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December 06, 2022

The Real ID requirement deadline has been extended again. Do you still need one?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security pushed back enforcement to 2025; here's what you need to know

In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, a law that would implement stricter security standards for state driver's licenses and ID cards — forcing many Americans to obtain a Real ID card to board flights. 

The federal government intended to enforce the law in 2008, then in October 2020, then in October 2021 and most recently May 3, 2023.

Not anymore.

MORE: Bike helmets would become mandatory in New Jersey under proposed law

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it is extending the deadline of Real ID enforcement by two whole years, yet again, leaving many to wonder if they even need to bother get the upgraded form of identification. Diego Sandino, press officer of Driver and Vehicle Services at PennDOT, said on Monday that 1.9 million Pennsylvanians have already obtained Real IDs. The number is higher in New Jersey, which has issued 4.8 million.

But the enhanced ID cards have been a source of confusion pretty much since their introduction. It's not only due to the ever-changing deadline for when air travelers no longer will be permitted to simply show standard drivers licenses to board airplanes. It's also because to obtain a Real ID requires multiple legal documents and is a multi-step process. 

Below, PhillyVoice answered some of the common questions Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents may have about the Real ID application process and the documents they need to prove their identities.

What's the new Real ID deadline?

The Real ID Act will not be enforced until May 7, 2025.

Why did it get delayed again?

Why most things have been delayed the past three years: COVID. According to DHS, "progress over the past two years has been significantly hindered by state driver's licensing agencies having to work through backlogs created by the pandemic." Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement that his team would use the extra time to make the application process more accessible and efficient.

Sandino said the extension will not change any current guidelines or recommendations for Pennsylvania. "We've been offering Real IDs since March of 2019, and we will continue to offer Real ID products well into the new deadline," he said.

William Connelly, press secretary for the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission, likewise confirmed the extension will simply give New Jerseyans more time, not change the current process. Interested applicants should book an appointment in the three months before their current license expires, he said.

So, do I have to get a Real ID?

The ID is optional, and always has been, but traveling without one in 2025 will be more difficult. Once the enforcement deadline kicks in, anyone boarding a domestic flight will be required to show a Real ID or U.S. passport — a standard driver's license will no longer suffice.

You will also need a Real ID (or federally-accepted identification, like a U.S. passport) to enter a military base or federal facility that checks ID at the door, like a federal courthouse.

Can I get a Real ID online?

Yes, but it's a two-part process in Pennsylvania and it's not available to everyone. If you received your first Pennsylvania driver's license, learner's permit or photo ID after Sept. 1, 2003, you can apply for online pre-verification by filling out this form. Once approved, you can then enroll in the online program to have a Real ID mailed to you in 15 business days.

If you received your first Pennsylvania driver's license, learner's permit or photo ID before Sept. 1, 2003, you will have to complete the pre-verification process in person at a DMV. You can also go to a PennDOT Real ID Center to obtain your Real ID in one in-person visit. Sandino says there are no plans to expand online pre-verification eligibility, due to the system's limited digital records. 

"When we say some people have been pre-verified online, (we mean that) when you came into PennDOT and got your first Pennsylvania license with us, we were able to capture items when you got your license," he explained. "And so we have a digital copy of all the items that you need for a Real ID, whereas prior to that date, you did present documents to verify who you were, but we didn't capture it digitally like we do now."

New Jersey requires an in-person appointment, which can be scheduled at the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission location of your choice. 

"Going forward, we will carefully evaluate any future DHS allowances for the issuance of REAL ID, including any new capabilities for online processing," Connelly told PhillyVoice.

How much does it cost?

A Real ID costs $30 in Pennsylvania, plus potential renewal fees. It is $35 in New Jersey.

What documents are required?

In Pennsylvania, you will need to present a social security card with your current legal name, as well as one document proving your identify and two proving your residence. 

Proof of identity documents include:

• Birth certificate
• Valid U.S. passport
• Valid green card
• Certificate of U.S. citizenship
• Certificate of naturalization issued by DHS
• Unexpired employment authorization card
• Consular report of birth abroad issued by the U.S. Department of State
• An unexpired foreign passport with an unexpired U.S. visa affixed and an approved I-94

Proof of residence documents include:

• Unexpired Pennsylvania driver's license or photo ID card
• Auto insurance card
• Pennsylvania vehicle registration card
• Utility bill showing your name and address
• W-2 or pay stub
• Lease agreement or mortgage
• Package labels for UPS, FedEx or USPS or postmarked mail

New Jersey requires two documents proving residence, one proving your social security number and a combination of documents that add up to six Real ID points. The list of acceptable documents is mostly the same as those in Pennsylvania. You can figure out which combinations will work for you with this interactive tool.

What if I changed my name?

Sandino stressed that people who changed their legal names should be able to obtain a Real ID. "We just need to be able to track that name change," he said. A court order, marriage certificate or divorce certificate reflecting that change should work, if you're using a birth certificate with a different name. 

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