A few months ago, two postcards were delivered to my mailbox. They were sent by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and addressed to my daughters.
The subject of the mailing was “Important Information from PennDOT About REAL ID.” According to the postcards, because their very first driver’s licenses were issued after September 2003, PennDOT might have all the information required for a REAL ID and they might be able to avoid going to a driver’s license center.
It instructed them to visit a website to check if the information was, in fact, complete. One thing it didn’t include — a solid explanation about what exactly a REAL ID was.
Over the summer, my in-laws were planning a trip to the West Coast. Someone mentioned to my mother-in-law that she would need a different kind of identification to get through airport security and onto the plane.
The woman didn’t know any other details — or even what this new ID she spoke of was called. My mother-in-law, understandably, panicked.
Fortunately, I still had those two postcards and was able to calm her with the news that REAL ID wasn’t available until spring 2019. Their trip was saved, but she had questions about the process for the future that I couldn’t answer.
Last week, postcards arrived for me and my husband. These were different from those sent to my children and instructed us that we would need to visit a driver’s license center with certain documents for a “part one” of sorts. Then, come spring, we could order REAL IDs online.
These postcards also failed to mention what a REAL ID was. It did say it was optional, but after hearing the rumor that my mother-in-law was told about not being able to fly without one, choosing not to get one didn’t seem optional for my family.
Two separate mailings had been sent to my house, and I still didn’t feel as if I received adequate information or instructions.
So I did some research.
Here’s what you need to know as the date to apply for a REAL ID approaches:
The REAL ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005. Its purpose is to gather identical information on all of us. It appears the kind of information listed on driver’s licenses varies by state.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Prior to the REAL ID Act, each state set its own rules and criteria regarding the issuance of a driver’s license or identification card, including the look of the card, what data is on the card, what documents must be provided to obtain one and what information is stored in each state’s database of licensed drivers and identification card holders.”
The DHS, in 2013, announced a phased plan for the implementation of the REAL ID “to make our identity documents more consistent and secure.”
“Starting Oct. 1, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID compliant license/ID, or another acceptable form of identification, for accessing federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants and boarding commercial aircraft,” the DHS website states. “The card, itself, must be REAL ID compliant unless the resident is using an alternative acceptable document such as a passport.”
So, you’ll need a REAL ID to board an airplane, access a federal facility or enter a nuclear plant. If you decide a REAL ID is something you need to have, you must visit a driver’s license center with these documents:
• Proof of identity, such as a birth certificate with a raised seal or a valid U.S. passport
• Social Security card, which cannot be laminated or sealed in plastic
• Two proofs of a current, physical Pennsylvania address, such as your current, unexpired Pennsylvania driver’s license, a bank statement issued within 90 days or a utility bill showing your exact address
• Proof of all legal name changes, such as a marriage certificate or document issued by the county family court
Your REAL ID will include this information:
• Full legal name
• Date of birth
• Unique ID number
• Residence address
• Front-facing photo of you
I know what you’re thinking. You already have something in your wallet that contains all of that information. But this new one will be REAL.
That visit to the driver’s license center will start the process for you. In spring 2019, you can order your REAL ID online.
Then, soon after, REAL ID in hand, you can board that flight for a summer vacation.