by Toni-Anne Barry
Starting on Oct. 1, 2020, all American citizens and territory residents aged 18 and older will need a REAL ID to travel domestically, unless they have a valid U.S. passport. This new security measure has been in the works since the REAL ID Act was passed by Congress with wide bipartisan support by back in 2005. The legislation was passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks and adheres to many of the safety and security recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. Requiring all citizens to obtain a REAL ID is the third and final phase of the act, which aims to bolster domestic security to make traveling in the U.S. safer and more efficient.
REAL IDs differ from standard licenses in some distinct ways. First, these IDs are made with advanced technology that make it extremely difficult for forgers to illegally replicate. This makes it much easier for security personnel to tell the difference between a fake and a legitimate REAL ID. Secondly, almost all REAL IDs have a gold or black star in the top right-hand corner of the card, showing immediately its REAL ID status. If you’re not sure whether you have a REAL ID or not, check to see if your ID has one of these stars. It’s important to note that a select few states, such as Hawaii, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah have already issued IDs that do not have a star but are still considered REAL IDs. Your state’s DMV website is your best resource for checking if your ID is REAL ID compliant or not.
Keep in mind that holding a REAL ID can only be used for domestic travel and to Canada. To fly internationally, citizens still need a valid U.S. passport. Now, according to State Department data, only 42 percent of Americans currently hold a valid passport. This means 58 percent of Americans will need to acquire a REAL ID to board a flight next year, if they don’t have one already.
Once October of next year hits, federal agencies such as the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) will be prohibited from accepting licenses and other identification cards for domestic travel if they do not meet the guidelines laid out by the REAL ID Act. While this seems like it’s still a while away, it’s important not to wait until the deadline approaches. Not only will DMVs be especially crowded, but just like regular licenses, REAL IDs can take weeks to receive. It’s important for everyone involved in the hospitality industry to spread the word to as many citizens as possible, both frequent flyers and those who only travel on occasion, to make it a priority to obtain a REAL ID because air travel is the lifeblood of travel and tourism.