Gazette opinion: Is Montana REAL ID right for you?

Gazette opinion: Is Montana REAL ID right for you?

Crowded airliners

One year from now, on Oct. 1, 2020, the Transportation Security Administration is scheduled to start requiring REAL ID compliant identification for passengers to board U.S. airline flights. This is a mandate from a federal law enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

For the past 14 years, Montana and other states that refused to issue state driver’s licenses and state ID cards that are fully compliant with the federal REAL ID Act have been granted more time to comply. This year TSA has been saying there will be no more waivers. And, for the first time, TSA has launched a campaign to inform the traveling public that Oct. 1, 2020, is really the deadline.

The Montana Legislature enacted a law years ago saying that this state wouldn’t require REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses. A majority of lawmakers and many Montanans feel that the federal law invades personal privacy, may create a national database and is unnecessary because Montana already takes steps to ensure that state driver’s licenses and ID cards are accurate and secure.

But the 2017 Legislature agreed to set up REAL ID option for Montanans who want a driver’s license or state ID that complies with the federal law. The Montana REAL ID option also says that those who want these IDs will have to pay extra to cover the state’s cost of providing them. The state began issuing REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses and IDs in January.

These REAL IDs are only available at certain Montana Motor Vehicles Division offices. Here’s the list: Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Columbus, Cut Bank, Deer Lodge, Dillon, Eureka, Glasgow, Glendive, Great Falls, Havre, Helena, Kalispell, Lewistown, Libby, Livingston, Miles City, Missoula, Plentywood, Polson, Red Lodge, Sidney, Stevensville, Superior, Thompson Falls and Wolf Point.

The MVD expects that appointments for REAL ID documents will take about 10 minutes longer than regular ones, so it is scheduling appointments accordingly.

So what’s a Montanan to do?

The answer depends on what your needs are and when your current Montana driver’s license expires.

  • If you have a current U.S. military ID or a valid U.S. passport, you can use it to get through airport security after Oct. 1, 2020, and you don’t need to get a REAL ID driver’s license.
  • If you need a REAL ID compliant document so you can fly, consider when your current Montana driver’s license expires. If you schedule an appointment to get a REAL ID driver’s license not more than three months after yours expired or not more than six months before it will expire, the REAL ID will add $25 to your total license cost.
  • If you apply for a REAL ID license when your current license isn’t close to expiration, the extra fee will be $50 and your license will still have to be renewed on its expiration date.
  • If you don’t already have a Montana driver’s license, getting a new license that is REAL ID compliant will cost an extra $50.
  • Children under age 18 don’t need a REAL ID compliant document if they fly with a companion, according to TSA.

If you decide to apply for a REAL ID driver’s license, make an appointment online at to minimize your wait time at the MVD office.

Be sure to arrive with documents you will need for the REAL ID process. Check the website for lists of documents that are acceptable and to verify your name and birth date, that authorize you to be in the United States, confirm your Social Security number and your Montana residency.

We heard from Billings residents who made an appointment, but didn’t know that they needed documents other than their driver’s licenses. They had to go home to get the documents and then waited in line for 1 1/2 hours to apply for their REAL ID driver’s licenses.

Go to and read the information carefully before you decide if this is something you need. If you get a Montana REAL ID driver’s license, the only difference on the license you will carry will be a little star in the top right corner.



Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News