PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — PennDOT is encouraging Pennsylvania drivers who want one to get a REAL ID license before the May 3, 2023, deadline.

A REAL ID license is optional in Pennsylvania, but without it, travelers will need another approved document like a passport to fly domestically after the May deadline. The deadline has been pushed back twice because of the pandemic. The federal government announced the new 2023 deadline in the spring of last year.

May 2023 is a ways off, but there are several documents people need to get in order before heading to PennDOT, so officials are advising people not wait.

“We do encourage people to start the process now,” PennDOT REAL ID Director Sarah Baker said. She said it is especially important to start the process early if you need to get any documents replaced.

Getting a REAL ID requires more proof of identity, including a social security card. Individuals also need one additional proof of identity document, as well as two that prove that they live at their current address. Anyone who has changed their name also needs to provide proof of those changes like a marriage certificate or court order.

PennDOT has 13 locations across the state where people can get their REAL ID driver’s license handed to them over the counter.

“REAL ID centers, to clarify…[have] actually been built to meet and exceed department of homeland security security expectations,” Baker said.

Drivers can always apply for them at any PennDOT driver’s license location to have it delivered in the mail. PennDOT also has a pre-verification option on its website, where individuals can apply for a REAL ID online.

Whether applying for a REAL ID or renewing a standard license, those cards might look a little different.

“We see many counterfeit products produced to mimic PennDOT’s licenses and ID cards,” PennDOT risk management director Brent Lawson said.

The department has rolled out a new design, adding more security features to make license harder to forge.

“The card also includes an ultraviolet UV response that fluoresces under UV lighting,” Lawson said.

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PennDOT says it has issued 1.8 million REAL IDs since 2019. The department is anticipating a surge in people wanting REAL IDs approaching the deadline, but it says it is prepared.

“Over the years, we’ve positioned ourselves, we’ve built out our organization from the standpoint…to allow for the influx of customers who might want a REAL ID,” said PennDOT Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers. “We feel that we’re well positioned to cover any of the potential surge.”

More changes to driver’s licenses could be coming. PennDOT is exploring the idea of mobile driver’s licenses that could be used on a smartphone. It is still in the early stages because legislation needs to be passed to allow PennDOT to roll them out, but officials said they are excited about the possibility.

For a full list of documents and requirements for a REAL ID, visit PennDOT’s website.