Washington state residents have an extension until October 2018, but questions still abound. Here are answers.
In the past several months, there has been plenty of conversation about the Real ID Act and how it will affect air travelers. Passed by Congress in 2005, the act is intended to prevent identity fraud, and starting on Jan. 22, 2018, flyers who reside in some states, even if they’re flying domestically, will need identification other than a driver’s license to pass through Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints at airports.
The good news for Washington state residents is that the state has been granted an extension and the law won’t apply to you until next Oct. 10, but many questions remain.
Who exactly is affected and what additional identification will the TSA require? Here, answers to questions about what the Real ID Act means for travelers and why having a passport now may be more important than ever.
What exactly is the Real ID Act?
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The act is meant to ensure that a person presenting identification is in fact who that person says they are, according to Justine Whelan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.
“The act prevents the production of fake IDs and ensures that all identification that is used has certain features which prevent tampering or are difficult to replicate,” Whelan said. These features include anti-counterfeit technology, such as the holograms on some state licenses. Federally issued documents, such as a passport, also fall into the difficult-to-replicate category.
Why is the act being put into effect?
Congress passed the act on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that the federal government set minimum security standards for how states issue identification and for how that identification is used. “These security standards ensure a safer American public. At the end of the day, everyone should be who they say they are,” Whelan said.
When does it go into effect and for which states?
Whelan said that Real ID enforcement has been implemented in phases over the last two years in some states. If you show up to a federal facility such as a military base, for example, and you live in a state that’s not Real ID compliant, you will need alternative identification to a driver’s license. Currently, 28 states are Real ID compliant, including Texas, Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Colorado. A complete list is at dhs.gov/real-id.
But what does the Real ID Act mean for air travelers?
Starting Jan. 22, the TSA will ask all travelers who don’t have a driver’s license from a compliant state or a state such as Washington that has been granted an extension to the compliance deadline (this means that residents can continue using their noncompliant license for federal purposes while the state continues working to be in compliance) to provide an alternative form of acceptable identification. Travelers won’t be able to pass through security without this acceptable identification.
And, as of Oct. 1, 2020, all air travelers will be required to have a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or alternate acceptable identification to fly domestically.
What exactly qualifies as acceptable identification?
The Department of Homeland Security has designated more than a dozen forms of acceptable ID including a passport; a border ID card; a trusted traveler card, such as Global Entry; a Real ID compliant driver’s license; and a permanent resident card. For a complete list, visit tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/identification.
Is one form of acceptable identification better than another?
Whelan said the department did not advocate any particular form of acceptable identification, but Brenda Sprague, who oversees passport services for the State Department, said that, with the implementation of Real ID fast approaching, residents who live in states that aren’t Real ID compliant and don’t have compliance extensions should apply for a passport before the end of the year. (Washington State residents may also acquire an enhanced driver’s license, which is Real ID compliant and costs more than a standard license.)
November and December are the best months to apply for or renew your current passport, Sprague said, because the turnaround time to get a new passport now is usually around four weeks. In the summer, when passport applications peak, the wait for a new passport could be up to eight weeks.
Around 136 million Americans have passports in circulation, according to the State Department — that’s only around 40 percent of the population in the United States.
You’ve persuaded me, and I’m ready to apply for a new passport. What’s the best way?
Sprague said there were more than 8,000 passport application locations around the country. Around 60 percent are post offices while the rest are courthouses and libraries. Visit the State Department’s “Where to Apply” link for more details. In addition, there are 27 passport agencies, where travelers can apply for rush passports. “These agencies are for people who are traveling within two weeks,” Sprague said.
This link has a list of these agencies; applicants need an appointment for a visit and can make one online at passportappointment.travel.state.gov.
Also, the State Department is collaborating with Hilton Hotels & Resorts on the Hilton Passport Project, an initiative meant to encourage more Americans to apply for passports. Every few weeks, a Hilton location in the United States will have a Passport Concierge booth, where guests and the general public can have their passport pictures taken for free and apply for or renew a passport. Between one and three employees from the State Department will be on hand to answer passport-related questions and help fill out applications. For a list of coming locations, visit facebook.com/Hilton.
How much does it cost to get a new passport?
First-time applicants pay $110 plus a $25 application fee. Passport renewals cost $110 and expedited passports are an additional $60. If you’re renewing your passport, you can do it by mail, but if you’re getting a new passport or if your existing one is lost or stolen, you must apply in person.