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REAL ID Documents Can Be Submitted Online

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has pushed its REAL ID deadline back once again, this time to October 1, 2021, due to complications created by the coronavirus pandemic. This may seem like a long way off, as most people procrastinate going to the DMV for as long as possible, but the months can fly by quickly. And if put off, you might not be able to fly domestically with your ID.

But if you still don’t have REAL ID-compliant form of identification (more on that in a moment), good news: DHS will now allow you to submit your documentation electronically beforehand. Your state’s DMV website should have more information when you go online to complete the process.

This should save time when you visit the DMV (or AAA office) to complete your application. That’s good news, since Chad Wolf, the acting DHS secretary, has said two-thirds of Americans still don’t have a REAL ID-compliant license.

“Ensuring every state is REAL ID compliant by October is one of the department’s top priorities,” Wolf said. “While progress has been made, the real work is still ahead.” 

If you do submit electronically, you’ll still need to bring hard copies of your documents with you, but submitting them online will save time at the DMV and mitigate the risk of showing up with invalid or incorrect documents and having to start over. I saw this happen to someone when I got my own REAL ID at the RMV, and rest assured, the only thing worse than spending time at the DMV is having to go home and do it over.

What Is REAL ID, Again?

The REAL ID Act of 2005 essentially established nationwide standards for the issuance of identification. Why? Because up until now, Americans have carried a hodgepodge of IDs, mostly issued by states, each their own differing standards. Each state sets its own criteria for acquiring an ID as well as its own rules for what information is included on the ID itself.

Post-9/11, the government decided this was less than ideal, passed a law fixing the situation, and gave states what turned out to be about 15 years to comply. (The original, actual deadline was in 2016, but non-compliant states received extensions.) And so, here we are.

The primary implication of the law concerns travel. Starting October 1, 2021, all domestic travelers must bring a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or other form of identification when they fly. This includes passports, but few people use their passport when traveling domestically, so the government has been working to raise awareness of the change and the deadline.

Readers, are you ready for the REAL ID reality?

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the About.com Boston travel guide.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "It's not revolutionary, but a small Moleskine notebook is my one travel must-have. It's great for noting things you want to remember and it takes up hardly any space in your bag."

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