Confused about REAL ID? Here's what you need to know to keep flying

Come Oct. 1, 2020, your driver's license will lose its mojo when it comes to flying in the U.S. Fortunately, there's an easy fix and plenty of time.

A federal law enacted after 9/11 tightened security for boarding planes. States were required to meet a minimum standard before issuing licenses and ID cards, which boils down to applicants providing more information.

On March 29, the Illinois Secretary of State's Office started processing REAL ID driver's licenses designated with a gold star in the top right-hand corner.

Without REAL ID, TSA agents won't let you on domestic flights in the U.S. effective Oct. 1, 2020. Until that date, standard licenses are good to go. And if you have a passport, that's golden and will be accepted in lieu of REAL ID.

So far, “more than 23,000 REAL IDs have been issued — the vast majority in April,” secretary of state spokesman Henry Haupt said.

First question: How do I get a REAL ID license?

You can upgrade your license at most Illinois driver's services facilities, provided they're not express or mobile units. Be prepared to smile for a photo and take any relevant exams — plus you'll need to bring extra documentation:

• Proof of who you are, such as a U.S. birth certificate, passport, green card or Certificate of Naturalization.

• A Social Security card or a W-2 form or pay stub with your name and Social Security number on it.

• Two documents that prove residence, like a utility bill, rental agreement, mortgage bill, bank statement or insurance policy.

• A marriage certificate or divorce decree if your legal name is different from the name listed won your other documents.

• Something with your signature, meaning a signed driver's license or credit card, a canceled check or a Social Security card.

You'll receive a temporary card, and a REAL ID license card will be issued within 15 business days after authorities review your documents.

The cost is the same for a standard license — $30 for someone 21 to 68, for example. However, if you recently renewed your license and wish to apply for a REAL ID, a $5 correction fee will be applied and you will retain your original expiration date.

Q. When's the drop-dead date to update?

A. The secretary of state's office recommends applying at least 60 days before a U.S. flight that occurs on or after Oct. 1, 2020.

Q. What if I don't drive but plan to fly within the U. S.?

A. Illinois also issues identification cards. These can be obtained or renewed to achieve REAL ID status with the same documentation required for driver's licenses.

Q. I hate flying and will never board a plane. Must I do anything special when I renew my license?

A. Applicants can chose between REAL ID and standard licenses. You don't need extra documents for the standard license but now you'll get a temporary card while the paperwork is being processed. The new card that comes in the mail within business 15 days also will say “Federal Limits Apply,” meaning it can't be used at airports for ID as of Oct. 1, 2020.

The secretary of state's office stopped its over-the-counter system in 2016, switching to a secure, central processing site.

“This allows us to embed highly sophisticated security features in the driver's license/ID cards,” Haupt said.

Q. Can I use REAL ID for international flights?

A. No, in cases of international travel, use a passport.

Got more questions? Visit or email

Your voice

Sarah Laschober of Roselle is skeptical of raising gas taxes to pay for transportation. “Originally back in the '80s, we voted for a gas tax to fix and build our roads,” she said. “Then Illinoisans found out the money was going into the general fund and used in other ways. We voted again last year, and it won, that the gas tax money was to go for building and repairing our roads only. How do we know that the gas tax is finally going toward roadwork?”

Gridlock alert

Sorry, Bensenville. IDOT is fixing pavement on Irving Park Road between Route 83 and Baker Drive. The fun lasts through June.

Also, watch for overnight closures on the westbound I-190 ramp connecting to the Tri-State Tollway this week.


Lake County residents can learn more about a proposed wayfinding and signage study for hiking and biking routes from 5 to 7 p.m. May 1 at the county's Division of Transportation, 600 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville.

See the light?

Have you heard of adaptive driving beam headlights? They are a car feature that adjusts high-beam light levels based on traffic and are used in Europe and Canada but not in the U.S., where automatic switching to high beams is as high-tech as it gets. AAA researchers say adaptive driving beams on cars boost highway lighting by 86 percent compared to in the U.S. and they're spearheading changes to U.S. regulations, given that most vehicle fatalities occur after dark. Stay tuned.

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A standard Illinois driver's license won't be enough to board domestic flights come Oct. 1, 2020, as shown by the "Federal Limits Apply" notation. Courtesy of Illinois Secretary of State
  A REAL ID flyer is displayed behind the counter staffed by Kim Urbanski on Friday at the state driver's license facility in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard/
  A REAL ID flyer is displayed Friday at the entrance to the state driver's license facility in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard/
  Kelly Hallman, right, of Bloomingdale applies for her REAL ID with the assistance of Urszula Kolodziej on Friday at the state driver's license facility in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard/
Secretary of State Jesse White holds an example of a REAL ID card in his right hand and a standard's driver's license in his left. Courtesy Of Illinois Secretary Of State
  Sue Catomy of Mount Prospect receives REAL ID information on Friday while being assisted by Wendell Howell at the state driver's license facility in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard/
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