DMV Offering Free REAL ID Upgrades to Some Californians

Those who renewed their license without getting a REAL ID during the pandemic can now upgrade without paying the typical fee.

a List of Documents to Apply for a Real ID
Lea Suzuki/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

If you renewed your driver's license or identification card in California during the pandemic, but didn't receive a REAL ID card during that time, you may qualify to get the renewal fee waived during your upgrade to REAL ID — if you act soon, and go here.

Office visits are required to get a REAL ID, according to a statement from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Those visits weren't possible at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For safety reasons during the pandemic, "Californians age 70 and older, and customers who had reached their limit on out-of-office renewals," were eligible to renew without visiting a DMV office. Those groups are not normally eligible to renew online or by mail.

"The DMV expects to issue about 5.7 million driver’s licenses and IDs that are not REAL IDs between March 2020 and July 2021 to customers eligible for one" as a result of the eligibility expansion, the statement said.

Because a fee is normally paid at the time of a driver's license application, customers at the DMV will be required to upgrade again and get their REAL ID eventually, "that fee will be waived for the customers who received a non-REAL ID during that time if they upgrade now at"

The REAL ID will be required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to board domestic flights and access secure federal facilities and military bases, beginning on May 3, 2023. The original compliance date for the switch, Oct. 1, 2020, was first postponed by the DHS to Oct. 1, 2021 in response to COVID-19 lockdowns last year.

“We don’t want Californians to pay the price for not getting a REAL ID during the pandemic,” said DMV Director Steve Gordon. “While the federal government has extended the enforcement date for a REAL ID, there is no need to procrastinate."

"If you act now, you can take advantage of this offer and upgrade to a REAL ID for free.”

A valid Social Security number, proof of identity and two proofs of California residency are required to apply for a REAL ID. Other qualifying documents are listed here.

"Californians can make an appointment, bring their confirmation code and documents with them to a DMV office at their convenience, even the same day, for express service – no appointment necessary," the DMV statement said. "Once at a service window, it now takes less than 10 minutes to complete the REAL ID transaction."

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