See more of the story

Joe Walter wanted to be ahead of the game. He knew that starting Oct. 1, 2020, he could not use his standard Minnesota driver’s license to get on domestic flights or enter federal facilities.

He needed a Real ID — a new type of identification available to Minnesotans that meets extra federal requirements.

So far, less than 10% of Minnesotans have obtained a driver’s license or state identification card that conforms to requirements of the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which Congress passed to guard against terrorism and fraud. With the deadline looming, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is pushing hard for state residents to get the new IDs marked with a gold star in the upper right corner.

Walter, who was at the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) office in downtown St. Paul in late December, said he flies a lot and wanted to beat the rush state officials expect as October approaches. But, like many people, he found that the process is more involved and requires more documentation than renewing his standard driver’s license.

“I hope I have everything,” said Walter, 36, of St. Paul, as he waited to be called to the window. “I hope I don’t have to come back.”

He wouldn’t be the first one. Many people have tried to get a Real ID, only to be turned way because they don’t have the correct documents with them, said Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

“That’s probably the one thing causing the biggest hiccups,” he said. “You need two documents proving residency. Have that before you walk in the office. Nobody likes to make two trips.”

Gordon admits the process can be confusing, so here is a primer on Real ID, who needs one and what documents to bring.

What is Real ID?

It is an identification card that meets minimum standards for proof of identity and residency set forth by the Department of Homeland Security and bears a gold star in the corner. For many people, it will be a driver’s license that meets the extra requirements; people without driver’s licenses can get state ID cards that comply with the Real ID requirements. A Real ID can be used for boarding domestic flights and entering military bases and other federal buildings.

Travelers without a Real ID will need a passport, passport card or Enhanced ID to board a domestic flight starting in October 2020.

What is Enhanced ID?

It’s a Real ID that also acts as a “mini passport,” allowing travelers to re-enter the United States by land or sea from Mexico, Canada and some Caribbean countries. It is marked with an American flag. An Enhanced ID cannot be used for international air travel.

Who needs a Real ID or Enhanced ID?

It depends on where people go and what other identification documents they have. Anyone 18 or older will need a Real or Enhanced ID — or a passport or a passport card — to board a domestic flight or visit a federal facility starting in October 2020. Travelers who are under 18 do not need the new ID cards.

Standard driver’s licenses and state ID cards will remain valid forms of ID for driving and activities such as cashing checks, Gordon said. Minnesotans who won’t fly or visit federal facilities can still use their standard driver’s licenses. New standard licenses will be marked with the words “Not for Federal Purposes.”

What documents are needed?

Applicants must bring one document to prove their identity and date of birth. Acceptable documents include an unexpired passport, a certified copy of a birth certificate or a certificate of citizenship. Applicants must also show proof of having a Social Security number by presenting a Social Security card, a W2 form showing taxes withheld from a paycheck for the current year, or a pay stub with name, address and Social Security number.

To prove Minnesota residency, applicants must show two documents, such as an unexpired Minnesota driver’s license, a credit card or bank account statement less than 90 days old, or a federal or state income tax return from the most recent filing year.

Walter thought he was good when he presented a Ramsey County property tax statement and a city water bill with his address. But a utility bill will not be accepted if two different names are on the bill. Walter’s wife, Laura, was listed along with his. That left him with just one form of proof.

“I won’t be able to issue you a Real ID today,” the clerk taking his application said as she handed him a list of acceptable documents to prove residency.

What if I changed names?

Applicants must bring proof of every name change over time. “Documents must show the name change from start to finish,” Gordon said. That means providing all birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees or documents for name changes approved by the court for each name change. “All steps must be shown,” he said, adding that documents can be obtained at the originating agency.

Is there a checklist somewhere?

All applications must be processed in person at a DVS office, but there is an online pre-application tool with a checklist of what documents to bring. All documents must be original or a certified document from the originating agency, Gordon said. Photocopies, laminated documents and digital copies downloaded to phones will not be accepted, he said.

How long does it take?

The turnaround time as of late December is four to six weeks, but that should drop in the new year as the state deploys more staff to processing applications, Gordon said. Still, he advises not to wait until the last minute.

“If you need one later in 2020, apply sooner,” Gordon said. “Make sure you have it in time for travel.”