What Philly needs to know about Real ID

The cost, requirements and timing for PA’s new driver’s licenses.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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Published Jan. 18, 2018; updated Mar. 18, 2019

The clock is ticking for old Pennsylvania driver’s licenses.

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.

The DMV began issuing the new cards in March 2019. Important disclaimer: Real IDs are optional. According to the Real ID Act, you won’t be required to upgrade in Pennsylvania by the stated 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.

Cost is $30 extra

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.

Lots of documentation needed

In order to nab one of the enhanced security badges, you’ll have to provide additional documentation, including:

  1. Proof of identity (one of the following)
    • birth certificate (with raised seal)
    • passport
    • certificate of citizenship
    • certificate of naturalization
  2. An original Social Security card
  3. Two proofs of current address (two of the following)
    • current driver’s license
    • Pa. vehicle registration
    • auto insurance card
    • compter-generated utility bill
    • tax records
    • a W-2 form
    • lease or mortgage documents
  4. Documents showing all legal name changes

Some can apply online

For residents who received their first PA driver’s license or ID card after September 2003 — which PennDOT estimated is around 3.5 million people — the agency may already have documents on file.

If you’re in that group, you can 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.

Not everyone will get one

PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Driver and Vehicle Services Kurt Myers told Billy Penn 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.

PennDOT has been raising 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.

The barriers can add up

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.

“Having identification is something I totally take for granted,”

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