Last week I got a first-hand look at how the Real ID process will work, becoming one of the first New Jersey residents to be issued a Real ID at the Motor Vehicle Agency office in Trenton.

I showed up with my documents, had them checked and scanned, paid the required $11 changeover fee, then was issued the new Real ID driver’s license.

After months of delays, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission is finally launching the Real ID driver’s license program. But be forewarned: The process will begin very, very slowly. You'll have to sign up for an appointment and it may take you months to be seen.

Why do you need a Real ID?

Beginning in October, 2020, if you want to use your driver’s license as identification to get on a commercial aircraft or enter a federal building or a military installation, you will need a Real ID driver’s license. However, you will still be able to use valid passport to do so.

Until October, 2020, you can still use your regular New Jersey driver’s license to get on a plane or go into a federal building.

According to MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton, six agency offices, including the main one in Trenton, have now started issuing the Real ID licenses. She explained this is being done on a testing basis, but the licenses are still completely valid.

“As each week goes by, we’ll be adding agencies slower or faster depending on how the rollout goes," she said.

“We’re not committing to a schedule and we’re not publicizing the names of our test agencies, because the whole purpose of a test is to get things right and we don’t want to make promises we can’t keep.”

The agency has added 300 employees to work on Real ID implementation.

How long does it take?

When I got my new ID, the process took about 25 minutes from start to finish. But that didn't include waiting on any line.

The MVC is budgeting about 30 minutes to process an application. At first, people will have to make an appointment online at . The agency closest to your ZIP code will be the location where your appointment will be booked.

“By doing this by appointment we’re able to manage getting people in and out as quickly as possible without having to wait on line," Fulton said.

“As we do these appointments, it allows us to pressure test the system and it also allows our employees to get more and more proficient with an entirely new process.”

She stressed other states have had major Real ID headaches, and using an appointment system will minimize the chances for any significant problems.

More than 6 points needed

The process for Real ID is different than getting a regular driver’s license and it takes a little longer because agency workers have to scan each document an applicant provides and more documents are needed.

It’s not six points anymore. It’s two proofs of address, one proof of Social Security number, and six points of ID.

For my two proofs of address, I brought my existing driver's license and a copy of an online utility bill.

For my proof of Social Security number, I had my actual Social Security card.

For my required six points of identification, I used my valid U.S. passport, which counts as four points.

For the remaining points, I was able to use my driver's license and Social Security card, which I had already used for the address and Social Security proofs.

As a back up, I also had a copy of a bank statement, but it turns out I didn't need it this time.

MVC officials explain that if you do need to use a bank statement, you can black out the account numbers. All the MVC wants to see on the bank statement is the bank letterhead, your name and your address.

David Matthau was one of the first New Jersey residents to get a Real ID from the MVC. (Courtesy Maria Prato, NJ MVC)
David Matthau was one of the first New Jersey residents to get a Real ID from the MVC. (Courtesy Maria Prato, NJ MVC)

Fulton said the website has a document selector tool that allows you to figure out exactly what proofs you need for your address, your Social Security number and your six points of ID.

When this reporter went through the Real ID process everything proceeded smoothly, but the real test will come when the MVC begins to crack out more and more Real IDs in the coming months.

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