Reality soon will hit Pennsylvania.
After years of refusing to comply with a federal law requiring states to issue Real IDs, the Keystone State ended its ban on them in May of last year because the feds refused to back off, sparking worries for citizens and airports.
In March, the state Department of Transportation will start issuing Real IDs, which are intended as a new form of identification meant to weed out terrorists and otherwise boost domestic security.
If you never plan to fly on a commercial passenger plane bound for a U.S. destination or enter a federal building that requires an ID to enter, you don’t need a Real ID.
If you do plan to fly domestically or want to enter a military base like the Tobyhanna Army Depot, you will need a real ID starting Oct. 1, 2020. That is, unless you already have a valid U.S. passport or passport card, military ID or other federally approved ID. You can use that instead.
If you don’t, you still have plenty of time to get a Real ID.
Technically, a “Real ID is completely optional for Pennsylvanians,” Alexis Campbell, a PennDOT spokeswoman who handles driver and vehicle services, said during a recent live presentation available under the videos section of the department’s Facebook page.
You won’t need a Real ID to enter post offices or other buildings that don’t require an ID to enter, such as Social Security and Internal Revenue Service. Entering a federal courthouse requires a government-issued ID, but the U.S. Marshals Service won’t require a Real ID, said Martin J. Pane, the U.S. marshal for the middle district of Pennsylvania.
You also don’t need a Real ID to drive, vote, apply for federal benefits, enter a hospital, get life-saving services, testify in federal court or serve on a federal jury.
Pennsylvania took its time to require Real ID. In May 2005, in response to a 9/11 commission recommendation, Congress passed the federal Real ID Act, which requires minimum federal standards for state driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs used for federal purposes. It went into effect in May 2008.
States, including Pennsylvania, balked and passed laws forbidding implementation and urging repeal. They cited implementation costs and threats to individual freedom. Congress refused to repeal the law and complaints from airports and citizens forced Pennsylvania to repeal its ban last year.
If you have a driver’s license, the Real ID version can replace it. Your new Real ID driver’s license will add an additional four years to your existing license’s duration. The charge for a Real ID license is a one-time $30 fee. If you’re renewing your license, you also pay the regular $30.50 per license renewal fee. After that, only the regular renewal fee applies.
A gold star will distinguish a Real ID license from regular licenses.
“Structuring our expiration date process this way allows customers to keep all the time that they paid for,” Campbell said. “They don’t lose any of that time and they may end up with a nice long renewal cycle the first time around. Once you get your Real ID, it will be your driver’s license.”
To get a Real ID, you will need:
- An original or certified copy of a birth certificate with a raised seal or a valid U.S. passport. Obtaining a birth certificate from some states may take six months or longer, so don’t wait.
- Proof of a Social Security number.
- Proof of a current address in Pennsylvania like a driver’s license, a bank statement no older than 90 days, vehicle registration, car insurance card or a utility bill. They must all have the same address.
- Proof of a name change if you married — a marriage license will do — or divorced — use a divorce decree — or other court documents or an amended birth certificate that show your name changed.
“The best, most proactive thing that customers can do right now is to gather your documents,” Campbell said.
For drivers who received licenses after 2003, PennDOT may already have such documents on file because it began asking new drivers to submit them back then, she said. PennDOT sent them notices inviting Real ID applications earlier this year, and their applications set off searches for their documents.
“If we do (have their documents), we let that customer know that, great news, you don’t have to come in to the driver’s license center at all,” she said. “That’s about 35 percent of our (10 million) customers who may not have to come into the driver’s license center at all.”
If you haven’t ever submitted documents, you can bring them to any PennDOT driver’s license center now. Staff will scan them into a computer. Once Real IDs become available, you can opt into the program online and get the ID sent to you without returning to the license center.
“If you can have all those documents together and you can do that between now and March 1, that’ll save you some time later,” Campbell said. “We do anticipate that the closer we get to Oct. 1, 2020, the more people are wanting to get their Real ID.”
PennDOT has a Real ID website, www.dmv.pa.gov/REALID/Pages/default.aspx.