COLUMBIA — South Carolina's 3.5 million drivers can now get a federally approved driver's license that will be required to board a plane — but not until 2020, so there's no need to rush, Department of Motor Vehicles Director Kevin Shwedo said Wednesday.

"We have 2 and a half years to make this work," Shwedo said at a news conference announcing their availability.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed a law in April allowing the DMV to make the license. That reversed a decade-old law forbidding the state from complying with the federal REAL ID Act which Congress passed in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The new ID that meets federal identification requirements remains an option, not a mandate. It won't be needed to drive, vote or access benefits such as Social Security in South Carolina.

But people without a passport will need it by October 2020 if they want to fly, get onto a military base or enter a secured federal building. 

"If you don't need to do those three things, you don't need a Real ID," Shwedo said. And if you have a current passport or military ID, you still won't need it, he stressed.

Real ID licenses have actually been available for two weeks. Nearly 20,000 people have already gotten theirs, according to the DMV.

To avoid long lines, Shwedo advised to check the agency's online map of its 67 branches, which includes wait times. 

What does it look like?

Pretty similar to the state driver's license, which has a new look and a blue tint.

There are only two basic differences between the two:

  • The Real ID has a gold star emblem in the right corner.
  • The driver's license has "NOT FOR FEDERAL IDENTIFICATION" printed in black across the top. 

What's needed?

Getting a REAL ID license will require paying the $25 license renewal fee and proving you’re in the United States legally.

Doing so involves presenting a birth certificate — original, not scanned — as well as an accepted document with a Social Security number and two proofs of residency. The long list of what’s accepted includes a utility bill, tax form, bank statement or even a postmarked "letter from grandma," said DMV spokeswoman Lauren Phillips.

All name changes since birth also must be supported by legal documents, such as a marriage license, court order or divorce decree.

The process should be easy for the state’s 1 million newest drivers. DMV offices started scanning the required documents for first-time licensees in November 2010. They won’t have to gather their documents again and can apply online.

The REAL ID-compliant license will expire after eight years rather than 10.

Six DMV offices are opening from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday through 2020 specifically to handle Real ID, including in Charleston. 

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Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.

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