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Californians, here’s how to get your Real ID license without a DMV visit

California driver's licenses with Real ID have a bear and star in their upper right corners.
(Tess Richards / For The Times)

State officials have been nudging us since 2018, but millions of Californians still haven’t updated their driver’s licenses to federally mandated Real ID status. Why? Even before the pandemic, many drivers put off the chore because it required a visit to a state Department of Motor Vehicles site, offices notorious for long waits and temperamental computers.

The deadline, already extended more than once, is currently May 2023.

Now comes comforting news: The DMV and Automobile Club of Southern California have teamed up to offer Auto Club members a chance to avoid DMV visits and instead get Real ID upgrades at 19 club locations.

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Those club visits will be possible by appointment only and may be available for a limited time. DMV officials say the program will roll out before Aug. 1. The first step: Visit RealID.dmv.ca.gov.

This offer doesn’t help non-members of the Auto Club, but for the 7 million Southern Californians who already belong (by the club’s tally), it could ease a nagging responsibility.

Participating Auto Club offices include sites in Alhambra, Arcadia, Camarillo, Chatsworth, Chino, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Inglewood-Ladera, Laguna Hills, La Quinta, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redlands, Riverside, San Diego (Clairemont) and Santa Barbara. They’re due to begin making appointments by the end of July.

Real ID is part of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security campaign to tighten security for travel, and its implementation has been slowed by troubled teamwork with state agencies. The deadline to update California driver’s licenses has already been extended several times.

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But beginning May 3, 2023, DHS officials say, they will require a valid passport or another federal-approved document — like a Real ID driver’s license — from anyone boarding a flight within the U.S. or accessing secure federal facilities and military bases.

California driver’s licenses that have been upgraded to Real ID status are marked with a gold bear and a star in the upper right corner.

The new collaboration with the Auto Club is one of multiple efforts made by state DMV officials to nudge people into getting Real ID license upgrades. In late June, the DMV said that any Californian who received a driver’s license or state ID card during the pandemic, but didn’t get Real ID, can upgrade for no further fee through the end of 2021.

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The DMV estimates that between March 1, 2020, and July 31, 2021, it will have issued about 5.7 million driver’s licenses and IDs that are not Real IDs. The DMV fee for a basic (Class C) driver’s license is $38, with or without Real ID.


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