How to Prepare for the Big REAL ID Change

January 29, 2020

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While I live in Minnesota, one of my happy places is Colorado. If you also have a happy place in another state or travel for work, just a reminder that starting in May of 2023, our normal driver’s licenses won’t cut it. You’ll need a federally-compliant card called a REAL ID (or your passport) to fly domestically.

Part of my goal when it comes to time management is to help you avoid those last-minute scrambles. To that end, I just want to make sure you’re aware of and acting to be ready for this big change.

A REAL ID requires you to visit the DMV office in person to renew your license, and wait times have gone up and appointment availability down in a lot of states as a result. So give yourself ample time to get this done.

Here are my recommended steps:

Step 1: Right now, schedule when you’ll start the process

Right now, schedule time in your calendar in the next two weeks to look into the process to get your REAL ID. Copy and paste the below steps in the calendar entry notes section so you know what to do during that time.

While scheduling this block of time, you should also check out your regular driver’s license expiration date to make sure you have time. You don’t want to put this off if your license expires in a month.

Step 2: During your scheduled window of time, research the process and book your appointment

When your scheduled window rolls around, check out your state’s process for getting your REAL ID. Just Google “REAL ID [and your state name].”

Also, check out how far out DMV appointment times are booked. In San Diego, there are no appointments for MONTHS (I booked mine in December for the end of March!). You can still walk up, but it takes much longer.

A reminder: you want this appointment to happen with enough time to receive your card in the mail before May. (Don’t panic if this doesn’t line up perfectly. You can always use your passport, if you have one, for a trip or two to bridge the gap.)

If it makes sense, book an appointment now. You usually don’t have to have the paperwork ready to book the appointment, so you might as well book it now and prep later. If you need/want to delay, schedule in your calendar when you will book your appointment.

In addition, figure out what paperwork and documents you need to bring to the appointment (you don’t need to gather them right now – just understand what documents you need for Step 3).

Step 3: Schedule when you’ll prep the paperwork & gather the documents

Once you have an appointment, schedule when you’ll fill out the application AND, perhaps as a separate calendared block of time, when you’ll gather the documents you need to bring to the appointment. Schedule these windows with enough wiggle room in case you struggle to track down a utility bill that you may need or get your social security card out of your super-safe location.

Copy and paste these steps and any useful websites or information you found into those calendar entries’ notes section.

Step 4: Success!

If you follow through with these steps, you should get your hands on your new REAL ID without stress or last-minute scramble.


  • Do this for your partner and over-17-year-old kids (only those over 18-years-old need a REAL ID, but think through whether your kid will be over 18 by October 1, 2020). Whether we like it or not, we often have to help them with their last-minute scrambles, too, so getting out in front of their REAL ID process helps Future You, too.

  • Once you get your new REAL ID in the mail, calendar the new expiration date and a reminder a couple of months earlier to start the renewal process.

  • Calendar your passport expiration date and a reminder to start the renewal process about 9-10 months beforehand (as you usually can’t use a passport that expires in the next 6 months).

  • While we’re talking travel, seriously consider getting TSA PreCheck or even Global Entry. They’re very affordable (something like $100 for 5 years) and save you TONS of time, stress and hassle at the airport. While they involve some hassle (e.g., paperwork and a quick office visit), they’re completely worth it.

That’s it. Let’s minimize those last-minute scrambles!

Download my free guide on three things you can calendar to reduce your stress today here.

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