This article has been updated to reflect the most recent deadlines and information as of October 19, 2018.
If you've flown in the past year or so, you've undoubtedly seen signs at the airport warning that the ID the TSA will accept as legitimate is about to change.
In January of 2018, the TSA was slated to toughen its rules. Fortunately, they extended that deadline to October 11, 2018; since then, non-compliant states have been given various extensions into 2019. But that could still leave a lot of travelers in the lurch.
While most states currently issue cards that are compliant with federal regulations, 14 states and 5 territories still don't -- or are in the process of coming into compliance. This means residents of those states may need to use alternative forms of ID if they plan to fly with the United States in 2019.
Here's everything you need to know about the changing TSA guidelines, who they affect, how to tell if your license is compliant, and what to do if it isn't.
We've also listed all the non-compliant states and their deadlines below.
Same as always: to mess with us. Just kidding. It's actually very serious.
In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act as a result of the 9/11 Commission. One of the Commission's key recommendations was that the federal government should set more stringent security standards for state ID cards. In the past 12 years, all states have taken steps to improve their cards. However, the provisions of REAL ID have been introduced in phases, and some states have fallen short of compliance.
While TSA has extended its deadline for these states until October 11, and while they may well issue another extension, there's no guarantee that they will.
As is usual whenever change is introduced, some people are worried that the government is doing it just to seize more power. Some have suggested that REAL ID is the first step in building some kind of citizen database; for whatever it's worth, Homeland Security strenuously denies this.
The main difference between regular old state-issued ID and REAL ID is the amount of information the state collects before issuing the card, and the amount of information visible on the card.
Before the stat can issue a driver's license that is REAL ID-compliant, the applicant must present photo ID and/or ID which includes a full name and birth date -- a birth certificate, basically. Other requirements include proof of status, social security number, and proof of address. Compliant IDs must also include the bearer's signature, sex, a serial number, and enhanced anti-counterfeiting measures.
Do you have to worry or not?
Never fear: TSA is playing Santa Clause. No, not because they want you to sit on their lap -- though that'll probably be next! -- but because they've made a list of naughty and nice states.
Here's a handy map for your reference. The yellow states are non-compliant as of October 11, 2018, but have been granted extensions.
Here's the TSA list of states and territories that are non-compliant but have been granted extensions, along with the dates those extensions expire. (Bolded states and territories currently issue REAL ID compliant cards.)
As you can imagine, there's a great deal of confusion around this policy and what it means.
But wait! It gets murkier. Some states are compliant now but issued non-compliant drivers' licenses in the past, and citizens of those states can still use their licenses until 2020, even if they're non-compliant.
I'm getting a headache just trying to wrap my head around this. But to put it plainly: if you're in a state that's green on the map, you should be able to use your current card for domestic travel through October 2020, even if it's not compliant. But if you're from a yellow state, there are no guarantees after the extension date.
As we mentioned, there are several requirements for state IDs under the new guidelines: they must have your signature, a unique serial number, state your sex etc.
However, there is one simple way to tell whether or not your driver's license is REAL ID compliant. There's a telltale star in the top right-hand corner of compliant ID cards.
For example, this card is good to go:
Meanwhile, this card, with no yellow star, is noncompliant:
As we mentioned, if you're from a green state and you have a driver's license -- even one without a star -- you should be good until October of 2020.
But if you're from a yellow state, keep an ear out for any steps your state might be taking to bring itself into compliance by the new deadline. The best thing you can do is apply for a passport if you don't have one; that will be acceptable, even if your license isn't.
It's possible the TSA will give the states another delay, but it's also possible they won't. And nobody wants to get turned away at the gate for having an ineligible driver's license.