Editor’s Note: This report was updated on Jan. 9, 2018. Because of ongoing developments, we suggest checking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) site for any new updates about REAL ID.
Will some U.S. citizens need a passport to fly domestically in 2018? For residents in states where REAL ID driver’s licenses have not been issued yet, that may be the case come October.
The REAL ID Act, which U.S. Congress passed in 2005 after the 9/11 Commission recommended standardizing government-issued identifications, sets minimum security standards for driver’s licenses, including machine-readable technology. The new licenses will be required to access federal facilities, enter nuclear power plants and board federally regulated commercial aircraft. However, other forms of identification, like your passport or military card, also will be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for domestic air travel. (You can find the full list of approved IDs on the TSA website.)
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a “current status” page with an easy-to-understand, color-coded map delineating which states now have REAL IDs, which ones have been granted an extension and which ones are still “under review.” As of this writing, 27 states and the District of Columbia have issued REAL IDs, and residents there can use their driver’s license for domestic air travel.
The deadline for noncompliant states and U.S. territories to produce REAL IDs is coming up on Jan. 22, 2018. However, all of these states have received another extension, and residents there will be able to use their licenses through Oct. 10, 2018, instead of Jan. 22.
As of this writing, the noncompliant states and territories that have received extensions include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- U.S. Virgin Islands
Meanwhile, two territories — American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands — are still under review. If DHS doesn’t give them the REAL ID green light by Jan. 22, residents there may have to use their passport or another form of TSA-approved ID to board a plane — although DHS very well may grant an extension before then.
Despite all these extensions, there is a hard deadline for all states to require REAL IDs by Oct. 10, 2020. After that point, every traveler will need a compliant license or another acceptable form of identification to fly within the U.S.
For travel managers (TM) who want to play things safe, we suggest getting the word out to your travelers about what is going on. And for those travelers who do not have a passport or need to renew soon, we encourage you apply now.
According to the Department of State, it generally takes four to six weeks to process passport orders. Because there may be a high volume of applications coming in this year, we recommend getting in applications early. Travelers who cut things short — especially those who realize a country they are flying to has a six-month validity rule — may wish to employ a passport expedition service like Travisa or CIBT to rush it for you.
Because there already has been so much confusion surrounding REAL ID, even business travelers with a license from a state with an extension may opt to use their passport to fly domestically — just in case the TSA agent who’s checking your ID was out sick when everyone else got the umpteenth REAL ID update memo.