If you’ve been putting off applying for your REAL ID card, 2024 may be the year you dig in and get it done.
The requirement for a new form of ID that meets federally mandated standards has been around since 2005, but the deadline for implementing it has been extended repeatedly since 2008. The current deadline of May 7, 2025 was set in December 2022 after the Department of Home-land Security announced another extension based on pandemic-related delays.
Although the identification standards are federal, each state has its own process for issuing the IDs. In Massachusetts, the Registry of Motor Vehicles has posted detailed information on its website to help people get all their information and forms together.
People can start the application online, including uploading necessary documents directly to the RMV on its website. A trip to the registry with those documents in hand is still required, but officials say the appointment will move more quickly this way.
Typically, the documentation needed is proof of a person’s legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, residence, and lawful presence. The RMV’s list of required documents to prove these conditions comes with alternatives should an individual not have one of the necessary forms.
The Social Security number, for example, can be proven even if you no longer have the original Social Security card you were given when you received your number. In its place, applicants can use a W-2 form, a pay stub that shows the full nine-digit number, or a few less common alternatives.
The difficulty for some will be in situations where a name has changed, older records are missing or hard to get, or other situations. In some cases, individuals may have trouble locating one or more of the documents, especially for older adults who may be looking for records created many years ago, well before the digital age.
In the South Coast, U.S. Rep. Bill Keating’s office has been able to assist a few individuals in finding the records they needed.
Michael Jackman, district director for Keating, said they were successful in helping a 75-year-old man after he was denied a REAL ID because he did not have a birth certificate, only a baptismal certificate.
“He was born in the state of New York, and he attempted to secure a copy of his birth certificate from the state of New York and the city of Erie (and Erie County) without success,” Jackman said via email. “He believed that the parents listed on his baptismal certificate were not his actual parents, but that a young “aunt” was his actual mother based on family lore he had heard over the years.”
Finding the information he needed was complicated because the man had no living relatives who could confirm any of the family history he’d heard. He tried multiple ways to get the necessary proof of his identity without success before reaching out to Keating’s office.
“A passport is one of the accepted documents to get a REAL ID, but because he didn’t have a birth certificate, the Passport office would not process his application. He also could not produce hospital, school or church records from before his 5th birthday which might have been accepted in lieu of a birth certificate,” said Jackman.
Keating’s office searched for any records to support the man’s lawful presence, eventually locating recently released U.S. census records for 1950 that recorded the family’s presence in Erie, NY.
“The passport office accepted these records, issued the passport, and he was able to get his driver’s license renewed,” said Jackman.
Another woman ran into trouble because her name was spelled differently on different records.
Born outside of the country, she had her birth certificate but the spelling of her name as a child was slightly different than what she used as an adult. That meant the name on her birth certificate didn’t match the name on her license, tax records, or social security card.
Again, Keating’s office was able to assist. In her case, Jackman said, the woman had to get her original birth certificate amended before she could apply for a REAL ID.
For anyone worried about obtaining necessary documents, it helps to start early so you have time to research records and/or reach out for assistance. Once the REAL ID deadline passes and it begins being enforced, those without one will not be able to board commercial flights or enter secure federal facilities.
For more information on applying for a REAL ID card, visit the RMV website at Information for the Real ID | Mass.gov.