Only about 42% of Americans have a passport, according to the BBC. That number has gone up in the last 20 years; in 1997 only 15% of Americans had one. And while the increase is impressive, more than half of Americans are still relying on their driver's license as identification when they take a domestic commercial flight. But that may be about to change.

You'll still be able to use your driver's license for flights within the United States, but you'll need to make sure the license complies with the new REAL ID regulations. If you've flown recently, you may have seen signs about the REAL ID requirements at the airport. Congress passed this legislation in 2005, partly as a response to the 9/11 attacks, according to USA Today. Now, after almost 15 years of extensions and delays, the legislation is coming to a head, and REAL ID will become a requirement on domestic commercial flights. But what is it? And how will you get it?

What Is REAL ID?

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REAL ID is legislation that increases security on driver's licenses and other photo identification cards. In the past, it was up to each state to set the requirements for obtaining a driver's license. Some states made it easier than others. The REAL ID laws set nationwide requirements to get an identification card, including a driver's license. It also increases the security on the cards themselves to prevent forgery.

The increased security is in response to how easily many of the 9/11 hijackers were able to obtain driver's licenses falsely, according to The Washington Post. Those IDs allowed them to board the airplanes that were later used in the terror attacks. To prevent airline terrorism, and responding to the need for stricter identification requirements, Congress passed the laws. States have had time to change their systems over to meet the REAL ID requirements. Air travel is actually the last phase of the REAL ID program. Some government facilities have required REAL ID since 2014, according to The Washington Post.

Keep in mind that passengers under the age of 18 are not required to show identification on domestic flights, so children will not need REAL ID-compliant identification with them. Be sure you know all the do's and don'ts of flying with children.

You can learn more about REAL ID and get answers to frequently asked questions on the Department of Homeland Security's website.

How to Get REAL ID

You may already have a REAL ID and not know it. While some states are still working under extensions to become compliant, others are already issuing the secure ID cards. The best way to check is to look at your driver's license itself. If you see a star in the upper right-hand corner, then your ID is already compliant with REAL ID regulations. You are all set for the October 1, 2020,

deadline.

If you don't see the star, though, then you'll want to get your identification renewed before you take your next domestic flight. Or you'll need to use alternative identification, such as a passport. If you choose to use your driver's license, then you'll need to contact your state's driver's license agency. The renewal process may be more complicated than a standard renewal due to the new security requirements. You will have to provide the state with additional proof of your identification and citizenship status.

To get a REAL ID, you'll need to show:

  • Two forms of proof of address (i.e., utility bills, rental agreements)
  • Proof of identity (i.e., valid birth certificate)
  • Proof of citizenship status (i.e., U.S. birth certificate, proof of residency card)
  • Proof of social security number (i.e., social security card, W-2 form)

States are requiring REAL ID applicants to go through the process in person, too, so you may not be able to do it online. That's true even if you've had a state-issued driver's license for decades.

Be aware that there may be an increased price for a REAL ID. Upgraded Points has a handy map that lays out the cost of a new driver's license under the REAL ID regulations. Those increased costs are thanks to the extra work involved in verifying and creating the new IDs.

What If You Don't Have It?

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The TSA will require REAL ID during airport check-in starting October 1, 2020. That's why you are seeing signs in the airports now. The agency is trying to give the public as much notice as possible. They are hoping that the extra time will help to ensure passengers have the correct identification to board their flight once REAL ID laws go into effect. If you don't have a REAL ID by October 1, 2020, then you will need to show additional proof of your identity. Otherwise, the TSA may not allow you to board your flight.

If for some reason you cannot — or don't want to — get a REAL ID-compliant driver's license, there are a few options available. The easiest one may be to go ahead and get your passport. The process takes six to eight weeks, according to the State Department. Of course, obtaining a passport means you will have to show the same paperwork that a REAL ID would require, so it may not save you any hassle. However, if you plan on traveling outside the United States at some point in the future, it's worth going ahead and getting it done.

Otherwise, the TSA has a list of suitable identification that will get you through an airport checkpoint. The TSA may also allow you to board your flight without identification if you go through an additional screening process. But if you can't prove your identity, then you won't be able to get on your flight. It's one of those rookie travel mistakes you'll want to avoid at all costs.

With less than a year to go before REAL ID is a nationwide requirement for air travel, now is the time to ensure you have the correct identification. As the deadline approaches, there is likely to be a rush of people renewing their driver's licenses, which could lead to a backlog and long wait times. You'll want to avoid the rush, especially if you have travel plans coming up. Visit your state driver's license agency's website and learn more about how to get your REAL ID before your next flight.