The REAL ID Act isn’t hard to understand. But it is complicated.

First and foremost: always check the source. We’ve seen several editorial outlets cover the REAL ID Act in the past few months, and all too often they publish outdated information.

If you really want to know where your state stands, go straight to the Department of Homeland Security website and check there.

But if you want to know the why and not just the if, keep reading. Or download our White Paper on the REAL ID Act, here.

What is the REAL ID Act?

The REAL ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005 as part of H.R. 1268, following the 9/11 Commission Report. It established standard requirements for state-issued drivers’ licenses and identification cards, with the purpose of decreasing fraud and increasing security.

Eventually, in order to clear any federally-regulated security, the law requires you show this federally-approved, REAL ID Act compliant version of ID. (For now, this only applies to entering military bases or nuclear facilities. Beginning January 22 of 2018, it will apply to clearing TSA.)

In the case of the most popular federally-issued form of ID – your passport – the process update has already happened. (Note: that’s why so many people had to re-apply for their passports all at once in the mid-2000s.)

Things begin to get complicated, however, when you realize that state-issued ID issuing processes have always been separate from federal ID processes. Each state was responsible for establishing its own security standards for ID issuing, and now each state needs to comply with a general federal standard, which was higher than what most states already had in place.

Something to keep in mind: The REAL ID Act has nothing to do with which state you're flying from or to. It has to do with which state issued your license and if that license was issued using secure and compliant processes, according to The REAL ID Act.

Is My State-Issued ID Okay to Use?

Million. Dollar. Question.

Instead of issuing a drop-dead date and saying, “A state’s license-issuing processes must be REAL-ID-Act-compliant by this time. No exceptions,” the Federal Government opted for a roll-out schedule. This was likely out of necessity – think of the 50 states like 50 very different children, all of whom get ready in the morning very differently. States have different starting points, different funds and fund-finding methods, different internal congressional leanings, vastly different-sized populations, different amounts of DMVs to update.

The roll-out schedule was established to make it easier for states to hit the deadline for ID-issuing-compliance, while creating a built-in encouragement to get compliant as quickly as possible.

That’s a complicated way of saying: it depends on your state.

Compliant States: Green

If you live in a compliant state (green on the DHS REAL ID Act map), you’re facing the least amount of uncertainty. Your state is currently issuing Real ID Act compliant licenses.

The only catch is: You may not have one. Depending on your state, you may even need to have your license re-issued in person in order to be Real-ID Act compliant. That means going to the DMV for your renewal. If you don’t, you may be given a valid driver’s license (for driving) that isn’t valid as a federal form of ID (for clearing TSA).

How do you know if your green-state-issued license is actually compliant?

It will have a star-in-circle emblem.

Double check, because some/most states are still issuing non-REAL-ID-Act-compliant IDs, as well.

REAL ID Act Compliant License

Non-compliant States Who Are On Track to Be Compliant States: Yellow

This is more complicated.

Yellow states do not have ID-issuing processes that are REAL-ID-Act-compliant.

They have, however, shown that they are working towards being federally compliant before the government’s drop-dead date: October 1, 2020.

As recognition that they’re working on it, the government is allowing all licenses issued by yellow states to be used as acceptable ID to clear a federal security checkpoint. Individual states have been given “extensions” of varying lengths, which are renewable if the state continues to show progress.

But keep an eye on these. Extensions can be lost. Most current extensions are up for renewal this year.

If you live in a yellow state, mark your calendar with whatever date your extension ends and be sure to check and confirm that it is renewed.

If it isn’t renewed, you’ll become a red state, and your license will no longer pass muster.

Non-compliant States: Red

Non-compliant states that have not approved or enacted legislation that allows for updating the ID-issuing process do not have extensions. They don’t have general ID-issuing processes that comply with the REAL ID Act. Reasons vary – some of these states do offer the option to get certain kinds of licenses that ARE compliant, you just have to pay a little extra or go through extra steps to get them.

Regardless, if you have a standard-issue license from a red state, you won’t be able to use your license to clear federally-regulated security come January 22, 2018.

What’s the Roll Out Look Like?

The full timeline for implantation is on the DHS website. But we’ve also supplied an image below with the schedule.

DHS REAL ID Act Enforcement Timeline

Will I Be Able to Fly on January 22, 2018?

Check your state status on the DHS website first, then refer to this handy chart. If you live in a yellow or red state, keep checking – your extension status may change.

January 22 2018 REAL ID Act Enforcement

Will I Be Able to Fly on October 1, 2020?

Check your state status on the DHS website first, then refer to this handy chart. If you live in a yellow or red state, keep checking – your extension status is likely to change by this time.

October 1 2020 REAL ID Act Enforcement

 What’s the Silver Bullet?

Not interested in tracking the play-by-play as your state sorts out its processes and the government rolls out its enforcement? Renew your passport. Or carry your Global Entry card with you. Or check the list of TSA-accepted forms of ID.

Say that again, but longer this time.

No problem. Go here and download our White Paper.

Chesley Turner

Written by Chesley Turner