What is a Real ID driver license or identification card?

You've probably heard about a new type of ID cared called a Read ID, but you might not be aware of what it is, why you might need one, or how the process works. We'll break it all down for you so that you know everything you need to go to get your Real ID as quickly and easily as possible.

What is a Real ID drivers license or identification card?

Whether or not you choose to get a California Real ID, the benefits are undeniable. The Real ID Act, passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11 establishes national security standards for documents like driver's licenses and ID cards. A Real ID is more than just a driver license. A Real ID is more than an identification card. Real ID's follow new federal standards for safety and security.

Standard issue state driver's licenses or identification cards are not considered to be compliant with this new initiative of the federal government. In fact, if you have a standard issue California driver's license, you'll notice the words "Federal Limits Apply," in the top right corner. A Real ID California id card will have a golden bear with a star cut out in the top right corner of the license.

Your Real ID serves as both a driver's license and identification card and fulfils these federal security requirement standards overseen by the Department of Homeland Security.

Is obtaining a real ID license or identification card necessary?

You are not required to get a Real ID. You have the option to apply for a standard California driver's license. However, you will not be able to use a standard state driver's license or identification card for many things governed by the federal government.

What kinds of things does your Real ID do for you? A Real ID grants you the ability to enter secure federal facilities, like a military bases or federal courthouses, and board a domestic flight without having to bring your passport or other along for the ride. Although non-compliant licenses or identification cards are not accepted, people may bring in other government documents such as passport cards or military IDs or a valid passport when traveling and completing other government tasks. A Real ID, however, is your one size fits all solution.

A Real ID can save you a lot of hassle when traveling outside of your home state, when you you need to enter a federal facility, and may help to receive federal benefits.

The process to get a Real ID doesn't have to be stressful or complicated. Read on to know which documents you'll need, understand the application process, and you'll be getting on those domestic flights in no time.

How do I apply for a Read ID Card?

The first step is to decide if you need a Real ID. The second step toward getting your California Real ID is to get your documents in order. The next step is filling out an an application before heading into your local DMV office to submit all of your documents and paperwork in person.

Which Documents are Acceptable for my Application?

You will need original, or certified copies, of each federally approved document. The purpose of these documents is to demonstrate proof of identity and residency.

You will need one proof of identity document. This document must include your full legal name. Your options for acceptable documents include the following:

  • Your complete, original birth certificate. You may also use a certified copy.
  • Your U.S. passport or passport card
  • Certificate of U.S. Citizenship
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • Military ID

Note that these documents must reflect your current name and identity. If you have changed your name legally through the California Department of Motor Vehicles before applying for your Real ID, you must also provide your legal name change document.

You also need two documents that prove you are a current California resident. Proof of California residency must include your first and last name and your mailing address, which must match the California address on your application. Acceptable documents include:

  • A cell phone or utility bill
  • Bank records
  • Insurance documents
  • Medical records
  • A federal or California tax return
  • A rental agreement
  • You will also need to be able to provide your Social Security Number. You may have heard that you had to have your social security card, but the number itself is sufficient thanks to a recent change in policy.

    Application and Appointment

    Now that you've got all of your documents in order, it is time to fill out your online Real ID application. You can do that through the State of California DMV. If you don't already have one, you will need to answer some basic questions to create a CA DMV account. If you were using an "ID.me" account previously, you would need to make your "CA DMV account" using that same email address. With that, you'll be able to upload your documents for verification and approval.

    When your application goes through, you will be issued a confirmation code. Whatever you do, do not lose this code! You will need your confirmation code to complete your in-person appointment. The good news is that appointment is your final step.

    You can visit the CA DMV field offices portal to find a Department of Motor Vehicles office near you. Make sure to check on the wait times before you leave. You cannot schedule an appointment ahead of time, so you might be waiting for a while if you show up during a busy window.

    At your local DMV office, a California DMV employee will verify your documents in person and ensure that you are who your internet application says you are, and that's it! It may take several weeks for your new California Real ID driver's license to arrive, but you will be issued a temporary license in the meantime.

    Getting your Real ID card can feel like jumping through a series of unfamiliar hoops. Armed with a bit of knowledge, however, you'll be able to navigate the requirements, get your new ID, and be ready to enjoy all the benefits of access to federal facilities and the freedom to travel the country on any domestic flight.