REAL IDs In Massachusetts: You Asked, We Answered

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A comparison of a standard license and a REAL ID (Courtesy
A comparison of a standard license and a REAL ID (Courtesy

Editor's Note: The Department of Homeland Security has once again pushed the REAL ID enforcement date to May 7, 2025. Visit the Massachusetts RMV's website for more information. Below is a FAQ published earlier, when the anticipated start of REAL ID enforcement was Oct. 1, 2020.

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is closed through Monday morning while updated software is installed that will allow the offices to issue new, federally compliant REAL IDs.

The new IDs will be available in the state beginning Monday but are not actually required to fly in the U.S. or to enter a federal building until October 2020.

We asked our readers to send us their questions about the new REAL ID cards. Here are some of the basics:

No Need To Freak Out And Run To The RMV

Unless your Massachusetts driver's license happens to expire on Monday, you don’t have to worry about getting a new ID right away. If you currently have a valid driver's license or state ID, it's going to stay valid until its current expiration date.

You will be able to fly with that valid Massachusetts driver’s license until October 2020 but after that point, you will need a REAL ID or a valid passport or passport card to board a flight — even a domestic flight.

What Exactly Does This Mean For Flying?

OK, let's play out some scenarios to get at this:

If you don't fly all that much, or ever, and if you don't frequent federal facilities or nuclear power plants, then you probably don't need to worry that much about getting a REAL ID.

If you have a valid passport or a passport card, you can use that document to fly in place of getting a new REAL ID (here are some other documents you can use to fly in lieu of a new REAL ID).

And remember, you have until October 1, 2020, to keep flying on an unexpired, standard Massachusetts driver's license. The question for some people might be: Which is more convenient, toting my passport around even for domestic flights, or getting the new REAL ID and using that documentation to board domestic flights, after October 2020? (Valid passports will still be required for international travel.)

Minors under the age of 18 flying domestic with a companion will not need a REAL ID.

How Much Will A REAL ID Cost Me?

The short answer is a new REAL ID will cost the same as a standard license: $50.

Judi Levin wrote to us with a specific question: "I just renewed my license in September. Will I have to pay again to get a REAL ID?"

So, she renewed her license in 2017 and assuming she got the standard, five-year renewal that means her current license would be valid until 2022. Until October 2020, her current license will still get her on a plane or into a federal building. After October 2020, she can still keep her current standard license if she doesn't mind bringing a valid passport or passport card to the airport.

So if she waits until 2022 and decides to get a REAL ID at the time she renews her license, it will cost $50. But if she wants to go ahead and convert her current driver's license to a REAL ID now, she's looking at a $25 amendment fee.

What Documentation Do I Need To Provide?

This part of the process is getting more complicated for everyone, whether you want the new REAL ID or decide to stick with the standard Massachusetts license or state ID. That's because everyone, from now on, needs to prove U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in the country when renewing their license.

Here's a summary of some of the paperwork and documents you should dig up if you want a new REAL ID in Massachusetts:

  • One document showing your Social Security Number (such as: SSN card; W-2 form; pay stub with your name and SSN).
  • One document proving your U.S. citizenship or lawful presence (such as: valid U.S. passport or passport card; certified copy of U.S. birth certificate; certificate of citizenship or naturalization; permanent resident card; foreign passport with valid U.S. visa).
  • Two documents proving Massachusetts residency (such as: state-issued professional license with photo; utility bill, credit card or medical statement, lease or mortgage dated within 60 days).

If you're a student and don't have any utility bills, for instance, you can also provide a tuition bill or a school transcript as proof of residency.

Pack all of that up and head to the RMV because you cannot apply for a new REAL ID online. New applications must be done in person.

If you're planning to simply renew your standard driver's license, you'll still need to provide one of the above documents proving your Massachusetts residency and provide proof of your citizenship or lawful presence. You may be able to do that all online.

 What Do These New Requirements Mean For Non-U.S. Citizens?

Gov. Charlie Baker signed these new requirements into law back in 2016 to get Massachusetts in line with federal requirements that were established way back in 2005, after information came out following the September 11 terrorist attacks showing that some of the attackers had fraudulent documents.

It's been a slow roll-out across the country and here in Massachusetts, we're just now addressing these new guidelines.

Some immigrant advocates say the new requirement to prove citizenship or lawful presence in the U.S. will further isolate some immigrants, both documented and undocumented, who are already living in fear under President Trump's deportation enforcement priorities. There's also a lot of uncertainty with temporary immigration programs like DACA and Temporary Protected Status, which can lead to further confusion.

What we do know is that if you're not a U.S. citizen, there are other documents you can show to prove you're in the country lawfully, including not limited to: a valid foreign passport with a U.S. visa; an employment authorization card; a permanent resident card; a refugee travel document; or an asylum approval document.

This article was originally published on March 23, 2018.

This segment aired on March 23, 2018.


Shannon Dooling Investigative Reporter
Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



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