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FAQ: What you really need to know about Real ID

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Preparing for a drivers test
Talia Edelheit, 16, tries to calm herself before taking a driver's license road test at at the MInnesota Department of Public Safety location in Arden Hills, Minn.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2011

After years — yes, years — of political back-and-forth, Real ID is really here

Now that it's the law, you may have some questions. Here are the answers.

What's different about a Real ID?

Real IDs will look pretty much same as the old IDs. The difference is you'll need to bring more stuff to Driver and Vehicle Services, or DVS, to get one. In addition to the usual stuff, you'll need two verified documents showing place of residence — like a utility bill, a rental lease, etc. — and you'll need to sign that all documents presented are correct.  

When can I get one?

Oct. 1, 2018, at the very latest. 

When do I have to get it by?

Oct. 1, 2020. 

What if my ID expires before I can get a Real ID?

You'll need to renew your regular ol' ID and then re-renew when Real IDs are available before the hard deadline of Oct. 1, 2020. For example, if your ID expires next week, you need to get a new ID and then renew your license again before Oct. 1, 2020. 

What if my ID expires after I can get a Real ID?  

For people who like to get things done early, it will be possible to get a Real ID as soon as they're available. But there will be some additional fees: $2 to get a Real ID 17 months before your ID's expiration, $4 for 18-29 months ahead of time, and $6 for more than 29 months ahead of time. (There is most certainly logic behind this fee structure, but it's outside the purview of this FAQ)   

Do I have to get one?

Actually, no! The DVS will continue issuing non-Real IDs that say "Not for Federal Purposes," but you won't be able to use them to fly — even domestically — or enter military facilities. So, hypothetically, you could get a non-Real ID and then use your passport for federal stuff. 

Who would want to do that?

It's a free country. 

What if I got one of those enhanced IDs?

It counts for air travel but won't necessarily be accepted at all federal facilities. (These are the IDs the DVS started issuing back in 2014 at an additional cost.)

How much will a Real ID cost?

About $18, for the typical driver. They're not going to be more expensive than non-Real IDs. 

What about those concerns I had about personal privacy and government overreach?

You're still entitled to have them. Nothing changed about the federal requirements for a Real ID to assuage your concerns. 

What if I'm an undocumented immigrant?

You still can't get an ID. It's always been the rule that the DVS does not issue IDs to immigrants in the country illegally, but it's not explicitly against the law. That means the governor could change the rules to let undocumented immigrants get state IDs. Republicans want it to be against the law. 

What took so long getting this approved?

You're right, it did take a long time. Minnesota was the last state in the Union to adopt Real ID standards. This whole saga began back in 2005 when President George W. Bush ushered through a law that increased standards for getting an ID. 

Traditionally, Republicans did not like having to provide extra identifying documents to the DVS because it felt like government overreach. But after 9/11, many Republicans warmed to the idea, but not all. In 2009, the Minnesota Legislature actually banned state agencies from complying with (and even talking about!) the new standards. Later, in 2013, the federal government set a deadline of January 2018 to fall in line. So, the Legislature resumed debate on Real ID in 2016. This go-around, Republicans wanted extra language saying unauthorized immigrants cannot get drivers licenses. Democrats didn't. 

In the end, the Legislature and the governor supported a version that did not include that language, with Republicans saying they would put it into the Public Safety Bill instead. The governor opposes it there, too, and that bill has not passed.