Johnnie Does: California Real ID

Recently I received my CA driver’s license renewal notice in the mail, and to put it bluntly, it was one of the most confusing forms I have ever laid my eyes on. Since mine expires in December, I am classified as a “wobbler” in that any state issued ID card/driver’s license will allow me to board an airplane until October of next year, but a REAL ID will be required after that. I could either fill out the forms mailed to me, or “complete online,” I chose the latter. In CA, your driver’s license is usually good for about 4 years, so I had a choice to make as far as the REAL ID goes.

The forms mailed out are confusing because it states pay $38 and we will renew your driver license. Here in lies the problem. Renewing this way only gets you a state issued license, not a REAL ID. Which is fine if you do not plan on traveling or already have a passport. Here is the key, if you want a REAL ID, you MUST VISIT a DMV location in person! Also filling out the form online gives you a head start on the others also getting a REAL ID.

I completed the process online and was given a control number (you want to write this down) and was directed to make an appointment with a DMV location…I declined. This is a personal choice, but I would rather show up and get in line before they open and be out within an hours’ time, too often I have had appointments run way late or still take forever. I decided to go to the Lodi location, about 30 minutes south of my residence on a Saturday morning. I prefer this one to the South Sacramento location because I always feel like I need a shower after visiting the South Sac office due to the people; both workers and customers.

Lodi’s DMV location opens at 7 am, so I got there at 6:30 and was about 50th in line. About 10 minutes before the doors opened, a lady with a cart came by asking what we needed and assigned a number based on the service you needed. The doors opened and you had to stand in line to approach the non-appointment window. What I like about this location is this is kind of a failsafe system they use, they checked over my documents and told me they would text me when it was my turn at the counter. When I was called, the lady asked who I was, and I was aghast…I said, “Johnnie Does…big time food critic…” She shot me a blank stare. I gave her my control number and my documents. She typed a few things in the keyboard, scanned in my documents (more on this later), asked for a thumb print, I was asked to pay the $38 (debit only no credit cards accepted), did a vision test, and was told to go to another window to have my photo taken. I went to said window, was thumb printed again, a photo was taken, and after issuing me a fancy schmancy paper driver’s license, I was off, with a promise the REAL ID would arrive in about 3 weeks.

Whole process took 50 minutes, I was actually impressed. The people in Lodi were very efficient, friendly and even joked a little bit, what a total contrast to any other DMV I have been to. Let’s face it, no one likes going to the DMV, usually it’s the dregs of the earth you are dealing with. But this process was very quick and efficient, especially because technically it’s a federal program to have a compliant ID to travel now. I actually got my ID 10 days later. Be prepared to be unimpressed. Here I thought I would be getting a Homeland Security like ID and instead it’s just like your old driver’s license with just a couple of modifications.

Real ID from DMV website

Closing thoughts: It was very fast and efficient, and I actually felt like this government agency took care of business. That being said, here are my tips for when you get your REAL ID. Don’t take the documentation process lightly. You need your original birth certificate (not a copy), your Social Security Card or a W-2 with your Social Security Number on it (you will have to go back 3 years on that one), and 2 bills with your full name and address on it (not a PO Box). I showed up with the completed application, my control number from the DMV, paperwork I did on the website, my birth certificate, Social Security Card, my mortgage statement, and county property tax bill. I ran into no problems at all; however, the man at the counter next to me ran into a bunch. He had a worn-out birth certificate, and his personal documents had a PO Box listed, sorry no dice for him. Some tips I have are make sure 2 utility bills have your name and/or your spouses on it, as some households I know only have 1 listed, and don’t take this lightly, they will turn you away or send you back to get the correct info.

That being said, I do have a slight concern about this process; they scan in all of your personal documentation, and I’m sure it is “stored” somewhere and will eventually be hacked in a gigantic data breach. Now the state will have a database of your birth certificate, Social Security Number, your mortgage statement* and county tax bill* knowing the types of databases the state uses in other departments like the Controller’s office, I would be very scared.

Johnnie Does

*Denotes if you choose to use these documents to get the ID