The REAL ID and Renewing Your MA Driver’s License

UPDATE: Beginning on April 1, 2021, the Massachusetts RMV has opened up appointments for REAL ID cards. If you already renewed your Mass license or ID online (between June 2020 and April 2021) with the intention of getting a free upgrade to the REAL ID, you may begin booking your upgrade appointment now. Visit to get started.

What’s all the buzz about this new form of identification? For starters. it will be required… eventually… whenever you board a plane, including domestic flights (within the U.S.), beginning in May 2023. (NOTE: the original deadline for obtaining this ID was October 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that deadline was initially extended one year, to October 2021. It has since been extended again, by nearly two years, to May 3, 2023.)

What else do you need to know about this new identification card? How does it compare to your current MA driver’s license? We’ve summed up the answers below:

What is the REAL ID?

It’s a new type of credential that the Massachusetts RMV will begin to issue again (after a pause during the Covid pandemic) in April 2021. 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 May 2023.

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 domestic airplane flights.

If you prefer, you can still apply for/renew a standard Massachusetts driver’s license or ID card—even after 2023. 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 opt to skip the REAL ID, and you need to fly or enter certain government buildings after May 2023, 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 May 3, 2023. 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.

I still have questions about renewing my MA license. Who can help me?

Try visiting the Massachusetts RMV page on renewing your license. The registry has made it very easy to start the process (and in some cases, complete it) online.

If you’re still running into trouble, you could try calling your local insurance agent. This is one of the great benefits of working with a dedicated agent in your neighborhood (as opposed to a national company that only knows you as a policy number.) Here at C&S Insurance, we get a lot of phone calls from folks who need help understanding registry forms and other materials related to driving. If you are looking for this level of personalized support, it might be time to reevaluate your insurance partners. Here’s a good answer to the question Do I Need an Insurance Agent?  Hope you find it helpful!

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