Updated Jan. 18
For Pennsylvania drivers, the clock is ticking on their old licenses. It’s a little more than a year until Pa. introduces new, REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses — but Philadelphians still don’t know much about them.
Some background: The Department of Homeland Security has mandated that all states be compliant with its REAL ID licensing program to improve the security of state-issued driver’s licenses and reduce identity fraud. For Pennsylvanians, that’ll require a trip to PennDOT, since current Pa. licenses are not in compliance. March 2019 is when the DMV will begin issuing the new cards. You won’t be required to upgrade your license, but you won’t be able to board a plane with a non-REAL ID after that 2020 deadline (you’ll have to use a passport instead).
If it seems confusing, there’s more. A new license will run you $60.50 — as opposed to the usual $30.50 PennDOT renewal fee — because it’ll include a one-time $30 Pa. REAL ID charge. The REAL IDs will last you four years, plus any remaining time on your regular license if it wasn’t already expired. After you pay the one-time $30 charge, the price of renewal will drop back to the usual $30.50.
Plus, in order to nab one of the enhanced security badges, you’ll have to provide quite a bit of additional documentation, including:
- a birth certificate
- a Social Security card
- documents showing all legal name changes
- two proofs of current address
There’s a workaround for some folks. Residents who received their first PA driver’s license or ID card after September 2003 — which PennDOT said is around 3.5 million people — the agency may already have documents on file. If you’re in that group, you’ll be able to go online to check if your docs are there, and if so, fill out a form so that PennDOT can mark your record as “verified.” If you’re lucky enough to have that status, you’ll be able to apply for and receive REAL ID via mail.
Important disclaimer: REAL IDs are optional. According to Act 3 of the REAL ID Act, you won’t be required to upgrade in Pennsylvania by that October 2020 deadline. But residents who don’t upgrade won’t be able to use their licenses to board a plane or enter a military facility.
Is Philly ready for the big driver’s license switch? Doesn’t seem like it — at least not yet.
Felix Berrios, 62, of Fairmount, said he’d never even heard of REAL IDs. His current license doesn’t expire for another three years, so he doesn’t plan to upgrade any time soon.
But if he wants to get on a plane after October 2020, Berrios might not have a choice. His passport is already expired.
“If you’re traveling as a citizen within the United States, why do you need more ID? Why do you need to go through all this security?” Berrios said. “It’s bogus.”
Berrios isn’t alone. Nicole Chaney, 36, had never heard of the REAL IDs either. She has a passport, so she’s not worried about boarding a plane, but she’s concerned about how the increased cost will impact her neighborhood.
“I think it’s another barrier for low-income people with few resources,” Chaney said. “We live in Brewerytown, and after talking with folks here I’ve realized how challenging it can be for people to get and maintain licenses.”
The barriers add up, Chaney said. Some of her neighbors have trouble coming up with the existing $30 license renewal fee, and they can’t miss work to make it to the DMV during office hours.
“Having identification is something I totally take for granted,” Chaney said.
PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Driver and Vehicle Services Kurt Myers told Billy Penn in October that he expects just over 10 percent of the approximately 10.6 million Pennsylvania residents with driver’s licenses or ID cards will upgrade by October 2020. Only another 1.2 million people are expected to get REAL ID after that deadline.
This spring, PennDOT plans to raise awareness about the REAL ID through social media and marketing campaigns, as well as by sending mailers to driver’s license holders.
Takeaway: If you’re planning to fly after October 2020 and you want to board without a passport, you’ll need to get to the DMV, show all that extra identifying documentation, and pay the $60.50. You can do this starting next March.
If you can’t pull all this off, there’s always another option: pack up and move to Florida.
Just don’t try to fly there.