What is REAL ID? Things to know before it goes into effect in WA

Some Washington driver's licenses and identification cards that are marked with the words "federal limits apply" may need to be upgraded as the state moves to fully comply with a federal law that increased rules for identification needed at airports and federal facilities.

The 2005 federal law — known as the REAL ID Act— requires state driver's licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and to be issued to people who can prove they are legally in the United States.

Washingtonians will need to have a REAL ID-compliant form of identification if they want to fly in U.S. airports, enter federal buildings or military bases, or drive across borders.

Washington already offers, but does not mandate, "enhanced" driver's licenses and IDs. If you don't want to carry around a second form of identification to fly or go into a government building, you'll need to upgrade your current license to an Enhanced Drivers License (EDL). 

Enforcement goes into effect on May 7, 2025, so you have a full year. 

The mandate was supposed to go into effect several times now over the last few years but was pushed back for COVID-related suspensions. 

Do you have to get a REAL ID? 

This really only impacts people who have standard driver's licenses and IDs. You can still travel across state lines and use it as a valid identification for purchases or other things. However, these licenses, if they were issued after July 2018, will say "federal limits apply." That just means you can't fly domestically, cross the border or enter federal buildings without a second form of identification, like a passport or Green Card. 

Non-REAL ID compliant ID, as marked by "federal limits apply."

What is the difference between a REAL ID and an Enhanced Driver's License? 

REAL ID is a law, not an actual piece of ID. You will be able to fly within the United States with an Enhanced Driver's License. As long as your license doesn't say "federal limits apply," you're good to go. 

Per the law, there are many pieces of existing identification options that will work including:

  • Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)
  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • An acceptable photo ID issued by a federally recognized, Tribal Nation/Indian Tribe
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential
  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)

A weapon permit is not an acceptable form of identification. A temporary driver's license is not an acceptable form of identification for REAL ID. 

How to upgrade a standard WA license to an Enhanced Driver's License

Use the DOL's enhanced document checklist to find out what you should bring. 

After you've collected your documents, make an appointment to apply at a driver's licensing office near you. Make sure to: 

  • Leave enough time for your appointment including a document review and in-person interview. Applications are accepted up to 60 minutes before closing.
  • Allow 2 weeks to receive your EDL in the mail. You'll get a temporary EDL before you leave, but you can't use it at border crossings.

If your first license is an EDL, it'll cost you $116, and would be valid for five years. There is a $35 application fee and a $16 per-year issuance fee. 

If you already have a standard license, you can upgrade it for anywhere from $7 to $56 a year, depending on how long your license is valid for. 


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