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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Upgrade your Washington driver’s license or you may not be able to fly

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 30, 2017

An enhanced state driver’s license may be needed to board an airplane in Washington as early as next year.

After the deadline, a regular state driver’s license in Washington won’t qualify and won’t get you on a plane, either for domestic or international flights.

Currently, the federal government has Washington under a deadline of Jan. 18, 2018, to bring licenses into compliance with the Real ID Act of 2005, an outgrowth of post-9/11 security measures. The deadline could be extended, but that’s by no means sure, and even so, the final deadline for all states is Oct. 1, 2020.

After the deadline, only passengers with an enhanced license, passport or other acceptable identification will be allowed to board aircraft. Those with only a regular driver’s license from Washington state will not be able to get on a plane.

Idaho is currently working on upgrading its driver licenses and plans to be in compliance well in advance of the 2020 deadline, said Reed Hollinshead, spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department.

“You don’t even want to get close to that final deadline,” he said.

Air travelers have the option to use other forms of accepted identification such as a passport, military ID or trusted traveler cards, among others. Many travelers already use one of those.

Also, the enhanced license or ID in Washington allows residents to cross into Canada and Mexico. A regular driver’s license no longer works for those border crossings.

Federally approved identification – enhanced cards, passports or military IDs – is required now to get onto military bases and other federal facilities, including Hanford.

Licensing officials believe that a large number of travelers currently do not have the type of ID that will get them through security at the airport, and at some point, they will have to upgrade their documents if for no other reason than to travel.

Brad Benefield, spokesman for the Washington state Department of Licensing, said members of the public should take steps to get their upgrades.

In Washington, an enhanced driver’s license currently costs an additional $9 a year. If you have two years left on your regular license before it expires, then upgrading will cost only $18 initially.

After that, a six-year renewal will cost $108 instead of the $54 charged for a regular state driver’s license. Lawmakers are considering a plan to offer a lower introductory enhanced license or ID fee to get people to make the conversion.

The state is likely to reduce the additional cost of an enhanced license or ID to help ease transition, Benefield said.

Getting an enhanced license can be done at any time but requires an appearance at a licensing exam office.

There are two in Spokane County: One is at 9107 N. Country Homes Blvd., and the other is at 12801 E. Sprague Ave. Others are located in Newport, Colville, Davenport, Republic, Pullman, Clarkston, Ephrata, Moses Lake and elsewhere east of the Cascades. Offices in Spokane are open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

If you go, you might check the requirements for identification beforehand. Those can found at

You will need to present identification to prove your identity, U.S. citizenship and residency in Washington. An original birth certificate and documents pertaining to your residency are needed. A passport is one of the best types of ID to use.

Allow time for the process: You will be interviewed by two different examiners. The application asks for your father’s name, mother’s maiden name and their birthplaces. It takes a minimum of an hour.

Open hours and wait times at each office can be checked online in advance. To check the offices online, go to

At the licensing office, the examiners will take a photograph of you that will include a biometric scan of your face, which provides an additional measure of proof and security, Benefield said.

The enhanced license or ID contains a radio frequency chip that gives border agents advance knowledge of your identification as you approach the crossing.

Benefield said the RF chip system uses a secure code to connect with the border patrol. Thus, personal information cannot be stolen by an RF reader.

The state is likely to reduce the additional cost of an enhanced license or ID to help ease transition, he said.

Also, the state will continue to issue regular, nonenhanced cards for people who are not U.S. citizens but live and work in Washington, he said. Regular licenses are also being kept for people who want a lower-cost option for licensing and identification. However, those licenses by 2020 will have to include a disclaimer saying they are not valid for federal purposes, or similar language.

Bills before the Washington Legislature would allow the licensing department to use that language on nonenhanced cards.

Contact the writer:

(509) 459-5454

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