Getting a California Real ID driver's license on the first day it's offered? Not a problem

Real ID, the federally compliant driver's license that can be used as identification for getting on a plane starting in October 2020, became available Jan. 22, 2018 in California.

Real ID, the federally compliant driver’s license that can be used as identification for getting on a plane starting in October 2020, became available Monday in California, and I got one.

No magic and no strings pulled or favors called in. I didn’t even have an appointment with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the issuing entity.


But I did make sure I had the proper documentation (three pieces and there are several you can use so see the options on this list, made sure I had cash (checks also accepted), arrived at 7:19 for an 8 a.m. DMV opening and was on my way out the door, mission accomplished, by 9 a.m.

Unbelievable and pretty painless. Double wow. Plus it was Monday. Was I tempting fate?

How it went

7:02 a.m.: Left house for the DMV in Glendale, 1335 W. Glenoaks Blvd. My documentation—my passport, my property tax bill and my Social Security card, plus my Global Entry card and my marriage license just in case—was firmly in my bag.

Also with me: a wool jacket, scarf and gloves. It was 46 degrees and I would be outside in line.

7:19 a.m.: Pulled into the DMV lot. The line looked short, to my surprise. I could hear birds singing. A good sign, perhaps. But my place in line? No. 13. I was a little worried.

The line was short early Monday at the Glendale DMV
The line was short early Monday at the Glendale DMV (Catharine Hamm/Los Angeles Times)

7:24 a.m.: A DMV employee asked whether anyone in line has a driving test appointment. No one in front of me, only those behind me. Rats.

Soon, another employee appeared with a raft of forms, and I asked for one for a Real ID license. It didn’t say Real ID and so I asked what I should check. “Make a change or correction,” he said, and reminded me this was the first day of the program.

The DMV form doesn't say "Real ID." I marked "change or correction." And although it was brisk, I wasn't cold.
The DMV form doesn't say "Real ID." I marked "change or correction." And although it was brisk, I wasn't cold. (Catharine Hamm)

I began working on filling out the form. Using the side of the building as a clipboard, I began filling out the form. My handwriting looked worse than usual if that was possible.

7:30 a.m.: I had worried about being cold. I need not. We were lined up on the east side of the building, and the sun was winter bright. In fact, I was a little warm.

8 a.m.: Doors opened. I was in the dreaded non-appointment line. (I did try but too late last week to have any hope of getting anything Monday morning.) The same man who gave me my application also gave me my number—G008—and told me to have a seat. Again, all very nice and professional.

No way he could have known who I am so it wasn’t a show for me. I was not wearing my L.A. Times ID badge, and my married name isn’t remotely similar to Hamm.

8:01 a.m.: In my seat. G001 was called.

8:16 a.m.: Watching all sorts of information on the DMV screens, from sports scores to information on Real ID.

8:25 a.m.: Really thirsty but my personal no-liquid rule lest you lose your place in line was still in force. How do those people do this in Times Square on New Year’s Eve?


8:30 a.m.: G004 was called.

8:31 a.m.: G005 was called

8:32 a.m.: G006 was called

8:33 a.m.: G007 was called.

No. 16 turned out to be a lucky number for this DMV customer.
No. 16 turned out to be a lucky number for this DMV customer. (Catharine Hamm/Los Angeles Times)

8:34 a.m.: Bingo! G008 was directed to Window 16, where Francisco awaited.

8:35 a.m.: Francisco gently told me I should have filled out the back of the DMV form. Oops. But he was not perturbed and helped me speed through it.

He asked whether I wanted to donate my organs. Yep (thinking silently, “Does anybody really want an old set of astigmatic eyeballs?”) Back to the license. Did I still want my motorcyclist designation. Yep.

8:40 a.m.: He left to make copies. The guy at Window 17 was also getting Real ID but his license was due to expire the next day so he owed $35, the new cost of a renewal.

8:44 a.m.: When Francisco returned, he went over my documents, checking and double-checking. He apologized. He printed out a paper copy of my replacement license (my license wasn’t scheduled to renew until 2020), asked me to check for errors (none) and took my $28. I had $35 queued up, but he said this is the same cost as a replacement license.

8:50 a.m., approximately: Francisco had me sign my paper license, punched a hole in my now old license and sent me to get my picture taken. There was one person ahead of me and Mr. Window 17 behind me.

9 a.m.: I was walking out the door, paper license in hand and old license back in my wallet. Francisco said I should have my license in a couple of weeks. As I left, the waiting room at DMV was now jammed.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I would never have believed how easy this was if I hadn’t just lived it because nothing about Real ID has been easy since the legislation that created it.

Several states complied immediately with what many said was a federal mandate. (That’s not exactly correct: The federal government didn’t make the states do this. Their choice.) California did not or could not make this happen immediately.

Many of our neighbor states are already compliant, including Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

Why do this? Should you?

Why I went to the trouble: I didn’t need to do this. I could have waited until 2020. Or I could just carry my passport or my Global Entry card if I wanted to board a plane.

But the process—the Real ID requirement grew out of post 9/11 congressional recommendations and, later, legislation—has been so long in coming, at the federal and state level that I wanted to see how difficult it was. Turns out it was a comparative cakewalk.

Who might want to do this: Anyone whose license expires this year.

But, the DMV has noted repeatedly, you do not need a federally complaint license to drive legally.

Who might not want to do this: If you have no need of a license to get you on an airplane or into a federal facility, you do not need a Real ID license.

And you definitely don’t need to do this even if you are flying. You can use your passport, a Global Entry card or a host of other identification on the Transportation Security Administration’s approved list. (Incidentally, both of these linked sites on Monday had notifications that they would not be updated until the government reopens from its shutdown.)

For more information from Homeland Security explaining Real ID, go to its FAQ website.

For more information about California requirements, go to the state’s information page on the impact of Real ID on Golden Staters.


Was doing this a waste of time? No. For me it’s a peace of mind thing. My passport is sacred; I live in fear of losing it. I bring it out only for special occasions. My Global Entry card I also keep secured.

But my driver’s license? It’s always with me. And who knows when I might want to just jump on a plane on a whim and go somewhere or visit a federal facility?