Jeffrey O’Donal of Gorham emerges from the Scarborough branch of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday after applying for a Real ID-compliant Maine license. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Mainers have exactly six months to get a Real ID before they will need one to board a plane if they don’t have other federally compliant identification such as a passport.

Starting May 3, a standard Maine driver’s license or state ID won’t be accepted any longer at airport security checkpoints or the entries to federal buildings or facilities. You’ll need a Real ID – that is, a Maine driver’s license or state ID that meets new, more stringent federal security criteria.

Congress created the Real ID program in 2005 to establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards. The change came following a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission.

But states, including Maine, got postponements, saying they weren’t ready for the new rules. Maine began issuing Real ID’s in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and the federal government delayed enforcing the Real ID requirement.

Now, time is almost up, and Maine is still trying to get Real ID’s into public use.

So far, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles has handed out about 156,000 of them, which is 14% of the roughly 1.1 million license and ID holders in the state.


Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said there has been a clear increase in the number of Mainers getting a Real ID since last spring, up from about 124,000 or about 11% of those with the current cards. But that’s still a lower percentage than she’d like.

“The good news is, people are getting the message,” she said. “But it’s still a minority of the population.”

Bellows expects that figure to be closer to 20% by the May deadline but said that’s still too low relative to the number of Mainers who fly commercially.

“We don’t want Mainers to get stuck being unable to fly where they want to go because they didn’t plan ahead,” she said. “Many Mainers may not carry passports or passport cards in their wallet.”

Bellows said her office is coordinating with airports to educate the public about the impending deadline.

The current driver’s licenses and IDs will be accepted as valid identification for federal purposes through May 2.


The application requirements for a Real ID are stricter than for the current IDs and licenses. According to the BMV, in addition to the standard license requirements, anyone applying for a Real ID will need a document that establishes identity, date of birth and proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful status (such as a passport), a Social Security number or document explaining ineligibility for it, and two documents to establish proof of residency in Maine.

Applicants also will have a photo taken, and must visit a BMV branch in person to be issued a Real ID-compliant license or state ID.

In Maine, a Real ID is more expensive than the state’s traditional forms of identification. Instead of paying $30 for a new, Class C driver’s license, Mainers will need to shell out $55 for a Real-ID version.


The Real ID deadline will mean more people at the BMV, and the agency is bracing for a rush of applications.

The BMV has struggled with long waits in recent years due to staffing shortages. The impact of these shortages has been even more obvious since the pandemic, Bellows said. As people have flocked to Maine in the last two years, they’ve had to transfer their licenses, meaning more work for the same number of staff. 


The bureau offices have been further slowed by a wave of Mainers trying to switch their driver’s licenses to the Real ID. That is only expected to increase in the coming months as people race to meet the deadline. 

Data shows that BMV customer visits are up around 20% this year over previous years. However, many common BMV transactions, like vehicle registration renewals or driver license renewals, can be done online at any time

Last month, the bureau rolled out an online appointment system to speed the process for Mainers who don’t want to take time off work to wait in line at one of the state’s 13 offices.

The waiting room at the Scarborough branch of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday. Mainers must visit a branch in person to be issued a Real ID-compliant license or state ID. The Real ID-compliant credential is optional for Mainers, but as of May, people will need more than a state license or ID for federal purposes, such as boarding a commercial aircraft. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Bellows said she’s excited about the appointment system, which has served almost 1,000 Mainers since it launched Oct. 24.

But the new system has been so successful that some of the busier locations, like Portland and Scarborough, don’t have appointments available until December.

Jeffrey O’Donal, of Gorham, waited for over an hour to renew his license and get his Real ID in Scarborough on Wednesday. He made an appointment last week, but said he may not have done it correctly, as the BMV didn’t have his information on file and he didn’t receive a confirmation email.


O’Donal said he assumes a passport will work in most cases, but he wanted to make sure he had his bases covered. He hasn’t traveled much recently, but hopes to in the future.

Lucy Millet, of Saco, on the other hand, did not make an appointment to switch her Texas driver’s license (a Real ID) to a Maine one after moving back home this summer.

Millet got her Texas Real ID in 2020 and said it was an easy enough process that has been working well.

As she walked into the Scarborough office on Wednesday afternoon, a woman leaving warned her it was a long wait. The woman said she had been waiting for over two hours and still hadn’t been seen.

“I might be coming back,” she said.

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