What you need to know about the ‘REAL ID’

How to tell the difference: The REAL ID Driver License features a bear and star marking while the Federal Non-Compliant Driver License includes a “Federal Limits Apply” marking. (California DMV)

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) started offering federal compliant REAL ID driver licenses and identification cards beginning Jan. 22.

This optional card is being made available to Californians who want to continue to use their driver license or ID card to board a domestic flight or enter secure federal facilities when new federal requirements take effect Oct. 1, 2020. Californians will have the choice to apply for a REAL ID driver license or ID card, or renew or apply for a federal non-compliant card.

When REAL IDs started being issued, news outlets reported that if you renewed your license after Jan. 22 and you didn’t opt for the Real ID, you were not able to buy a gun.

However, a new ruling came out in March, which ties in with the Safe and Responsible Driver Act or “AB 60.” The act requires the DMV to issue driver’s licenses and IDs to individuals who are unable to provide proof of their lawful presence in the United States. Since those individuals are generally prohibited from owning or possessing firearms, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) clarified its position on non-REAL IDs in an open letter to all California firearm dealers, stating that AB 60 licenses cannot be used to purchase a firearm.

ATF found – following confirmation from the DMV – that despite non-REAL IDs and AB 60 IDs both having the same “FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY” language on the front, AB 60 IDs will have additional language on the back which states “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes.” IDs issued to citizens and lawful residents will not have this language.

As a result, citizens and lawful residents may use non-REAL IDs issued by the DMV when purchasing or transferring firearms. But California firearm dealers must ensure that the provided ID is not an AB 60 license by looking on the back of the license to confirm the AB 60 language is not there.

“We want to make sure Californians are prepared to apply for a REAL ID driver license or ID card, if they choose,” said DMV Director Jean Shiomoto. “Customers need to visit a DMV field office and bring original or certified documents with them when applying for a REAL ID.”

To apply for a REAL ID license or ID card, you must do the following:

  • Make an appointment (recommended) to visit a DMV field office.
  • Provide proof of identity, such as a certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, employment authorization document, permanent resident card or foreign passport with an approved form I-94.
  • Present proof of your Social Security number, such as an SSN card, W-2 or paystub with full SSN.
  • Show a California residency document, such as a rental or lease agreement, mortgage bill, utility bill or employment, medical or school document.
  • An original or certified copy of a name change document, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree, may be required.

However, there is no need to rush into a DMV field office. Until Oct. 1, 2020, a valid California driver license or ID card can be used for federal purposes, including boarding a domestic flight and entering military bases or secure federal facilities. After that date, only a REAL ID card or other federally approved documents will be accepted, such as a U.S. passport, passport card or military ID.

If you know you will not be boarding a domestic flight or visiting secure federal facilities or military bases, you do not need a REAL ID driver license or ID card.

You do not need a federal compliant REAL ID to do the following:

  • Drive
  • Apply for or receive federal benefits
  • Enter a federal facility that does not require ID (post office)
  • Visit a hospital or receive life-saving services

REAL ID and federal non-compliant cards are both valid forms of identification. All driver licenses, including REAL ID driver licenses cost $35. ID cards cost $30.

Once you obtain a REAL ID driver license or identification card, you’re good to go. Once you are ready to renew it, you will not need to re-apply as it will renew automatically as a REAL ID.