 10/1/2020

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What do I need to do if I am visiting a federal facility or a military base?

Residents from a state/territory that is compliant with REAL ID or non-compliant with REAL ID, but has received an extension may continue to use their current state/territory-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, regardless of whether the card is REAL ID compliant or not, for accessing federal facilities, including military bases.  This is what we call “state-based” enforcement.  Only the state that issued the resident’s license/ID must be either compliant or have been granted an extension in order for that resident to use that license/ID for accessing Federal facilities.  The license/ID itself does not have to be REAL ID compliant until “card-based” enforcement begins on October 1, 2020.

Starting October 1, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID compliant license/ID, or another acceptable form of identification, for accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and boarding commercial aircraft.  This is what we call “card-based” enforcement.  The card, itself, must be REAL ID compliant unless the resident is using an alternative acceptable document such as a passport.

Q. What type of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards does the Department of Homeland Security currently accept as identification to access its buildings and facilities and at TSA airport security checkpoints?

Until full enforcement of REAL ID begins on October 1, 2020, DHS and its component agencies, including TSA at its airport security checkpoints, will continue to accept for identification purposes all state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by both compliant states as well as noncompliant states with a valid extension.

The types of state-issued driver’s licenses and IDs that are currently accepted include:  REAL ID-compliant cards that include the compliant marking, which is the star on the upper portion, noncompliant marked cards that do not include the star and instead include one of several warnings indicating that they are not acceptable for official federal purposes (e.g., Not for REAL ID Act Purposes), and noncompliant unmarked cards, which are the “legacy” cards issued before a state began issuing REAL ID-compliant cards and contain neither the image of a star nor the warning statement. See (INSERT LINK) for an examples of the three types of cards.

Q. What about non-DHS federal entities?  What types of licenses and identification cards will they accept for access purposes?

Federal agencies have the authority to set their own minimum security access requirements and, if desired, decide not to accept noncompliant marked cards before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

For example, The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) recently finalized an update to its DoD-wide installation security policy and is in the process of no longer accepting noncompliant marked cards across all of its facilities and installations.  However, DoD will continue to accept state-issued noncompliant unmarked "legacy" cards until the October 1, 2020 deadline.

To ensure you have the proper identification, DHS recommends that you contact the federal agency you plan to visit in advance, to obtain information regarding identification requirements.

As a reminder, the REAL ID Act applies when an individual presents a state-issued driver’s license or identification card to a federal agency for an “official purpose” as defined in the Act and regulations, such as boarding a federally regulated commercial aircraft.  Although a REAL ID card may not be necessary for other purposes such as driving, voting, banking, or applying for benefits or employment, we recommend checking with the relevant state, local, or commercial entities regarding their specific identification requirements.

Q. What happens on October 1, 2020?

Beginning on October 1, 2020, federal agencies, including DHS and TSA, may only accept state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards as identification for purposes of accessing federal facilities - including TSA airport security checkpoints - if the license or card was issued by a REAL ID compliant state in accordance with the REAL ID security standards (meaning the license or card must include the REAL ID compliant marking).  Please check with your state driver’s license agency on the process for obtaining a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.

Last Published Date: November 7, 2019

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