You’ve probably been hearing a lot about REAL ID and that you’ll need one soon.

Currently, the federal government is doing a final push to get people’s IDs upgraded to the new system, and it’s because of Homeland Security.

After 9/11, U.S. lawmakers enacted a policy to enforce stricter standards for getting a state photo ID or driver’s license nationwide. States that didn’t already meet those standards needed to upgrade their system. The law was originally written in 2005, but the federal government gave states more time to prepare their residents to transfer to this new ID system.

REAL ID is the new federal ID system.

Key facts: REAL ID

  • REAL ID is a new federal ID system. which goes into effect on May 3, 2023.
  • You don't need REAL ID to vote in Pennsylvania.
  • You don't need REAL ID if you have other federal photo ID, such as a passport.
  • REAL ID will be accepted at airports, federal buildings, and military bases.
  • You cannot get REAL ID if you are undocumented.
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What is REAL ID?

REAL ID is the new standard of verifying your identity with the federal government.

In the past, you may have used a state photo ID or driver’s license to board a plane. Now, you will have to have REAL ID or valid federal ID, like a passport or military ID. This goes for any federal facility that requires ID, like some federal buildings and military bases.

REAL ID is a regular state photo ID or driver’s license, except there’s a star in the upper right-hand corner (If you don’t have a star on your ID, you don’t have REAL ID).

Do I need to get REAL ID?

If you have a passport or another form of valid federal photo ID you don’t need REAL ID.

“In Pennsylvania, if an individual does not want to get a REAL ID, there’s no need for that individual to get it,” said Diego Sandino, community relations coordinator at PennDOT. “They can make that decision on their own.”

Pennsylvania is not requiring residents to get a REAL ID. That means that for daily activities like entering city and state buildings in Pennsylvania, you will only need your state photo ID.

If you’re boarding a plane or entering a federal facility, you can still use your passport or military ID if you have one.

Airline passengers who are under the age of 18 won’t need REAL ID if they’re traveling in the U.S. with someone who has ID.

Do I need REAL ID to vote in Pennsylvania?

No. You don’t need a REAL ID to vote. You can use a driver’s license or state ID card, U.S. passport, military ID, student ID, or employee ID with your photo. If you don’t have photo ID, you can use a current utility bill, bank statement, or paycheck.

You don’t need REAL ID for:

You can still do these activities without REAL ID:

  • Driving

  • Voting

  • Going to the hospital or health care facility

  • Using the post office

  • Appearing in federal court

  • Applying for federal benefits, such as Social Security

You need REAL ID or federal ID for:

  • Airports

  • Federal buildings that require ID

  • Military bases

TSA has a list of IDs that are accepted if you don’t have REAL ID. If you forget or lose your REAL ID, you may still be able to pass through TSA — but you will have to complete an identity verification process that will include giving your name, address, and other personal information. You will also go through additional security screening.

When REAL ID goes into effect

REAL ID goes into effect May 3, 2023.

After that date, federal agencies like TSA will only accept REAL ID or valid federal ID (like a passport). After that date, you will no longer be able to board a domestic flight with a state photo ID or driver’s license that isn’t REAL ID compliant.

Who can get REAL ID?

Any U.S. citizen or non-citizen with lawful immigration documents that can prove their identity, citizenship, and place of residence.

Undocumented immigrants are not able to get REAL ID. If you are undocumented you can start the process of getting your immigration papers from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. You can find more information on getting a REAL ID as a non-citizen here.

Does the federal government have access to REAL ID data?

Yes. While they don’t collect or store your data themselves, federal agencies can access PennDOT data.

Federal REAL ID laws are a national set of standards that states need to follow when giving out IDs to residents. This means that the federal government doesn’t operate REAL ID programs — states do. It’s the state’s job to oversee and implement their own ID programs, including how your privacy and data are handled.

According to a 2020 report by Driving PA Forward, a statewide immigrant advocacy coalition, PennDOT does share ID information with the federal government. Federal agencies can directly request information from PennDOT, access PennDOT information in databases that are shared by state and federal agencies, and PennDOT sells information to private businesses, like LexisNexis.

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How to get REAL ID

There are two ways to get a REAL ID. Online or in-person.

Check out our complete guide on getting government ID in Pennsylvania: Here’s a breakdown of how to get government photo ID in Pennsylvania, including REAL ID.

What documents you need to get REAL ID

You will need the following documents to get REAL ID. All documents have to be originals, certified copies won’t be accepted. You’ll need:

  • One document that proves identity and citizenship.

    • U.S. birth certificate (including U.S. territories), U.S. passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA), certificate of citizenship or naturalization, or valid immigration documents that prove your identity and citizenship.

  • Two documents that prove residency.

    • State photo ID or driver’s license, vehicle registration card, auto insurance card, utility bill showing your name and address, W-2 form, tax records, and lease agreements or mortgage documents.

  • Your Social Security Number.

    • You have to have your original Social Security card. The name on your Social Security card has to match the name on your proof of identity documents. If you don’t have a Social Security card or need to replace it, visit ssa.gov/ssnumber.

You can check if your documents are valid through PennDOT’s online REAL ID Document Check here.

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