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How to get a Real ID in Illinois — And why you might need one

Illinois REAL IDs have a gold star in the top right corner.
Illinois Secretary of State Office
Illinois REAL IDs have a gold star in the top right corner.

Updated Sept. 13, 2023 with new Real ID deadline

Like the rest of the country, Illinois residents will need to get Real IDs if they want to continue to use their licenses or other state identification cards to board domestic flights and enter federal buildings starting in May 2023.

The Biden administration has extended the nationwide Real ID requirement an extra two years past the original October 2021 deadline because of complications due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Illinois started issuing Real IDs in 2020 in compliance with the security standards set by the Real ID Act of 2005. Real ID-compliant licenses have a gold star in the top right corner of the card.

After May 7, 2025, residents will need a Real ID or another approved form of identification to fly domestically, enter nuclear power plants and access federal buildings, like federal courthouses and military bases.

How can I get a Real ID in Illinois? What documents do I need?

Illinois residents can get a Real ID when they renew their licenses at any driver services facility that isn’t a mobile unit or express facility.

Real IDs require a few more documents than a standard license. That makes the process for applying for a Real ID take a little longer, said Henry Haupt, a spokesperson for the Illinois Secretary of State Office, which issues state IDs. 

“The federal government essentially wants you to start from scratch on proving your identity,” Haupt said.

For a Real ID, residents need to provide:

  • One document that shows their full legal name, like a certified birth certificate copy or U.S. passport. 
  • One document that proves their social security number, like a social security card or W-2 form.
  • Two different documents that prove Illinois residency, like a utility bill, canceled check or pay stub.
  • One document with a proof of written signature, like a current Illinois or out-of-state license 

The Secretary of State's office has an online interactive document checklist that shows all of the different documents that residents can use to obtain a Real ID. 

Residents only need to bring in all of those documents the first time they apply for a Real ID, Haupt said. They don’t need them when they renew a Real ID license in the future.  

Residents also need to bring official copies of all marriage and divorce records if their name changed. 

A Real ID costs $5 for residents whose driver's license expires in more than a year. Otherwise, Real IDs cost the same amount as a regular driver’s license renewal: $30. 

Am I required to get a Real ID?

No. Illinois offers its residents a choice. They can get a Real ID card or keep their standard license or identification card, Haupt said.

“If you have a valid U.S. passport, you do not need a Real ID,” he said. 

A passport or military ID works as an alternative to Real IDs for residents who may fly or often visit secure federal facilities, Haupt explained. 

He added residents who just renewed their licenses don’t need to immediately renew again, unless they want a Real ID now. 

Illinoisans who don’t regularly go to federal buildings or fly won’t need one either.

“If you don’t fly domestically, you don’t need a Real ID,” Haupt said. “If you don’t visit secure federal facilities, you don’t need a Real ID.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.