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In an effort to strengthen the security of identification requirements for federal facilities and commercial aircraft, the Department of Homeland Security has been slowly unrolling the Real ID Act for 12 years; it will be effective in all 50 states as of Oct. 1, 2021. The deadline was extended by the Department of Homeland Security on March 26, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. After that date, all U.S. citizens will need to have a form of identification that meets the Real ID security standards to pass through airport security.

While more half of U.S. states currently have drivers’ licenses and identification cards available that meet those standards, many states do not​, including Missouri, California, and Illinois. The 19 states that are not yet compliant have received extensions to allow them time to update their systems. Even in states that offer Real ID-level cards, travelers who haven’t updated their ID cards since the Real ID system was established may not have qualified IDs.

How to G​et Ahead ​of Real ID

To help ensure a smooth transition now and before October 2021:

1. Chec​k ​your ID

Just because your state offers Real ID-compliant identification does not mean every ID is compliant. Compliant identification has a star on the upper right-hand corner of the license or identification card. Noncompliant IDs are noted with a phrase such as “not for federal identification” at the top. If your ID doesn’t have a star and you plan to travel, you’ll need to either update your license or obtain a TSA-approved form of federal identification (a valid passport will work).

2. Follow t​​he steps for license updates

For each state that adopts Real ID, a time gap exists between the ID becoming available and citizens’ normal license renewal cycles. To have secure IDs, you’ll have to collect the necessary paperwork and visit a DMV office — possibly before their current licenses are up for renewal. There may be some variety in what is needed to acquire your new license, so check what documents are required in your state beforehand.

3. Ke​ep​ alternate IDs in mind

If you have approved federal identification, you do not have to update your license before the renewal date to be able to travel. Alternate identification options include a US passport or passport card, a military ID, an airline- or airport-issued ID, or a traveler card trusted by the Department of Homeland Security (e.g., Global Entry, Nexus, and Sentri). Travelers just need to take along their alternative TSA-approved form of identification every time they fly on or after Oct. 1, 2021.​

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