REAL ID documents: Common mistakes and how to avoid them

Starting October 2020, Americans will need a REAL ID-compliant form of identification to get on a flight. (Courtesy AP/Gene J. Puskar)

If you’re getting on a plane to go see grandma for the holidays around this time next year, you’ll need a driver’s license that complies with the REAL ID requirements. And rounding up the appropriate documents to get one may take more time than you expect.

WTOP talked with leaders of area licensing agencies who shared some of the most common issues people are encountering with REAL ID documentation.

Do you have a Social Security card?

“Even your Medicare card now doesn’t have your Social Security number on it,” said Richard D. Holcomb, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Holcomb said a tax return is an acceptable way to prove your Social Security number.

“But please redact all of the personal financial information, because we have to copy and store that document,” Holcomb said.

Documents should have names that match

“Females can have a number of name changes from when they go from a married name, maybe they’re divorced and maybe they’re remarried,” said Gabriel Robinson, director of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

Holcombe agrees that’s a common issue. “Someone may not have been smart enough to have their married name added to their birth certificate when they were born,” he quipped.

Some people however, already have a quick fix on hand for the multiple-name problem.

“A passport in many cases clears all that up,” Robinson said.

Is that really a birth certificate?

“There are some documents that are issued by hospitals [that] might have a footprint on it and they’re more commemorative in value,” said Administrator Chrissy Nizer, of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. “We’re only allowed to accept a document issued by a local or state health department.”

Some folks trying to get document problems resolved describe having great difficulty obtaining supplementary paperwork, such as an official marriage license from a town across the country to prove they were born with the name that’s on their birth certificate.

There are more than a dozen alternative forms of identification, such as a passport or Department of Defense ID card, that the Transportation Security Administration will accept to allow people on domestic flights after the Oct. 1, 2020, REAL ID deadline.

“But it’s best if you bring your driver’s license with your REAL ID star,” said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.

“Why? Because who wants to carry around all those other things?” said Farbstein. “It’s much more convenient to have your REAL ID license in your wallet, because you’re going to carry that pretty much every day anyway.”

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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