real ID va. standard

A Real ID (left) looks like a standard Virginia driver’s license, except that it has a star in the upper right corner. Unless you’ve renewed your license since October 2018, it has nothing in the upper right corner.

Janice May wants to tell you a little adventure story she and her 88-year-old mom, Eunice May, had recently.

It was a visit to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. They moved here this past spring, from Atlanta, Georgia. And they needed some Virginia ID.

They elected to apply for Real ID, rather than typical Virginia driver’s licenses. Real ID is a type of identification the commonwealth began offering in October 2018.

Congress created it with a federal law back in 2005. It stems from attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and it’s about to get very important. If you don’t have a valid passport, you’ll need a Real ID to board a domestic airline flight beginning Oct. 1, 2020. You’ll also need a Real ID to get into any secure federal building.

The two women showed up at the DMV before it opened one morning in May and waited in a line outside for about 30 minutes, Janice said. Eunice, who has mobility impairments, leaned on her walker most of that time. After the doors opened, they spent about 30 more minutes in a line just inside, until they reached the initial counter.

They waited about 30 minutes before they were called, Janice said. With her, she’d brought along her Georgia license, her birth certificate, her Social Security card, a U.S. Postal Service change of address form and a court order that showed she’d changed her surname back to her maiden name after a divorce.

The DMV worker accepted those documents and issued Janice a temporary ID. About two weeks later, she received her Real ID Virginia driver’s license in the mail.

But things didn’t go so smoothly for Eunice, who’s a widow.

Her last name — May — is her married name. That was a hitch, because Eunice’s surname didn’t match the one on her birth certificate, which bears her maiden name. Although Eunice had the same documents as Janice (except for a divorce decree), Eunice didn’t have her marriage certificate from 69 years ago in Florida. She couldn’t document her name change. So she left empty-handed.

This kind of thing is happening more and more frequently at DMV offices these days, said Brandy Brubaker, the agency’s spokeswoman. The federal deadline for Real IDs is just a bit more than 13 months distant.

Roughly 5.9 million Virginians hold Virginia driver’s licenses, but less than 10 percent of those are Real ID-compliant, Brubaker said.

“We just issued the 585,000th Real ID,” Brubaker said. Although not everyone will want or need a Real ID, the agency expects 2.6 million people will.

And because a Real ID requires an in-person visit to the DMV, a crunch at its 75 stationary (and 12 mobile) offices could be in the offing.

“We have staffed up, so we have more people ready to serve,” Brubaker said. “We’re suggesting people do themselves a favor and not wait until next year.”

Do the math and it’s easy to understand why. If the agency issues 2.1 million Real IDs between now and Oct. 1, 2020, that works out to an average of about 162,000 per month. Divide that by 87 offices, and we’re talking about roughly 1,900 more people per month at each DMV office.

Every one of the Real ID seekers is going to need identity and residency documents, like Janice and Eunice May took to the DMV in Roanoke County in May.

Virginia birth and marriage certificates are available at DMV offices, Brubaker said. But if you were born or married outside Virginia, and you don’t have those papers, you might need to get them before you can get a Real ID.

There are a few quirks with the necessary identity and residency documents.

Married women who have a passport displaying their married name don’t need their marriage certificates. People who can’t find their Social Security cards can instead bring a W-2 wage statement. That’s the tax form an employer sends to every employee each January. Those must display a person’s name and full Social Security number, Brubaker said.

“You can blacken out financial information; we don’t need that,” she said.

For residency, a current Virginia driver’s license and one other document, such a utility bill or bank statement with your name and address, will suffice.

It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone will need a Real ID.

If you have a valid passport, that will get you on a domestic flight or into a secured federal building after Oct. 1, 2020. If you never fly airlines or visit federal buildings, you won’t need a Real ID.

Eunice May ultimately got her Florida marriage certificate from that state’s Department of Vital Records.

But “we haven’t gotten the Real ID [for Eunice] because she doesn’t want to pay for it,” Janice May told me. The payment is another consideration.

Brubaker said for Real ID, the DMV charges a one-time $10 in addition to the normal $32 driver’s license renewal fee. The same applies to Real ID state identification cards.

The key to getting either, Brubaker said, is “showing up prepared.”

The DMV has a list of the necessary documents on its website at

“A lot of people are showing up prepared,” she said. “But some people forget a document, or bring the wrong version. If you’re not sure, you can always bring too much.”

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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