Updated: Oct 22, 2019
On October 1, 2020, California (and all other states) shall implement the REAL ID Act, mandating REAL ID driver license or ID card (or another acceptable form of ID) to board commercial airplanes and enter federal facilities.
In the past year or so, I had many clients and friends ask me about how to obtain a REAL ID. So, I did some research on the California DMV website and advised them as to the procedure. Then, early this year I myself received notice from the DMV that my license is due for a renewal to a REAL ID. Oh how fun, a trip to the DMV.
As with most things in life, paper research is different from real world experiences, so I thought sharing my personal application process may help others when applying for their own REAL ID driver license or ID card. While my experience applies only to California, I presume the process is similar in other states as well.
TIP#1: GET READY TO PREPARE AS SOON AS YOU RECEIVE YOUR NOTICE
One of the first recommendations I give to all my clients involved in a DMV related matter is to make an online appointment. If you don’t, you will definitely regret it because you may have to wait an extra few hours on top of the hour or so that it took me to complete my application. So, save yourself a bunch of time and make an appointment online as soon as you can.
Taking my own advice, as soon as I received my renewal notice I made an online appointment to apply for a REAL ID driver license. The earliest date available was literally 3 months away at my local DMV (to be exact, 87 days out!) I booked it immediately and saved my confirmation.
TIP#2: MAKE A DMV APPOINTMENT ONLINE AND SAVE YOUR CONFIRMATION AS PROOF *DMV will send you an email reminder one day prior to your appointment, but if you don’t get a reminder you may need to bring your proof of confirmation
Then, read DMV form DL 1010 E entitled “REAL ID Easy as 1-2-3”. You can just Google it and it should be available for download as a .pdf file if it's not included with your renewal notice.
The FIRST DOCUMENT you need to prepare is an Identity Document. It must be an original or certified copy. The DL 1010 E lists the acceptable documents, which are self-explanatory. You just need one identifying document on the list, but it has to be an original. Don’t waste your time by taking photocopies, because your application will be rejected and you will have to make another trip to the DMV. Not fun.
Now, if you changed your name during your lifetime like I did, you will have to do extra work by bringing with you a certified legal document supporting the change. Besides a certified marriage certificate (which I believe is an original document on its face), all court documents reflecting your name change must be certified by the court issuing the document. Because I changed my name at one point due to a small typo, I had to obtain a court certified name change document, known as a"Decree Changing Name."
To obtain any court certified document, you will have to make a visit to the courthouse that issued that document. Or you can pay a third-party to retrieve the document. Since, I’m at or near the courthouse often, I chose to save some dough and fetch my own document. If your document is dated within 10 years, you can probably go straight to the civil clerk’s window and request a certified copy. You will have to pay a small fee and wait. If your document is not available at the clerk’s office, they may direct you to the court archive department. Unfortunately, my document was at the archives. Upon waiting 45 minutes, the clerk finally gave me my court certified document. You can use this process to retrieve any court document, certified or not.
TIP#3: IF YOU CHANGED YOUR NAME, PREPARE TO GET YOUR COURT CERTIFIED DOCUMENT FROM THE COURT BEFORE TO YOUR DMV APPOINTMENT
The SECOND DOCUMENT you need is your Social Security Number. Again, you will need an original Social Security card or an original W-2 form, SSA-1099 form, NON-SSA-1099, or pay-stub, reflecting your Social Security Number and correct legal name. You only need one document. I took my original Social Security card.
TIP#4: PREPARE ALL REQUIRED ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS BEFORE TO YOUR DMV APPOINTMENT
The THIRD DOCUMENT you need is TWO (2) Proofs of California Residency. DL 1010 E lists the acceptable documents. For this requirement, photocopies are acceptable. I took my gas bill and my DMV renewal notice letter. Yes, they accepted the DMV renewal notice letter that was addressed to me, so I suggest you save it as a reminder and as your required proof of California residency. If you don't have any of the documents listed, there are some exceptions listed as well.
TIP#5: SAVE YOUR DMV RENEWAL NOTICE AS A REMINDER AND AS YOUR
REQUIRED PROOF OF CALIFORNIA RESIDENCY
TIP#6: PLACE ALL OF YOUR REQUIRED DOCUMENTS INTO AN MANILA
ENVELOPE OR SECURED PLASTIC BAGGIE *I chose the manila envelope
On the date of my DMV appointment, I had to wait in line to get inside. Then I waited in another line to get a ticket. Then I waited for my ticket to be called out. But before my number was called, the DMV agent asked me if I had completed a Driver License Application online. I said, “No.” She directed me to a row of computers to complete a driver license application. Of course, I had to wait in line to use one of the computer stations. If you are savvy with online applications, it should take you about 10 minutes to complete it. The good news is you can save time and fill out the online application prior to your appointment date. The online application is available in 9 non-English languages and you can pre-apply at https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/forms/dl/dl44.
TIP#7: SAVE WAITING TIME BY COMPLETING YOUR DRIVER
LICENSE OR ID CARD ONLINE BEFORE YOUR DMV APPOINTMENT
Back to waiting. Finally, my number was called and I was directed to a DMV agent. The agent requested all my required documents and confirmed my personal information. She then asked me to sign a document, which looked like a print out of my driver license application. After signing and returning the document, I waited while she scanned and pressed some buttons. For the eye test, she asked me to read the last line of letters printed on a while board attached to the ceiling. I passed. Then, she requested payment for the renewal fee, which was $36. I handled her forty dollars. Paid.
TIP#8: BRING MONEY OR OTHER FORM OF PAYMENT
She then directed me to the take my picture and gave me some documents to present to the photographer. Yes, I waited in line again. When it was my turn, I presented the documents the agent provided me and posed for a picture. Click. I asked the photographer, “how is it?” referring to my photograph. She replied, “Great” without any enthusiasm. I hope she was being truthful. I guess I will find out in a few weeks (if there are no issues).
TIP#9: GROOM YOURSELF FOR A PICTURE, PRACTICE YOUR SMILE
Since I took my mother along for her to apply for a REAL ID as well, I had to wait for her to finish her application. After she was done, I drove her back home.
After I came home, I took everything out of my manila envelope and noticed that I had a receipt for the DMV license fee, but no temporary driver license. You know, those printed licenses they give you before your real license arrives in the mail. The error was confirmed as my mother pulled out her temporary driver license from her manila envelope.
So, I had to drive back to the DMV early next morning to get a print out of my temporary driver license. Yes, I had to wait.
TIP#10: MAKE SURE YOU GET YOUR TEMPORARY DRIVER LICENSE FROM
THE DMV AGENT AFTER YOUR TAKE YOUR PICTURE