California’s driver’s licenses are about to change. The California DMV will start issuing REAL ID driver’s licenses and identification cards on January 22. These licenses comply with new federal laws. Although Californians will be able to choose whether to use their old license or get a new REAL ID license, the new REAL ID licenses will be required for certain activities, such as boarding a plane.


In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act. The law was the result of a recommendation made by the 9/11 Commission, which highlighted the need for federal standards for state identification.

The REAL ID Act sets minimum security standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by states. Licenses and IDs that do not meet these standards cannot be used for federal purposes. This means that only REAL ID compliant licenses or ID cards can be used to access federal facilities, military bases and – most importantly for the average person – board domestic flights.

After the law was passed, states scrambled to change their licensing procedures to comply with the REAL ID Act. Many states, including California, filed for extensions – but California is now ready to start issuing the new licenses.

How to Get a REAL ID License

First of all, you don’t need to worry about getting your new license this second. Your old license is still valid (until its expiration date), and you won’t need a REAL ID to board planes until October 1, 2020. This give you plenty of time to act.

You can get your REAL ID license starting January 22. The DMV recommends scheduling an appointment. You’ll need to bring some extra documents to the DMV when you renew your license.

  • Bring proof of ID. Acceptable proof includes a U.S. birth certificate, a U.S. passport, a foreign passport with approved form I-94, an employment authorization document or a permanent resident card. You must show the original document or certified copy, and you cannot use expired documents.
  • Bring proof of your Social Security number. This could be your Social Security card or a W-2 or paystub with your complete Social Security number.
  • Bring proof of California residency. This could be a lease agreement, a mortgage bill, deed or a utility bill. Some employment, medical or school documents are also accepted.
  • If you have changed your name, bring documentation. This could include a marriage certificate, divorce decree or adoption documents.

You can see a complete list of accepted documents here.

If you don’t want a REAL ID license, you can still apply for non-compliant card when it’s time to renew your license. If you do so, remember that you won’t be able to use your license to access federally controlled areas after October 1, 2020. You can use other forms of ID, such as a passport, instead.

Non-compliant IDs are still valid until they expire. You don’t need a REAL ID card to drive. However, you do need great auto insurance. Dashers can help with that!