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Michigan REAL ID: What Is It and Why Do I Need One To Fly?

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Image credit: Michigan Secretary of State

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says the REAL ID requirement is to satisfy a 2005 federal law, but you may not necessarily need one.

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The federal government will enforce tighter identification rules for people flying within the United States, and if you don’t have the right kind of ID, you won’t be able to board a domestic flight.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn BensonJake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, anyone planning to fly within the U.S. must meet the new REAL ID requirement, signified by a gold star on their driver’s license or state-issued ID card.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is trying to spread the word. She says Congress passed the REAL ID law in 2005. The goal was to tighten airport security after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

They found that each state had different security guidelines for issuing state IDs or driver’s licenses,” Benson says. “And some were weak enough to allow for illegal copying or altering.”


Here are some frequently asked questions about REAL ID from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Benson says without a REAL ID-compliant identification, people will not be allowed to enter military bases, nuclear power plants and certain other federal facilities. To get an ID that meets federal requirements, Michigan residents need to make an appointment at a Secretary of State branch office. 

Bring in your birth certificate, a valid U.S. passport, or any documentation that shows your legal presence in the country,” Benson says. “And if your name is different than what’s on any of those, bring certified documents for each time your name has changed.”

Benson says upgrading to a REAL ID-compliant card is free if you get one within your normal license or ID card renewal. She says you do not need to make the change if you have a valid U.S. passport, an enhanced driver’s license, or a Trusted Traveler card. REAL ID is also not required to drive a motor vehicle in Michigan.

Click on the player to hear Jocelyn Benson’s conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller and read a transcript, edited for clarity, below.

WDET’s Pat Batcheller: What is REAL ID?

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson: It’s a law that was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Congress wanted to tighten the rules for using identification at U.S. airports. They found that each state had different security guidelines for issuing their state IDs or driver’s licenses. And some were weak enough to allow for illegal copying or altering. That wasn’t necessarily the case in Michigan. Nevertheless, every single driver’s license and ID must now have a gold star on it indicating that it complies with these new federal security standards in order for it to be used so someone can fly with it or enter a federal building.

How do I get one?

Make an appointment at a Secretary of State branch office. Every branch now has appointments available. Bring in your birth certificate or a valid U.S. passport, or any document showing your legal presence in the country. If your name is different than what’s on any of those documents, you’ll need to bring certified documents for your name being changed. Bring all of that in and you’ll be able to be seen right away if you make an appointment and upgrade your driver’s license or state ID card to meet those new federal security requirements. If you do it when your license or ID is up for renewal, it won’t cost you any extra money. 

If I have a valid U.S. passport, do I still need the REAL ID?

You do not need a REAL ID to fly if you have a passport or an enhanced driver’s license. Either of those will continue to suffice to fly domestically. But if you want to fly domestically using your state-issued driver’s license or ID, it will need to have a gold star on it. Also, you do NOT have to go through this process if you don’t intend to fly with your driver’s license, or to legally drive a vehicle in Michigan. 

Can you explain in more detail how the law affects people who’ve changed their names?

If your name is different than what’s on your birth certificate or passport, you will need to bring in certified documents for every time your name has changed, such as marriage licenses or court orders. It’s important to verify your identity and your name. It is a bit more complicated. If your passport already has your updated name, you can bring that in and that will suffice. 

Pat Batcheller, Senior News Editor

Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician. Follow @patbwdet

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