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You have one year to get a California Real ID. Here’s what you need to know

The clock is ticking for the millions of Californians who have yet to visit the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to get a federally mandated Real ID card.

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, people across the United States will need the special card to board airplanes or enter other federal facilities, such as prisons and military bases, without a passport or military ID.

The most recent data from the DMV shows just 5.4 million Californians have received cards since they started being issued in January 2018.

With the deadline approaching, the DMV believes it will need to process 15.2 million more Real IDs over the next 12 months, with 2.3 million extra cards being issued by the end of 2020.

The U.S. Travel Association, which represents a host of hotel companies and travel firms, commissioned a study last week showing most Americans don’t even know about the upcoming Real ID deadline, based on an online-only survey of 1,000 U.S. adults. According to the association, about 99 million Americans do not presently have a form of ID that would be accepted starting Oct. 1, 2020. The group estimates more than half a million people would be turned away during the first week of implementation, thus creating a $282 million hit to the industry through lost travel revenue.

“We’re extremely concerned because not only not only is this a significant number of folks who are unaware, but essentially that means that a huge number of people have to go the DMV between now and next year,” said Tori Barnes, the association’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy.

What documents do I need to bring?

  • Proof of identity: Passport, original or certified copy of birth certificate, permanent residency card. If your name has changed, you must bring in an additional document, such as a marriage certificate
  • Proof of Social Security number: Social security card, W-2 form, pay stub with full SSN
  • Two Proofs of residency: Rental or lease agreement, utility bill, tax returns, medical or employment documents

For a full list of list documents to bring, customers can visit the DMV’s website.

How do I get a Real ID?

The DMV has launched an education campaign to inform people about the documents they need to bring.

Last week, the DMV created a 5-minute video to better explain the process to customers. The department has also created a web page explaining how to get a Real ID.

As required by the federal government, all Californians must complete their transactions in person at a DMV field office. Customers are required to bring in a proof of identity, as well as name change documents.

Customers must also provide proof of their Social Security number, which could be done through a Social Security card, W-2 form a pay stub with a full SSN number or other eligible documents. Finally, they need to show the DMV two proofs of residency, such as a utility bill or lease agreement.

Those who don’t will have to come back to the DMV for a Real ID and may be stuck with a normal driver license in the meantime. Customers will get their license in the mail and can verify the accuracy of their Real ID by checking for a golden bear on the upper right hand corner of the card.

How do I avoid the long lines?

The DMV urges people to make appointments online. Appointments should be made far in advance, as there isn’t an available time slot for months. As of Sept. 27, the first available appointment in Sacramento isn’t until Dec. 13 — a wait of 11 weeks.

As the Oct. 1, 2020 deadline approaches, delays are only likely to go up, as more customers come in.

Regardless of whether you have an appointment, the process goes faster for customers who complete an online driver license and ID application before arriving at the DMV.

Where and when should I go?

If you want speedy service and don’t have an appointment, your best bet is to go to Napa, Fairfield or Jackson. The most crowded offices in the Sacramento region you’ll likely want to avoid are Folsom, Sacramento South and Vallejo.

In Modesto, Fresno North and Clovis, customers without appointments can see delays of over an hour. The average wait time in June for people without appointments in San Luis Obispo was 57 minutes.

At 68 locations across the state, including Sacramento, offices open at 7 a.m. four days a week — Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. If you’re an early riser, this is a good way to get things taken care of without having to miss or be late for work. For those who prefer to take care of business on the weekend, more than 60 offices are open on Saturday. The DMV says the best time to arrive on Saturday is after 1 p.m.

What happens if I don’t get a Real ID?

If you don’t have a Real ID by Oct. 1, 2020, nothing will change so long as you already have the correct documentation and remember to carry it with you when you enter federal facilities, such as airports.

But if you rely exclusively on your driver’s license right now when you fly domestically, you could be turned away at the airport next fall if you don’t visit the DMV for a Real ID.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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