REAL ID: California Driver’s Licenses Getting a New Look

By: Ryan Gallagher January 18, 2018
California's driver's license is getting a re-vamp as the REAL ID system is rolled out in the Golden State.
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California’s beautiful residents do not need a makeover—however, their driver’s licenses do.

Starting January 22, California licenses and identification cards will sport a brand new look. The revamped IDs will feature the word “California” in a new font up top, as well as images of golden poppies (the state’s flower), sailboats, an outline of the state through the background, and a Gold Rush miner to the card’s right side. Most importantly, these licenses will have new UV images, and some will contain a white REAL ID star inside a golden bear logo signifying a federally compliant license.

The alterations are the result of the REAL ID Act, a federal program passed in 2005 in response to 9/11. The goal of REAL ID is for all American citizens to hold similar, federally recognized credentials by October of 2020 as a way to increase national security. After that date, REAL IDs will be the only state-issued identifications that may be used to fly domestically or enter a military base or federal facility.

California residents can opt for a REAL ID or standard ID starting January 22. The two types of IDs are almost identical in appearance; however, only federally compliant REAL ID licenses will get the white star. Those who choose to apply for a REAL ID will need to provide proof of identity, Social Security number, and residency, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

It’s important to remember REAL IDs aren’t yet mandatory, and Californians who don’t fly or plan to enter military or federal facilities don’t have to worry about holding the newly revised IDs, said Jessica Gonzalez, a California DMV spokeswoman.

“We don’t want everyone rushing in on Jan. 22,” Gonzalez said. “We’d like [people] to space out the applications.”

License renewals cost $35 and remain valid for five years. Californians who want a REAL ID but already renewed their licenses before January 22 will have to renew again before October 2020 in order to continue flying domestically and entering federal facilities and military bases.

California DMV officials have anticipated confusion during this transition period. Answers to any other frequently asked questions can be found on the state’s DMV website.

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