PennDOT Has Finally Started Issuing REAL IDs

Here’s everything you need to know about getting one.

real id penndot

Here’s what the new REAL ID cards will look like. | Photo courtesy of PennDOT

The days of REAL ID are at last upon us.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officially began issuing new, federally sufficient identification cards on Friday. For anyone eager to sort out the necessary paperwork with the DMV (or for anyone who’s very confused about what a REAL ID even is) we’re here to help: just bookmark this handy guide. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about REAL IDs.

What is REAL ID, and why do I need one?

I’ll keep this short and simple. To increase national security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed a law (called the REAL ID Act) that established minimum federal standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards. Pennsylvania’s standard-issue driver’s licenses do not meet those standards. Starting on October 1, 2020, our current standard-issued ID cards will no longer be accepted at certain federal establishments, including at airports.

On Friday, the state finally began issuing REAL ID cards, which do meet those federal standards. (I say “finally” because the Department of Homeland Security has granted Pennsylvania and a few other states several extensions after local officials repeatedly said they wouldn’t meet deadlines to implement the new IDs. In Pennsylvania, that’s because state law actually prohibited PennDOT from doing so until May 2017.)

So here’s your need-to-know takeaway from this guide, people: After October 1, 2020, you’ll need a REAL ID if you want to fly domestically or enter secure federal buildings with a license.

Ultimately, REAL IDs are optional: No one is forcing you to get one. You can still board domestic and international flights with a passport, of course. In fact, here are a few other things you won’t need a REAL ID for:

  • Driving
  • Voting
  • Applying for or receiving federal benefits
  • Accessing federal buildings that don’t require ID (like the post office)
  • Accessing a hospital
  • Participating in law enforcement proceedings or investigations (serving on a federal jury or testifying in federal court, for example)

But — once again — TSA agents will no longer accept current standard-issue driver’s licenses after October 2020, nor will security officers at secure federal facilities. That means you now have one year and seven months to get your hands on a REAL ID card if you don’t want to carry around your passport for access to these places.

How can you get a REAL ID card without making yourself absolutely miserable at the DMV? We’re so glad you asked.

How to obtain a REAL ID card

To get a REAL ID card, you’ll need original version or certified copies of the following documents:

  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of your Social Security number
    • An example includes your social security card
  • Proof of all legal name changes
    • Examples include your marriage license or a court order
  • Two proofs of your current Pennsylvania address
    • Examples include: your current, unexpired license; a bank statement; an auto insurance card; and/or a utility bill with your name and address

One other thing you’ll need to get a REAL ID? $30. This is a one-time fee that you can pay online or in person. For more information (because no one wants to make an extra trip to the DMV), visit PennDOT’s online document check page.

Moving on to the next step of the process, you can get a REAL ID card from the following three places:

  • The internet (for pre-verified customers only — more on that below)
  • Any PennDOT Driver License Center (This must be a DMV — unfortunately, you can’t get REAL ID cards through third-party servicing centers like the AAA in Ardmore)
  • A fancy new REAL ID Center

The internet option applies only to those who have already provided the required REAL ID documentation to any PennDOT Driver License Center. This means you have recently visited a PennDOT Driver License Center, where employees saved images of those documents to your record. Or, if you received your first Pennsylvania driver’s license, learner’s permit or photo ID card after September 2003, PennDOT may already have your required REAL ID documentation on file.

To check, you’ll have to access PennDOT’s quick-and-easy online pre-verification application process. You can find a link to that here. Once you’ve completed that application, you will receive follow-up communication from PennDOT regarding whether or not your documents are on file with the department. If they are, you can opt into the REAL ID program online.Your REAL ID will be sent through the mail within 15 business days after you complete the program. This option is ideal for people who loathe leaving home or interacting with the bureaucracy in the flesh.

If your documents aren’t already on file, you’ll need to visit a PennDOT Driver License Center or a REAL ID Center. At a PennDOT Driver License Center, you’ll need to have your documents verified and imaged. After doing so, you should receive your REAL ID in the mail within 15 business days. You can find your nearest PennDOT Driver License Center here.

If you visit a REAL ID Center, you can have your documents verified and imaged and receive your REAL ID at the time of service. But only 12 PennDOT centers are currently able to issue REAL IDs over the counter. The nearest location to Center City is ​2904 South 70th St., in Southwest Philadelphia. There’s also a center in King of Prussia, at 143 S. Gulph Road (near the mall), and in Norristown, at 1700 Markley St. For a full list of locations, click here.

What will my REAL ID look like, anyway?

The main difference is that REAL ID cards will be marked with a gold star. (Yay!)

Also, beginning this month, standard-issue driver’s licenses and ID cards will be clearly labeled with the words “Not for REAL ID Purposes,” per federal requirements.

Here’s a REAL ID card (on the left) beside a standard-issue driver’s license.

real id

Image via PennDOT

Whom should I contact for more information?

Should you need more information, these organizations can help.

The organization’s Real ID Frequently Asked Questions page should offer all the information you need.

Call 866-289-9673.