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The most efficient way to get REAL ID in CA!

Here’s our pro-list on how to speed through getting the CA Real ID/DL at your local DMV!

As most people know, starting in Oct 2020 you’ll need a REAL ID to board flights in the US. If you don’t have a REAL ID, you can still use your Passport or Global entry card to board planes BUT most people prefer having a REAL Driver’s License since they carry it at all times. The downside of getting a REAL ID is that you need to visit the DMV in-person (a real joy). If you’re like me, you fear the last minute rush to get Real ID’s in Fall 2020 and you want to get this out of the way early.

How to prepare:

  • Get an appointment online:  Go to the CA DMV’s online appointment page and book yourself an “office visit” appointment at your closest DMV. Yes – they’ll be 1-2 months out but you have time on your side. Having an appointment will save you at least 1-2 hours at the DMV. IF you can’t handle the wait, you may walk in as well – the other steps below still apply.
  • Prepare all your documents: This is likely the most common mistake when visiting the DMV. I saw multiple people being turned away or being offered a “non REAL” DL since they didn’t have all the docs in a row. The authoritative list of docs is available on the REAL ID website. There’s even an interactive checklist tool that’s supposed to help you. Now pay attention to the part that says “Original or NO Photocopies”. You’ll need an original identity doc (passport, naturalization cert.) AND an original SSN number doc (SSN card, W-2, paystub etc.). For proof of CA residency, you may bring copies of your utility bill, insurance documents etc. If you show up with copies of any of the originals for identity or SSN, expect to be sent back! Pro-tip: for residency proof, you may use your utility bills etc. in your spouse/parent’s name etc. as long as you live at the same address and have a document proving your relationship (birth or marriage cert. etc.).
  • Fill out the application online: Yes – you can pre-fill the application online to save your time at the DMV and avoid any typos/mistakes from the paper form. I’ve had DMV officers mistype my CITY in the past and had to carry a DL with misspelled city for 2+ years. Fill the form here. You’ll need to create an ID.me account – they’re a CA DMV partner. I recommend using the Google/FB login (pic below) so you don’t need to save one more password – it works really well! When you’re all done, you’ll get a reference number that you can provide to the DMV officer at your appointment so they print your application. You can do this step the night before your DMV appointment if need be.
  • Remember to take $28 cash, check or a major debit card to the DMV (NO CREDIT CARDS accepted). Take exact change if using cash since the DMV is not the best place to make change.
  • That’s it – you’re ready for your day at the DMV! See the next section for the day of your visit.
Google Sign-in on ID.me website

On the day of your appointment:

  • Go Early: Yes you may have an appointment time but believe it or not, even appointments typically have a line/wait. Going 20-30 minutes ahead of time will help you get to the window by your scheduled time; worst case – you get done early!
  • Get in the appointment line: This is where you fight your ‘herd mentality’ intuition. Make sure you get in the (shorter) line for appointments/people with disabilities line and not the walk-in line! When you get to the counter, the first officer will review your docs, fingerprint you and note the online application reference number (from the last step above). Then, they’ll assign you a number so you can proceed to the waiting area and watch the screen for your assigned number to be called.
  • At the counter: The officer will collect all your documents, print your application and ask you to verify that everything is correct. This should be easy since you filled it out online yourself! Then they’ll fingerprint you and collect your payment ($28 via cash, check or debit card). They’ll issue you a temporary paper license and punch your old license (standard renewal protocol).
  • Last step: Get your picture taken! You’ll be directed to the photo line. They’ll (again) fingerprint you, collect your signature and take your picture. It helps to dress well! Also – apparently personal preference if you’d rather wear glasses or not. Although I did see some officers ask people to take their glasses off but others said it was personal preference.

You’re all done! Go home and relax. Your Real ID should show up in 1-3 weeks. In my case, I was in and out of the DMV in 40 minutes flat and it was a crisp 1 week from my DMV appointment to get my ID in the mail.

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