Passports that won’t scan are the latest problem in the quest for Real ID license

Real ID hits a new bump.
(Tess Richards / For The Times)

The quest for a Real ID, the federally compliant driver’s license that can be used as identification by air travelers to board domestic flights starting Oct. 1, has hit another bump. The passport you might try to use as proof of your identity in the application process sometimes is rejected, the State Department has said.

That means many U.S.-born residents in California and elsewhere must rely on an original or certified birth certificate to apply for Real ID.

For the record:

2:50 p.m. Jan. 2, 2020An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the last name of Jaime Garza of the California Department of Motor Vehicles as Ruiz.

And if you have married and chosen to take your spouse’s name, you must also have a marriage license besides that birth certificate. If you’ve married several times, you must have every marriage license, said Jaime Garza of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.


Of course, if you have a current passport, you won’t need Real ID to board a domestic flight when the new requirement takes effect in the fall. Other acceptable forms of identification, including a passport card, a Global Entry, Nexus, Sentri card and many others, can be used. The Transportation Security Administration has a list of alternate identification that it will accept.

Most Americans don’t know about Real ID. Here’s why you don’t, why you should and what’s at stake

Oct. 18, 2019

Note that you still must carry a passport for an international flight.

The State Department is aware of the issue with some states’ licensing agencies. “We’re aware that state offices and Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) are informing some customers that their valid U.S. passports cannot be verified when they apply for Real ID,” a State Department spokesman said in an email.

A system known as U.S. Passport Verification Services “provides a pass/fail verification of U.S. passports,” the spokesman said. “Some records cannot be verified by USPVS even after multiple attempts. When a constituent’s record cannot be verified, he or she may be informed by the state office or DMV that their U.S. passport cannot be used to obtain” a Real ID.

The system, the State Department said, is owned by the Assn. of American Motor Vehicle Administrators through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but as of this moment there is no fix. “At this time, we’re unsure what’s causing the data quality issues,” the State Department spokesman said.

The road to getting the Real ID license has been littered with problems in California and elsewhere. The license is part of legislation that grew out of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations and became law almost 15 years ago. Problems with implementing the license requirement have slowed its introduction.

California began issuing the license in Jan. 22, 2018, and more than 2.3 million licenses had been issued by early fall of that year when the Department of Homeland Security said that California’s methods of verifying proof of residence didn’t comply with federal standards, after previously saying its methods were fine. (Wisconsin also was caught up in that issue.)


In spring 2019, those early adopters received (or should have received) letters from the California DMV asking them to re-verify their home addresses.

In mid-fall of 2019, a survey released by U.S Travel Assn. showed that more than 70% of Americans either don’t know what Real ID is or aren’t sure whether they have one. (California Real ID licenses have a gold bear and a white star in the upper-right corner.) It is working with various organizations to spread the word, partly because an estimated 80,000 people could be denied boarding, resulting in more than $40 million in lost spending — and that’s just on Oct. 1, the first day of the requirement.

To learn more about getting a California Real ID, go to the DMV website. For a list of FAQs from Homeland Security, go to the DHS Real ID pages.