(Last UPDATED 6/30/2021) DMV REAL ID – Description and review of the CA DMV process to upgrade a driver’s license to REAL ID. Note: See “Updates” below for new deadline and fee-free upgrade for a limited time (if you qualify).
Like many of you, I have been reading numerous articles about the l-o-n-g wait times statewide at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) field offices. DMV field offices are always busy – but thousands more people are flocking to the DMV since the state began issuing the new federally-mandated REAL ID cards earlier this year. I recently was one of them.
What is REAL ID?
REAL ID cards are driver’s licenses (or ID cards) that will serve as identification at federal airport security checkpoints for domestic flights starting in October,
2020 2021. It will also be accepted as identification to enter federal buildings. If you have and show a current passport or military ID you do not have to have a REAL ID to board a domestic flight after October 1, 2020 2021.
The DMV REAL ID Process
My driver’s license was going to expire early next year – so I decided that now was a good time to start the process of renewal and upgrade. It always feels good to cross a “have to do” off the list. Additionally, I did not want to deal with the upgrade during the holiday season.
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Appointment & Documents
I went online to make an appointment, and discovered that the first available appointment was 1 ½ months in the future!
Additionally, I made note of the documents I would need to have with me – my passport, a utility bill showing my address, and my social security card. (Note: See UPDATE below) The DMV does not accept payment by credit card, so I also made a mental note to myself to take my checkbook with me to the appointment. DMV does accept debit cards – but I cut my debit card up years ago due to security concerns.
If you don’t have a passport there are additional documents you will need to bring with you – all the details can be found on the DMV website (see link below).
ID.me & REAL ID Application
Finally, the day of my appointment was approaching. I went to the DMV website, opened an ID.me account (a secure account protected by a password), and filled out the application. Once it was completed I was issued an ID number which I printed out and took with me to the appointment. Using the ID number DMV staff was able to bring up and have access to my completed application. They printed out my application and all I had to do was sign and date it.
If possible, I really recommend filling the application online in advance. While I was in the last phase of the process – i.e. taking my 18 question driving knowledge exam – numerous applicants were crowding the small room where I sat to use the DMV computers to fill out their applications. At one point, for a short period, there were so many people who either wanted to fill out their application or take the knowledge test that those waiting were asked to wait outside the door until a computer became available.
DMV Written Test
Before my appointment I made a point of taking each of the sample tests on the DMV website. It had been a long time since I last took the written test and needed to brush up. You are given three opportunities to pass – but why take any chances?
Also keep in mind when you make your appointment that written exams are NOT administered after 4:30 p.m. If you schedule an appointment late in the afternoon you could be out of luck if a written exam is required!
To Sum Up
So, what was my experience? Concerned about parking and lines I arrived to my appointment early. I entered the building through the door reserved for those who have appointments, handed my application ID number to the clerk at the desk, and was given a number and instructed to have a seat until my number was called.
It was not a long wait before my number was called. I handed over my documents, took an eye exam, wrote out my check, and then was sent over to have my picture taken. Unfortunately, I do NOT take good photos – and this photo was no exception! Ugh!
I then entered the small (crowded) room to take my knowledge test, and received my temporary license upon successful completion of the test.
To sum up, it was slightly over an hour from the time I entered the building until I left. My takeaways – do as much as you can in advance and take with you the documents you need!
(6/30/2021) Earlier this month DMV announced that Californians who received driver’s licenses or ID cards during the pandemic, but did not get a REAL ID, can upgrade to REAL ID for no cost. The offer expires at the end of the year. Go to the DMV Real ID Upgrade Portal to take advantage of this offer.
(5/20/2021) As a result of the Congress passed REAL ID Modernization Act (part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021), applicants are no longer required to present their Social Security card when applying for a REAL ID.
(4/28/2021) The Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline for securing your REAL ID to May 3, 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(2/18/2021) The federal one-year extension is coming to an end as of October 1, 2021! If you still need a REAL ID it is time to start the process – millions of Californians will be doing the same.
(4/3/2020) All DMV offices are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The DMV is expanding the list of needed services that can be done on-line. Check out the DMV website to learn more.
(3/28/2020) The Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline by one year – to October 1, 2021 – due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(6/16/19) As had been widely reported in the press, the federal government advised the State of California that two documents to prove residency are required in order to be issued a REAL ID card. I had been one of the individuals who were issued a REAL ID card within the January 2018 – April 2019 time frame when the DMV was only requiring one such document. The DMV workaround to remedy the situation – send a letter to each individual who was issued a REAL ID card during this time period asking them to confirm that the mailing address to which the letter was sent is correct, and to sign and return the letter to the DMV.
I had been watching the mail expecting the letter – which I recently received. As I checked the appropriate box, signed the letter and placed it in the prepaid envelope I was grateful that the DMV had settled upon this easy and convenient way to ensure the continued validity of my REAL ID!
(10/4/19) Here are some helpful links from the DMV website:
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