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Like probably most of the rest of the US, I'm currently staying home with very, very few exceptions. My driver's license however expires in May (now extended 60 more days), and I have never had a RealID. I also do not have a currently valid passport (it expired and was issued >15 years ago so cannot be renewed now.) I would like to get a RealID only because I don't want to be restricted on domestic flying (not that I ever do it, but still I would prefer to have the option just in case).

I see that an extension has been granted on license renewals which is nice I suppose, but all I see about getting a RealID is that you still have to go into your physical DMV. I don't even actually know if my local DMV is open, but even if it is I don't want to be spending time there.

What are the currently-available options for obtaining a RealID for the first time in California?

Additionally if the only option for RealID is in-person, but my license is expiring shortly, do I just have to pay to renew my license now, and pay again some day in the future to get a Real ID (presumably after the COVID stuff has passed)?

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    If you meet the conditions, renewing your passport may be easier. You would need a current passport anyway for international travel. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 20 at 17:19
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    Unfortunately I'm not eligible to renew as my passport was issued well over 15 years ago. Looks like in-person is again the only option. – JVC Apr 20 at 17:23
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    Luckily the REAL ID deadline has been pushed back yet again to October 1, 2021: dhs.gov/real-id – Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain Apr 20 at 18:26
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    If they don't reopen DMV offices, I expect they'll extend drivers licenses again. It would be a horrible Catch-22 to let licenses expire when some people can't renew them. – Barmar Apr 21 at 16:20
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    Not sure about California, but in NM when Real ID went in to effect, they would renew unexpiring older licenses while pro-rating the cost to account for the 'unused' time you paid for. – Jon Custer Apr 22 at 18:50
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The only answer at this time is to wait for the DMV to reopen or the passport offices to reopen. The good news is you have a lot more time to get this

Due to circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the national emergency declaration, the Department of Homeland Security, as directed by President Donald J. Trump, is extending the REAL ID enforcement deadline beyond the current October 1, 2020 deadline. I have determined that states require a twelve-month delay and that the new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is October 1, 2021.

The reason you can't apply online is DHS requires the application to be made in-person

Travel industry groups have been advocating for the option to allow people to submit applications online, saying it would speed the rate of Real ID compliance and mitigate challenges at overburdened DMVs. However, some said they had hoped DHS would also have eliminated the requirement for an in-person visit, which critics say is outdated and unnecessary.

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    Is DHS actually responsible for that decision? I thought it was a statutory requirement. – phoog Apr 21 at 3:39
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    @phoog Three months ago, i would have said it was statutory. But COVID has changed a ton. If nobody complains, DHS could probably get away with waiving it – Machavity Apr 21 at 11:58
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    I'm not sure how DMVs are "overburdened" by issuing a RealID license vs a non-RealID license; they just check an additional box on their screens for people who either have a RealID already or who present an extra piece or two of identifying documentation. I actually only needed 1 document to get my first RealID-compliant license in Georgia last year... my W-2 from the IRS. – TylerH Apr 22 at 13:43
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    @TylerH Lucky you. I had to have my passport or birth certificate, two proof-of-address items and my Social Security card – Machavity Apr 22 at 13:48
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    My point is that I think the statement that "DHS requires the application to be made in person" is incorrect because I think that Congress requires the application to be made in person. I don't doubt that DHS has the authority to waive the requirement in special circumstances; they've also permanently waived the statutory requirement that foreign passports be verified for authenticity with the foreign authorities that issued them, because that requirement is impractical. – phoog Apr 25 at 2:18
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You can get a paper extension, online, here.

California has extended expiring drivers' licenses until May 31, 2020. Even if that does not apply to you, the fact is they will probably extend again if the COVID-19 situation warrants it. I suspect the DMV will have quite a backlog and may have to push it out again.

As far as air flight, they already have let you fly on a license up to 6 months past expiration. The deadline for state compliance to Real ID has been pushed for another year to October 2021.

As far as driving, the DMV lines have been crippling for over a year due to RealID, and California police are accustomed to seeing people with expired driver's licences. It's no big deal; at most they will want to hear that you do have a DMV appointment scheduled. So a week before your birthday, schedule an appointment, which will be months out. The real purpose is to buy you time with the cops. You can just go into the DMV anyway at a time of your choosing, regardless of any appointment. Don't push it too late; COVID-19 may take another world tour this fall.

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You can apply for a passport at the post office. If you want something that fits in your wallet request a passport card for an additional fee. That will be sufficient for flying once REAL ID goes into effect.

Prepare your application ahead of time. At the post office they will just look it over send it on. You won't need to hang around long.

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  • Note that the passport card is only valid (internationally) for land and sea crossings. In a practical sense, only Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. – GalacticCowboy Apr 22 at 15:35
  • @GalacticCowboy you're right about crossing national borders, but the question is about getting past security, not Customs. The State dept says: "Real ID: Passport books and cards are alternatives to a state-issued ID." – Adam Apr 22 at 18:55
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    @Adam Getting through security also requires a boarding pass. The airline won't issue one in this case, as the traveler can't show a viable travel document (i.e., a passport) for the flight. – DavidSupportsMonica Apr 24 at 21:36
  • @DavidSupportsMonica I'm saying someone can use a passport card for air travel that doesn't cross international borders. State department says so. No idea what argument you're trying to make. An airline will definitely issue a boarding pass with a passport card as ID. – Adam Apr 25 at 0:32
  • @Adam The question's title asks about paperwork for international travel, not domestic. If a passport card is only valid for land and sea crossings, as asserted by GalacticCowboy in an earlier comment, then the airline won't issue a boarding pass to a passenger who presents only a passport card. This is because the card is not valid for international travel, and the passport card will not meet Timatic's requirements. Without a boarding pass, the prospective passenger will not be allowed to pass security. Tthat the passport card is pretty good ID won't help. Am I missing something? – DavidSupportsMonica Apr 25 at 1:12
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There are none. All first-time applications for a California Real ID must be made at a California DMV office.

This California DMV FAQ page contains the following text:

Can I get a REAL ID by renewing my current driver license or identification card by mail or online?

No. Since a REAL ID is a form of federal identification, you must visit a DMV office in person when applying for a REAL ID for the first time. You will need to show documentation proving your identity, California residency, and that you have an SSN (if eligible). View full list of all acceptable documentation

However, there ARE things you can do online ahead of time to apply for your REAL ID! Fill out the online application, make an appointment or check wait times at your local office, and create a checklist of everything you need to bring to DMV.

Once you have a REAL ID driver license or identification card, you may be eligible to renew by mail or online in the future.

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  • Yeah I was aware of all this. I was hoping there was some alternative being provided due to COVID. But thanks. – JVC Apr 20 at 17:20
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You can't. First-time California REAL ID applications must be made in-person. You are not required to have a REAL ID driver's license to drive, but you are required to have a driver's license to drive. If you are unable to get a REAL ID driver's license before your current driver's license expires (taking into account the current extension to May 31), for whatever reason, it is still your responsibility to maintain a valid driver's license if you want to drive, which may mean you will have to renew your non-REAL-ID driver's license (which can be done by mail).

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