What you need to know about getting a REAL ID

  • Northfield Senior Center Director Colleen Letourneau sits in on a Registry of Motor Vehicles information session, presented by RMV Community Outreach Coordinator Michele Ellicks on Thursday, on how to get a REAL ID, which will be needed after May 3, 2023, to board domestic flights. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/21/2022 4:02:22 PM
Modified: 8/21/2022 6:09:49 PM

NORTHFIELD — With a May 3, 2023 deadline to upgrade to a REAL ID, the Registry of Motor Vehicles is hosting info sessions across the state to help residents renew their licenses and ID cards in a more efficient manner.

At the Northfield Senior Center Thursday afternoon, RMV Community Outreach Coordinator Michele Ellicks offered some tips and tricks to reduce confusion and frustration around the new ID system, which, come May 3, will be required to get on domestic flights and access certain federal buildings like courthouses.

“Starting on May 3, (2023), if you want to fly in the U.S., you’ve either got to have a REAL ID or a valid and unexpired passport,” Ellicks explained. “Not everyone will want or need to have a REAL ID, it all depends on what your plans are. The registry is still going to issue, to anyone who wants one, a standard credential as well. You decide what’s right for you.”

The REAL ID is a federal security standard for identification cards that was created in 2005 as a result of increased security measures that came after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to Mass.gov.

The original deadline to get a REAL ID was Oct. 21, 2021, but she said that was pushed back when the COVID-19 pandemic upended life.

While a regular license or ID card can be renewed online, Ellicks said a REAL ID must be obtained in person. However, people can start the application process online at Mass.gov/RMV. To qualify for a REAL ID, you must provide documents proving lawful presence/date of birth, proof of a valid Social Security number and proof of Massachusetts residency. All documents, except those used to prove Massachusetts residency, must be originals and cannot be laminated, Ellicks noted.

“It’s one of the more common reasons we need to turn people away,” Ellicks said. “If you’re missing a document, your credentials will not be processed that day.”

Proof of lawful presence/date of birth

To get a REAL ID, you must provide one document proving lawful presence or date of birth. These documents, which must be valid and unexpired, include: a U.S. passport or passport card; an original or certified version of a U.S. birth certificate; or a variety of immigration documents, such as a permanent resident card issued by the Department of Homeland Security, a foreign passport with a valid U.S. visa affixed, and certificates of citizenship or naturalization.

The challenge people run into for proving lawful presence, Ellicks explained, is ensuring all documents are their original copies and match the name that person currently uses — in the case of marriage, divorce or other name changes.

“You must bring in the trail of documents of name changes,” she said. “The passport is more apt to be up to date than birth certificates in terms of names.”

If you don’t have your original birth certificate, Ellicks said the RMV can accept a certified version from the city or town you were born in, which can be accessed by calling the municipality’s clerk.

Proof of Social Security number

Only one document is required to prove a Social Security number, too. This can include your Social Security card — it cannot be laminated — a W-2 or 1099 form that displays your nine-digit number or a pay stub that includes a Social Security number.

These documents must also show your current name.

Proof of Massachusetts residency

Two documents are required to prove Massachusetts residency and people have a wide variety of options to pick from. The most common option, Ellicks said, is any RMV-issued document, which includes a current driver’s license; a Massachusetts ID card (not a liquor ID); a learner’s permit; or any RMV-issued mail, including license reminders and vehicle registrations.

Other documents include: state or federal-issued documents like property tax or jury duty summons; utility, credit card, hospital, insurance or cellphone bills dated within 60 days; lease or mortgage documents; W-2 or other financial documents, such as a pension or retirement statement; school-issued documents, such as a transcript, tuition bill or an official letter from school with your address on it; and any insurance-related documents from the current year.

While original copies are required for Social Security and proving lawful presence, Ellicks said the RMV is allowed to accept a printout of a utility bill, credit card or bank statement, dated within 60 days of the visit to the RMV.

“In terms of proving Massachusetts residency, the Massachusetts Legislature thankfully allows us to accept a printout of your bill or statement,” Ellicks noted. “If you do all of your bills online, you can print out your most recent statement.”

A complete list of eligible documents can be found at bit.ly/3AwIIDb.

Other advice

Ellicks warned people against RMV scams and phishing attempts, which have been on the rise. She advised to “never give your license information” out to anyone, except to the registry in person or on Mass.gov, which is protected with dual-factor authentication. She said folks should also be wary of any website, text or phone call that requests handling fees or charges uneven numbers. (It costs exactly $50 to renew a license, $25 to renew an ID and $60 to renew a vehicle registration.)

RMV locations across Massachusetts — including the Greenfield branch at 18 Miner St. — are open by reservation only, which can be made by phone or at Mass.gov/RMV. Additionally, the RMV has a dedicated reservation phone line for folks ages 65 and older, which can be reached at 857-368-8005. Reservations can be booked two weeks in advance.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) also offers REAL ID services to members and is open on Saturdays. Like the RMV, AAA is reservation-only.

With the deadline less than a year away, Ellicks encouraged people to avoid waiting until the last minute and save themselves the stress of waiting in a busy RMV.

“Don’t procrastinate on this because we expect to be quite busy,” Ellicks said. “If you’re thinking of upgrading to the REAL ID, do it sooner. … Make that a goal for 2022.”

One way to beat the rush, Ellicks added, is to renew and upgrade your license early.

“In Massachusetts, license holders or ID holders have the ability to renew their driver’s license or ID one year in advance of its expiration date,” Ellicks said. “Not many people know that; you have 364 days prior to the expiration.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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