I got my Real ID last week in Missouri. Here’s what you can learn from my experience.

By October 1, 2020, anyone wanting to fly domestically, or gain legal admittance to a government facility or a nuclear power plant needs to have a Real ID (or a valid U.S. passport). Your Real ID is a form of identification that meets standards set—in response to 9/11—by the federal government and set in stone by Congress in 2005. Some states jumped right in and created Real ID’s for their citizens. If you don’t live in Missouri, this is already old news, and you’ve had your Real ID for years. Not surprisingly, ultra-conservative and slow-as-molasses Missouri was among the last of the states to get on board (as I write this, the only remaining outliers are Oklahoma, Oregon and New Jersey).

I hate to admit this, but I’m not sure I completely disagree with Missouri’s recalcitrance. The requirements for getting your Real ID can be onerous for some people and inconvenient for a lot. Those are probably not the main reasons my state legislature dragged its feet—it’s probably more about “big-gummint” intrusion into little people’s lives, and as a “librul,” I’m less worried about that, given the greater good that a big-thinking government can do. What troubles me about Real ID is its basis in xenophobia and the burden it places on people with the fewest resources.

That being said, though, it’s the law. And now that the deadline is looming—the feds are done giving out multiple extensions like those it granted to Missouri several times over—it is becoming an emergency for Missouri citizens to do what’s needed to get the new card.

So, dutiful citizen that I am, and wanting to beat the last-minute crowds that will undoubtedly show up just before the deadline, last week, I did my research, gathered my docs, and headed over to my local DMV to get compliant.

The process was far from a slam-dunk. I was pretty sure I had the proper credentials—but as I waited in line at the DMV, I began to wonder. I had a long time to worry, because when I arrived, I pulled number 25 from the dispenser and then heard them call number 4. Each transaction was taking about 15 minutes. I did the math. It was going to be a long day.

But then, as I observed the official interactions from my chair (I was lucky to get one) three feet away, I began to see a trend: The clerk was turning away more than half of the applicants because they didn’t have a complete set of the required documents. That phenomenon made the line move more quickly—and I found myself guiltily cheering for more rejections—but it was disconcerting, too. With so many people being turned away, it was becoming clear to me (increasingly nervous about my own documents) that the requirements were confusing or not well-explained, or just impossible for some people.

I brought four items, but you might need five, if you don’t have a passport:

  1. My current U.S. passport. That’s my proof of identity, because it has my full name and date of birth. (There are a bunch of other things you can bring for identity, but that’s the one I had. Birth certificates count, but mine wouldn’t have worked, because, as a woman who got married in the 1960s and changed my name, my birth name doesn’t match my current name, so it’s not valid ID. A friend of mine told me about an 86-year-old woman she knows who tried to use her birth certificate as ID but was rejected for just that reason and was told she needed something with her changed name, such as her marriage certificate. Unfortunately, all she had was her Jewish marriage certificate, known as a “ketubah.” That wouldn’t work, because it’s written in Hebrew.)

If you have a name problem, you can bring a “name change” document, such as a certified marriage license (in English), a certified divorce decree, certified adoption papers, or an amended birth certificate.

  1. I needed something that certified that I am in the U.S. lawfully. My passport worked for that, too, but again, there are other valid documents for that purpose.
  2. Social Security Card. (The rules say it can’t be laminated. I was glad I had never gotten around to doing that.) You can also bring a W-2 Form, a 1099 form, or a current pay stub that has your name and social security number.
  3. Proof of residence x2: They want two of these. I brought my Missouri voter registration card (not the notification of where you vote) and a printout of my most recent bank statement, which has my mailing address on it. This is the category that tripped up most people who got bounced from the queue ahead of me. They didn’t have two. There’s a long list of things that work, you just have to remember to bring two of them.

The process was so slow that many people left before their number came up. Some took a new number as they exited, hoping to come back later and have an advantage in the sequence. That didn’t seem to work. The young man sitting next to me had tried it, after waiting for 90 minutes earlier that day. But when he came back, his number—89—had already been called, and he had to start over. He got 26 this time—he would be right after me—and we sat together for the next 90 minutes, chatting, secretly hoping for more people ahead of us to be rejected, and commiserating about the sad state of government administration as demonstrated by where we were at that moment.

Finally, they called, “25.” I did, indeed, have the correct documentation, and my transaction took only about 10 minutes, plus a $12 fee. The beleaguered clerk, who had taken quite a bit of shit from people lacking all the required docs, was very pleasant.  Unfortunately, I had made one major miscalculation. Real ID is good for six years, but my driver’s license expires in August of this year, which means so does the Real ID that I received in the mail 10 days later. I should have waited until March (or later), when I would have been within the six-month window for renewing my license. In my quest to get ahead of the game, I got too far ahead, and now I’ll have to go through the whole thing again this summer.