Editor’s Note: Because of ongoing developments, we suggest checking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) site for any new updates about REAL ID.
If your U.S. passport is set to expire soon, we recommend submitting your renewal form earlier than usual. That’s because there may be a surge in passport applications due to new stipulations for state-issued driver’s licenses that will be required for domestic air travel.
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.” At this point, 26 states and the District of Columbia have issued REAL IDs, and residents there can use their driver’s license for domestic air travel.
Noncompliant states had until Oct. 10, 2017 to produce REAL IDs, but when that deadline expired, more than a dozen states were listed on the DHS site as noncompliant.
The good news is, within a span of 24 hours, many of those states were granted an extension. Residents there can continue using their regular driver’s license for domestic travel until Oct. 10, 2018.
As of this writing, the states that have received extensions include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
Meanwhile, states and territories that do not have extensions yet either need to have one granted or produce federally compliant IDs by Jan. 22, 2018. If neither of these things happen, residents there will need to use a passport or another form of TSA-approved ID to board a plane.
The states and territories in this position include:
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Puerto Rico
- American Samoa
- Northern Mariana Islands
- U.S. Virgin Islands
Despite these extensions, there is a hard deadline for states to require REAL IDs by Oct. 1, 2020. At 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 you get 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 they apply now.
According to the Department of State, it generally takes four to six weeks to process passport orders, but we feel, especially with a few contradictory news reports out there online, there will be a high volume of applications coming in.
Plus, as the Chicago Tribune reported, it has been a record year for processing U.S. passport applications. That’s because of a law enacted in 2007 that required Americans to have passports to travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. That new law resulted in a deluge of passport requests in 2007. A decade later, those documents are set to expire, and the U.S. State Department says it is on track to receive a record number of 20.5 million applications for new and renewed passports this year.
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 REAL ID update memo.