The REAL ID and Renewing Your MA Driver’s License

March 15, 2018

UPDATE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic,the Massachusetts RMV will not issue any REAL IDs until September 2020. 

But don’t worry. The Department of Homeland Security is extending the REAL ID enforcement deadline by one year. The new deadline is October 1, 2021. (This means your will still be able to board domestic flights and/or enter federal buildings with just your regular license until 10/1/21). We will keep you posted as new RMV updates emerge.

You may have heard the buzz about a new form of identification— the REAL ID —which will soon be required whenever you board a plane, including domestic flights (within the U.S.), beginning in October 2021. What do you need to know about these identification cards? How do they compare to your current MA driver’s license? We’ve summed it up below:

What is the REAL ID?

The REAL ID is a new type of credential that the Massachusetts RMV will begin to issue on March 26, 2018. Although it is not a federal identification card, it represents a new set of federal security standards that are being adopted across the country. (After the 9/11 attacks, national leaders agreed that we needed more secure, more consistent personal identity documents.) Some states are already in compliance with these new standards and have already issued REAL ID cards to all appropriate residents. Other states, like Massachusetts, have received extensions to phase in the new standards by 2021.

In the meantime, the Massachusetts RMV has been working to upgrade its licensing software system and design new identification cards that will comply with REAL ID Act standards.

A chart of Real ID requirements and benefits

What’s the difference between a REAL ID and a MA driver’s license?

Going forward, the REAL ID will function as both a driver’s license and a federally-compliant ID card. It will have a gold star in the upper-right corner, indicating that it is an acceptable form of identification for entering government buildings or boarding airplanes.

If you prefer, you can still apply for/renew a standard Massachusetts driver’s license or ID card—even after 2021. And in fact, you may prefer to do this if you enjoy the convenience of being able to process your license online. (REAL IDs cannot be processed online; you must visit a Massachusetts RMV service center in person.) If you need to fly or enter certain government buildings after October 2021, you would need to carry your passport.

Which type of identification do I need?

The Mass RMV put together this handy quiz to help you determine if you need to get a REAL ID now, later, or never. Basically, if you have a current passport and plan to maintain it (renew when necessary), you’re all set. The RMV doesn’t recommend banging down the door to get your new ID card (even though technically you can apply for one).

If however you don’t have a passport, and you do plan to fly, and your license is up for renewal soon, it might make sense to renew with an ID versus a traditional Massachusetts driver’s license.

To sum things up: You don’t need a REAL ID until October of 2021. And even then, you may not absolutely need it. In most cases it’s best to wait and apply for it when your MA license/ID is due for renewal.

How do I get a REAL ID?

Applying for an ID will soon be part of the application process to renew your driver’s license—either online or at the DMV. Starting on March 26, 2018, individuals applying for registry credentials will be encouraged to visit and answer a few questions. The website will help you decide between:

  • a REAL ID driver’s license
  • a REAL ID card
  • a standard driver’s license
  • a standard MA ID card

The website will also tell you exactly which identification documents are necessary for each option. Keep in mind: starting on March 26, 2018, in order to get or renew any Massachusetts driver’s license, ID card, or learner’s permit, Mass residents will need to show proof of U.S. citizenship or “lawful presence” as required by federal and state law.

Do my kids need IDs?

The TSA does not currently require passengers under 18 to provide proof of identity, but their travel companion(s) would need federally-compliant ID. For international travel, passengers of all ages must present a valid passport.