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California offers driver license/identification cards that are REAL ID compliant

If you fly from time to time, you know the drill. Empty your water bottle, make sure the toiletries in your carry on are under 3.4 oz. and have your ID out and ready. Currently, a California driver license or identification (ID) card can be used as identification to get through airport security, but that is about to change.

Do you need a REAL ID?

Beginning October 2020, passengers who want to continue to use their driver license or ID card to board a domestic flight will need to show a federal compliant REAL ID driver license or ID card with a special marking. To get one of these cards, a person must apply at a California Department of Motor Vehicles office and provide federally mandated documentation.

The REAL ID card is optional. A person can use other federal compliant identification, such as a valid U.S. passport, to pass through airport security, as well as enter secure federal buildings and military facilities.

States across the country are offering driver license and identification cards with the REAL ID marking because the 9/11 Commission recommended in 2005 the federal government set uniform standards for state-issued identification cards. The Department of Homeland Security will enforce these new standards on October 1, 2020. Up until that time, all valid California driver licenses and identification cards will be accepted at airport checkpoints for domestic air travel.

Applying for a REAL ID

Anyone interested in applying for a driver license/ID card with the REAL ID mark is required to visit a DMV field office in person and present specific documentation:

  • Proof of identity (U.S. birth certificate, valid U.S. passport, permanent resident card, foreign passport with an approved form I-94. A school ID card is not accepted). Note: A name change document, such as a marriage certificate or court-filed adoption papers, is required if you legally changed your name.
  • Proof of Social Security number (Social Security card, W-2 form, paystub with full SSN).
  • Proof of California address (rental agreement, cell phone bill, official school documents that include your birthday).

A full list of accepted documents and an interactive checklist are available at Original or certified copies are required for proof of identity and Social Security (no photocopies or pictures). You can bring in a copy for your proof of California address, but the DMV won’t accept electronic files.

The best time to apply for your REAL ID is when your driver license is up for renewal. The DMV encourages you to apply within 60 days of your expiration date and to make an appointment up to 90 days in advance. Make sure to fill out your application in advance online at If your driver license or ID card comes up for renewal after October 2020, you may want to consider applying for a card with the REAL ID mark before that federal enforcement date. Remember that if you have a valid passport or other federally approved document, you can use that as well.

If you renew your license online or by mail, or if you do not provide all the required documents when you renew in person, you will receive a federal non-compliant license with the phrase “Federal Limits Apply.”

Federal non-compliant cards will not be accepted as identification at airport checkpoints starting Oct. 1, 2020.

A REAL ID issued in California will display a REAL ID and non-compliant IDgrizzly bear and star in the upper right corner. A federal non-compliant card will have “Federal Limits Apply” in that area. Either card still allows you to drive, apply for or receive federal benefits, enter federal facilities like post offices, visit hospitals and receive life-saving services.

Get all the facts about REAL ID at

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