License to fly

Real ID is necessary if you don’t have a passport.

A passport, Social Security card, and a property tax bill are among the things you'll need to get a Real ID at the RMV. - Lexi Pline

On Tuesday morning, just about a month ahead of my birthday, I headed to the Registry of Motor Vehicles on the Vineyard in the hunt for my Real ID.

Given the reaction in talking about the Real ID process, it’s clear to me people either don’t know about it or are confused by it. As of Oct. 1, you’ll either need a Real ID or a valid passport to fly domestically or to enter a federal building. The new ID is part of the Real ID Act of 2005, though Massachusetts received a waiver to provide time for implementation. Registry locations in Massachusetts began offering Real IDs in March 2018.

“We don’t want to panic people that they need a Real ID,” Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), said. “People would never need a Real ID [to fly] if they have a valid passport. Some people don’t fly, and don’t have a need to enter a federal building.”

You don’t need the Real ID, but it’s certainly easier to carry than a passport.

There is a slight uptick in the number of people getting Real IDs, according to MassDOT.

As of this month, there are 1,387,504 Massachusetts residents in possession of Real IDs.

Goddard said word from the RMV locations across the state is that people are taking the process in stride. “We recently reached out to the [registry branches], and it’s going well,” Goddard said.

The Real ID costs the same $50 as a standard license renewal, but there are a few more hoops to jump through. No. 1 is that you can’t renew online, though you can start the process there.

In the hopes of enlightening readers more, here’s what you need to know:

There’s an application online that the RMV recommends you fill out ahead of time. This will save you the time and frustration of being sent home only to go back to the RMV again with the proper documentation. (There are certain pieces of identification you need to bring, and this will help you gather them ahead of time; choosing the wrong ones could, potentially, cost you. For example, my wife brought a utility bill that had our address on it, but it was in my name. Fortunately, she had other documents, and the RMV clerk worked with her to find other pieces of identification that would serve as proof. And a word of caution: When you fill out the online application, you commit to bringing those documents. Make sure your name is on it. The online application does not let you go backward or edit.)

Here’s what you’ll need to get your real ID. One of the following:

  • A valid U.S. passport 
  • A certified copy of a birth certificate (I brought both a passport and a birth certificate. Hey, I was once a Boy Scout.)
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad, issued by the U.S. Department of State
  • Valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card
  • Temporary I-551 stamp in foreign passport
  • Unexpired employment authorization document issued by DHS
  • Unexpired foreign passport with a valid, unexpired U.S. visa affixed
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Re-Entry Permit (I-327)
  • Refugee Travel Document (I-571)


You’ll also need one of the following documents:


  • A Social Security Card, which cannot be laminated
  • A W-2 Form, which cannot be used for both Massachusetts residency and SSN requirements.
  • An SSA-1099 Form
  • A Non-SSA-1099 Form
  • A pay stub with the applicant’s name and full SSN on it, but it cannot be used for both Massachusetts residency and SSN.
  • An SSN Denial Notice with passport, visa, and I-94


You’ll need two of the following documents. For a standard ID, you need one.

  • A Massachusetts RMV-issued document
  • State/federal/municipal/city/town/county agency-issued documents (I used a property tax bill, for example)
  • A utility bill with your name and address on it
  • A lease or mortgage
  • Financial documents (I used a pay stub)
  • Financial-related documents
  • School-issued documents
  • Insurance-related documents


After hearing a lot of anecdotal problems with the process, I was extra-careful making sure I had all my documents, and the RMV made it easy because they give you a checklist based on your answers to the online application. I had a list and checked it twice. (OK, I’m not Santa, I actually checked it like 15 times, and brought more documentation than I really needed.)

In the end, the process was smooth. The most difficult part was that I didn’t follow directions, and moved before the photo for my Real ID was taken. No problem there, the RMV gives you a second chance to smile (and sit) for the camera.

The RMV on the Island is a treasure. Anyone who has ever been to the Plymouth or Yarmouth RMVs would concur. There are no lines, the clerks were super-helpful, upbeat, and even thanked me for being so well-prepared.


  1. Here’s a question. The story says you don’t need a read ld if you don’t fly or enter a federal building. What happens if you get called to jury duty for federal court and don’t have a real id or passport?

    • The court house is owned by the county, unless you had to go to a federal courthouse in Boston, Springfield or Worcester you would be all set.

  2. They want to see financial documents/proof of where you live/where you work? Sounds like Cronigs. Glad I don’t fly and don’t ordinarily go into federal buildings, but I can’t wait to get called for jury duty again, in which the building didn’t have any handicapped accessible entry to the basement room anyway, when I was called in this past May.

    • Just read over the Real ID act and you DO NOT need one to do any of the following

      * Drive
      * Vote
      * Apply for or receive federal benefits for which you’re entitled (Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration, etc.)
      * Enter a federal facility that does not require an ID (i.e. a post office)
      * Access a hospital or receive life-saving services
      * Participate in law enforcement proceedings or investigations (serve on a federal jury, testify in federal court, etc.)

  3. Thanks, I wasn’t aware that you needed anything more than a driver’s license as proof to fly domestically. This is really helpful.

  4. I am not really clear about the reason for having to get a “Real ID”!
    Question; Will process this in anyway, shape or form help out our island, county, state and country with our overwhelming problem with “Illegal Aliens”?
    If yes, how? **What is the exact reasoning for it**? Lastly is this Real ID Act mandatory nation wide?

    • Real ID was created to increase security posture and create some sort of standard as all states had different standards to security measures of their IDs. It is only mandatory if you want to fly (or go in a federal building that requires id) after Oct 1st and do not have a passport.

  5. Thanks pjaudiomv , Well at least it might help a little with our totally overwhelming problem with “Illegal Aliens” for when they have to go to Fed buildings when called in and also when they want to go visit their home countries with all the $$$$ they made here.

  6. Thanks for posting this information! I am still boggled by the fact that you need all of this information to get a license that you already provided 3 forms of ID back in the day to currently renew. I can see requiring this for a new applicant, but a current one makes no sense. That’s the government for ya.

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