Advertisement

Real ID is back on the radar. Here’s how to obtain or renew yours

A photo collage of images of an airplane and driver's license
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

Listen, I hate to bring up bad memories, but — Real ID. Yes, it’s coming. Again. As we begin to think “Hmm, vaccine, fall travel, airplane,” you may want to add Real ID to your thought process if you haven’t already applied for and received one.

About 9.5 million Californians have, but 13.3 million said, “Nah, don’t want it.” That’s because they either aren’t going to fly domestically or have other acceptable forms of identification that will work, including a passport or passport card (lat.ms/OtherAcceptableID). The license, which complies with federal regulations enacted as part of the work of the 9/11 Commission, has been 15 years in the making. Its implementation has been delayed several times, including last year, because air travel was enough of a mess due to COVID-19.

Not that air travel isn’t still a mess — worldwide, it’s down 47% from a year ago, according to industry analyst OAG — but the advent of the vaccine has many of us dreaming again. We may see a travel uptick in the fall, which coincides with the new Oct. 1 deadline for Real ID.

That’s when you must have it (or the aforementioned other form of ID) to get on a domestic flight. (You will still need a passport for international travel.) It’s been awhile since I’ve harangued you about it, and a few things have changed. Here’s what you need to know now.

Advertisement

Do I need a Real ID to drive? No. That has not changed. If you have a regular driver’s license and it’s current you are fine to drive. Just don’t try to board a domestic flight using only that starting Oct. 1.

How much does it cost? The California Department of Motor Vehicles charges $38 for a Real ID or a regular license.

Can I get a Real ID identification card? Yes. That costs $33. (And yes, Real ID identification card does sound redundant, but, well, it’s what it is.)

Can I get both a Real ID license and identification card? No. Sorry. One or the other, the DMV says.

Advertisement

How do I know whether I have a Real ID? If you’ve endured the process of getting one, you probably know you do. If in doubt, look for the star in the upper right corner of your California license. That’s one of the suggestions from Ignited, an El Segundo company that has been working with the Department of Homeland Security on messaging about Real ID and the identification requirements for domestic air travelers.

I already have a Real ID and it’s up for renewal. Can I renew online? Yes, despite what your renewal information might suggest. It’s confusing. When I needed to renew mine in February 2020, my renewal material said I could not do so online. I called the DMV and they told me, “Well, if that’s what it says, then no, you can’t.” But I explained I already had it and finally the rep said, “Well, then, I guess you can.” So I did it online, and it arrived promptly.

But I heard from many, many readers who also were confused. The column I had written in February was updated (thank you, L.A. Times editors), but I continue to hear from people who are puzzled.

I understand why, but I’m not sure the DMV does. In an email to me responding to various questions, including whether you can renew online, DMV responded, “Current Real ID cardholders have always been able to renew their Real ID driver’s license and identification card online, in most cases.”

Advertisement

That is true, but if you go to the DMV renewal page, you’ll find this note: “All driver’s licenses MAY [emphasis theirs] now be renewed online. Your notice may tell you to come into an office, but due to special circumstances, related to Covid-19, try online first.”

That column mentioned above? It’s dated Feb. 28. The World Health Organization declared COVID a pandemic March 11. The United States declared a health emergency March 13. California issued stay-at-home orders March 19. In June, the DMV said its messaging was being revised. But there’s still confusion after all these months.

One reader asked me recently whether I was sure this could be done online. I said it could, and I replied that if I were wrong, I would pick him up, take him to the DMV, stand in line for him and summon him when it was his turn, then take him to lunch afterward. (I assumed it was a man, but it doesn’t matter; I would have done it for anyone.) The response: That’s a pretty big promise. I told him I was good for it. I have not heard back.

If I don’t already have a Real ID, do I have to apply in person? Alas, yes you do if this is your first Real ID.

Advertisement

I can get an appointment, right? No.

What the fish? Here’s what DMV said: “The DMV is currently not accepting appointments, but all offices are open during regular business hours — Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday — from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No extended hours are offered.”

Maybe I should just move to Canada? No. The borders aren’t open. But Eric Johnson, founder of Ignited, said his recent California DMV experience was easy. He was in and out in an hour, and the personnel were polite and helpful. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Further, the DMV now allows first-time applicants to do some of the work ahead of time online. “To apply for a Real ID, Californians are encouraged to fill out the online application, upload their documents to the DMV, then bring the uploaded documents and a printed copy or photo of the confirmation code, which upon presentation at the DMV office provides the applicant with a DMV Express experience.” The forms can be found at bit.ly/DMVonlineDocuments. You can watch a quick video explaining more at bit.ly/DMVExpressVideo.

Advertisement

Does DMV still insist on calling it a “driver license”? No, thank heavens. DMV acknowledged in its email that it’s now calling it a “driver’s license,” just as most normal human beings have been doing for years. Thank you, DMV. My cringe quotient just dropped. Considerably.

Have a travel problem, question or dilemma? Write to catharine@catharinehamm.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.


Advertisement
Advertisement