California DMV debuts new REAL ID driver’s license

After 2020, your old California driver’s license will not get you through airport security gates.|

A current California driver’s license will enable you to buy a drink at a bar, rent a car or open a bank account, but in about three years it won’t get you aboard an airplane for a domestic flight.

In compliance with a post-9/11 mandate by Congress and a Department of Homeland Security directive, the Department of Motor Vehicles on Monday began issuing REAL ID driver’s licenses and identification cards, distinguished by the golden bear and star in the upper right-hand corner.

Come Oct. 1, 2020, the card by itself will allow you to pass through a Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoint or enter a military base or most federal facilities. Until then, any valid California license or ID card will get you in, and even after that date other options are available.

Consequently, there is no need to rush out for a REAL ID card - which will require an in-person visit to a DMV office with certain documents - and the DMV wasn’

“We aren’t seeing longer than usual lines today,” said Jessica Gonzalez, a DMV spokeswoman. “We know that some people are just learning about REAL ID, so we want to take this opportunity to make sure they are aware of the process and what they need to apply for one.”

There are about 365,000 licensed drivers in Sonoma County.

Californians applying for a new or renewed driver’s license now have the choice between the REAL ID card or what’s now known as a “federal noncompliant” card, both $35.

Both bear the image of a gold miner on the right side and California poppies at the bottom left, under the driver’s color photograph. Ultraviolet light reveals an image of the driver’s photo, birth date, Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower.

The golden bear graces the REAL ID card, while the regular card says “Federal limits apply” above the miner’s head.

Residents do not need the REAL ID card to drive, apply for or receive federal benefits, visit a hospital or receive life-saving aid, or enter a federal facility, such as a post office, that does not require identification.

And by showing a valid U.S. passport or passport card, you can still board an airplane, enter a military base or secure federal building, military identification or other form of TSA-approved ID.

To apply for a REAL ID card at a DMV office, residents must bring 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.

Also required are proof of a Social Security number (such as a card, W-2 or pay stub with the full number) and a California residency document (rental or lease agreement, mortgage bill, utility bill or employment, medical or school document). A name change document such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree may be required.

The law behind it all - the REAL ID Act of 2005 - was intended to standardize driver’s license standards nationwide.

The DMV recommends making an appointment for an office visit, which may be done online at For information on the new licenses, go to

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