A little over a year from now, California residents who are used to showing their regular state issued driver’s licenses or ID cards while boarding commercial flights won’t be able to do that anymore. 

If you feel like the media has been talking about getting your REAL ID in the Golden State for years, you’re not wrong. The California REAL ID brings the state’s driver’s licenses and identification cards into compliance with the 2005 REAL ID Act.

California DMV Accused of Violating Voter Registration Law
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Don’t remember a piece of legislation that passed 19 years ago? Let us recap what happened. Congress passed the legislation based on a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission. The goal is to have state issued ID cards or driver’s licenses from around the country meet the same set of minimum security standards. The standards are meant to keep terrorists from obtaining travel documents. After the deadline, federal agencies, like the Transportation Security Administration that runs security checkpoints at domestic airports, will not accept state ID cards that haven’t met the REAL ID standards. 

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The REAL ID has been in and out of the news cycle for years because the deadline has been pushed back multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s creeping up on us again. Unless there is ANOTHER expansion, the deadline is now May 7, 2025. IT may seem like a long time from now, but the State of California has actively been encouraging residents to get their REAL ID sooner rather than later. In fact, they recently created a “Shamrock and Roll” REAL ID campaign themed around St. Patrick’s Day. 

As of March 6, 2024 about 17,141,762 California REAL IDs have been issued. Considering that there are an estimated 27 million licensed drivers in California, there’s still a long way to go. 

Do I Really Need to Get a California REAL ID Card?

No, but that means in order to get through a TSA checkpoint or enter a federal building or military base, you will need to provide an acceptable document like a United States Passport or Passport Card. A full list of acceptable documents to use at a TSA checkpoint beginning May 7, 2025 can be found HERE

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If you DON’T get the REAL ID, your regular drivers license will read “Federal Limits Apply.” Instead of having a bear and a star in the top right corner. You regular California license will still be valid for things like driving, buying age-restricted products or entering nightclubs.

How Do I Get a California REAL ID Card?

YouTube/California DMV
YouTube/California DMV

Unfortunately, getting your REAL ID for the first time DOES require an in person trip to the DMV, but in California you can start the application process online. They’ve put together a great step by step video showing you how. 

Before applying and heading to the DMV in person, you’ll need to gather at least one document proving your identity (like a birth certificate or current passport.) If your name doesn’t match that document, you’ll need to bring some additional information like a marriage certificate, divorce decree or adoption papers.

Passport and Airline Ticket on Euros

You’ll also need two physical documents proving that you live in California. These can be something like a paper copy of your bank statement or a utility bill.

Finally, you’ll need to provide your social security number. They can verify this digitally, so you don’t need your physical card.


The list of acceptable documents for each of this category is lengthy, so the DMV has put together a checklist that you can go through to gather the correct things. You’ll also need to pay a small fee for your new ID.

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