A Maine driver's license that is compliant with Real ID. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine secretary of state's office

Many Mainers have a decision to make about their driver’s licenses and identification.

Only one in 10 Mainers is compliant with the federal Real ID Act, and with so few ready for the law’s looming enforcement, that could create headaches and confusion next spring.

Maine began issuing compliant licenses in July 2019 after the Legislature ended the state’s yearslong protest against Real ID. That left only a short window to get compliant licenses into the hands of Mainers.

Now the clock is running out for Mainers to decide whether to opt into Real ID before their ability to travel in the U.S. is affected.

If you’re still trying to reach a decision or unsure about what it takes to comply, here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know.

Do I need a Real ID?

The short answer is “no.” Maine law allows you to opt out of the additional requirements of Real ID and get a noncompliant license instead.

Of course, you may encounter difficulties flying across the U.S. or accessing certain federal facilities, like the U.S. mint. Whether you choose to comply likely comes down to how you weigh privacy concerns against the ease of air travel.

Children under 18 traveling with a companion don’t need a compliant identification, though their companions do, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

What’s the deadline to get a Real ID?

Homeland Security will begin enforcing Real ID on May 3, 2023. It was previously scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1, 2020. But enforcement was postponed because of the pandemic. Whether that is a hard deadline remains to be seen. Real ID was intended to be enforced starting May 11, 2008, but state-level opposition kept delaying that date again and again.

What’s the difference?

A Maine identification card not compliant with Real ID. Credit: Courtesy of the Maine secretary of state's office

What makes a compliant license stand apart is a golden outline of the state of Maine with a white star within it in the top right corner. That signals you met all the requirements to get a Real ID.

If you don’t have a Real ID, you will instead see a message that reads: “Not intended for federal purposes” or “Not intended for Real ID purposes.” That latter message was changed after it caused confusion when Mainers presented their license to buy alcohol or make transactions at the bank. Noncompliant licenses bearing either are accepted.

Otherwise, they look largely the same.

What do I need to get a Real ID?

The big differences become apparent when you apply for or renew your license.

You need documents to verify your identity, lawful status to be in the U.S., Social Security number and Maine residency.

To verify your identity, the state will accept a certified birth certificate, consular report of a birth abroad, unexpired passport or passport card, certificates of citizenship or naturalization, and a Real ID-compliant license or ID, among others. Most of the above — with the exception of a Real ID license or ID — will also prove your lawful status.

While you can use a Social Security card to verify your Social Security number, you can also present a W-2 form, a SSA-1099 form, a non-SSA-1099 form or a pay stub with your name and number on it, according to Homeland Security.

To prove your Maine residency, the state will accept a Maine driver’s license or ID; property tax bill or deed; Maine vehicle registration or title; insurance binder, card or policy; pay stub; cable TV, phone, satellite or utility bill; financial statement; concealed firearms permit; and Maine hunting or fishing license, among others. You will need at least two of these documents.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is required to retain copies of those documents.

Among the more controversial requirements, states are required to use license photos compatible with facial-recognition software.

How much does it cost?

That depends on the type of license or ID. For a simple ID, it will cost $30. Non-commercial and commercial licenses will cost $55 and $59 respectively. If you are over age 65, they cost $40 and $47 respectively.

For noncompliant driver’s licenses, that cost is $30 for noncommercial and $34 for commercial for Mainers under age 65. For those over age 65, it’s $20 and $27 respectively. It costs only $5 for a noncompliant ID.

What if I decide not to get a Real ID?

In this May 9, 2017, file photo, U.S. passports lie on a table in Dallas. Mainers face a looming deadline to comply with Real ID. If they choose to opt out, they can still use U.S. passports and other accepted alternative identification for domestic air travel. Credit: Benny Snyder / AP

Your decision to opt out of Real ID doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of staycations or long car, bus and train rides.

You can use accepted alternatives, such as a U.S. passport or passport card, to prove your identity to catch your flight from Bangor to Miami.

Other than domestic flights and accessing certain federal facilities, there’s not much else you need a Real ID for right now. The Maine secretary of state’s office stresses you do not need a compliant license to drive, vote or register to vote, apply for federal benefits, cash checks, rent a vehicle, enter a post office, access health services or buy alcohol.