This may come as a surprise to most folks since we’ve always just been able to use our license as identification when we board a flight—at least one within the U.S.—but beginning January 22, 2018, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will require that you have REAL ID to fly domestically. What that means is you’ll need identification, like a driver's license from a REAL ID-compliant state, or alternative ID like a passport, to fly within the U.S.

For now, residents of all states can still use any state-issued driver’s license for domestic air travel, but after next January when the REAL ID Act takes effect, you’ll need a “REAL ID.” There are already some states like my home state, Florida, that are issuing REAL ID compliant licenses. Check the REAL ID compliance status of your state on the DHS website and TSA’s list of acceptable forms of identification. You can also check with your state’s licensing agency about getting REAL ID-compliant identification.

You can check here for REAL ID Act requirements. If your ID doesn’t make the grade, or your state doesn’t have an extension from the REAL ID requirements, you’ll need an alternative ID to board a domestic flight (U.S. military ID, DHS trusted traveler cards, passports or passport card, etc.).

In recent years, the demand for US passports has increased dramatically, making the processing time for renewals or new applications more lengthy. With the new ID requirements, the number of passport applications will likely climb much higher, so it would be a good idea to renew or Apply Early for a passport.

There has been increasing demand for U.S. passports in recent years. The U.S. Dept. of State reports that the peak season for passport applications is January through August and that the processing time is less if you apply during their slow season between September and December.

So, what’s the moral of the story here? Apply EARLY for your new or renewed passport (I recommend renewing your passport every 9 years instead of waiting for the 10th renewal year), and do it in the later part of the year. That way you’ll be good to go on your next trip, wherever that may be.