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Real ID Act Changes: Why You Might Not Be Able to Use Your License to Fly in 2018

Think you’re ready for a new year of travel? Not so fast, if you plan on using your license at the airport. Government travel regulations that go into effect this year as part of the Real ID Act mean you could have an invalid ID for flying later in 2018—and not even know it.

Real ID Changes 2018: When to Worry About Invalid IDs for Flying

In 2005, the Real ID Act established nationwide requirements for state IDs as a post-9/11 security measure. Now the air travel portion of that legislation is about to take effect, and only about half of the U.S. states and territories have met the requirements. Many other states have been granted extensions until later in 2018, and some are still under review for an extension.

The hard deadline for states to meet the Real ID changes is in 2020, but it’s possible some extensions could expire this year. Depending on which state you live in, you could potentially be determined to have an invalid ID, and would need an alternative form of identification for air travel.

Non-Compliant States with an Extension

You can check with the Department of Homeland Security to see if your state is compliant with the Real ID act: Compliant states are denoted in green on the DHS compliance map. If your state hasn’t yet complied but has been granted an extension (denoted in yellow), you won’t necessarily need an alternative form of ID this year—but you should keep an eye on that widely-granted October 2018 deadline and plan ahead (more on that below).

Whether residents of non-compliant states will need another form of ID will depend on if their states are granted a further extension by the deadline. States are likely to file for an extension if they’re not compliant by then, but the worst-case scenario here would be that you could need an alternative TSA-acceptable ID to fly come October.

Non-Compliant States Still Under Review

Residents of states that are under review for an extension (denoted in blue on the DHS map) have a shorter grace period.  The states are likely to be granted an extension as long as they’re on-track to implement the changes by 2020, but residents of those states should keep an eye on the status map, just in case.

Have a Back-up Plan for Invalid ID

If you don’t have a passport or other back-up for a potentially invalid ID, keep in mind that applying for a passport this year could take longer than usual. Why? It’s a busy year for renewing passports thanks to the 10-year anniversary of border legislation that began requiring passports for Americans’ entrance into Canada and Mexico—all those passports will expire in 2018, potentially creating an influx of renewals.

Anyone applying for a passport in advance of a trip should leave more time than the average six weeks. If you find yourself needing an alternative form of ID to travel, you can also travel with one of the following alternatives instead:

  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV (federal worker ID) card
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

If your state is among the dozens that have complied with the changes, happy travels in 2018. If not, keep that DHS Real ID map bookmarked and be sure to check it around the time of your state’s extension deadline.

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Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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