What Does Federal Limits Apply Mean: A Deeper Look At Identification In Federal Law

Identification is vital in any working society. Most countries provide their nationalities with identification documents such as ID cards or Passports. 

These documents contain specific data that recognizes the holder as the person s/he claims to be. 

The US accepts three types of documents as proof of identity. Personal identification ID), driver’s license (DL), and Birth certificate.

These cards are not the same as the National ID card, but officers or law enforcers can also use them in their stead. 

When an identification card is not available, the driver’s license will provide for identification. However, it may not suffice due to the federal limits.

What Does Federal Limits Apply Mean?

Federal laws govern how a citizen or a legal immigrant is identified. A driver’s license is one of the documents that can be used for identity reasons, according to section 1028. Nonetheless, there are restrictions to this.

Federal limits mean that a driving license will not be recognized as a means of identification. That means that a person who wants to travel via the airport and must provide proof of identification will not use their driving license with ‘federal limits apply’ on it.

Types Of Driving Licenses

There are two types of driving licenses provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). One that has the ‘federal limit apply’ and one that doesn’t.

The government has made it a requirement for everyone. The Actual ID Act requires citizens and legal migrants to have real IDs or driver licenses. A shiny golden bear with the picture of a star appears on such driver’s licenses.

What Is The Real Identification Act?

The Real Identification Amendment Act is a set of laws passed to increase the principle used with identification documents. 

It specifies that driving licenses must meet standards about driving licenses for them to qualify for identification purposes. 

Citizens or immigrants from states that have not complied with this law will produce Real IDs. 

To obtain a Real Identification Act-compliant Driver’s license (DL), a person has to present themselves in person at the DMV. They also have to produce an identification document such as a birth certificate.

The primary purpose of this Act is to deal with terrorist activity. Thanks to the increased features such as Social Security numbers, evidence of residency, and technological features, Real IDs are much harder to forge. 

Documents Essential For Real Identification and Driver’s License

When someone applies for a Real Identification or valid driver’s license (DL), they must provide documents. These documents include:

  • Documents that prove the applicant’s legal residency and mailing address. You can achieve this by providing documents such as utility bills, credit card bills, and so on.
  • Documents proving the applicant’s birthdate often include a birth certificate, passport, visa, documentation proving permanent residency documents.
  • You’ll need to show proof of an immigrant’s legal status or their Social Security number.
  • An ID that has a photo but should also contain the name and birthdate
  • Documents that prove you had a name change. That includes marriage receipts, court decrees, etc

It is up to the state to ensure that the issuing authority of the documents can confirm if it is valid and complete. 

They do not accept foreign documents for this purpose. The only exception is a passport from a different country.

States are obligated to disclose data on drivers to integrate the Real ID database and the driving license databases. 

That includes, at the very least, the information on driving licenses and the data linked to them, including criminal history. That enhances law enforcement at all government levels. 

The applicant should make sure they have a list of all the documents required; different States have different requirements.

Importance Of Real ID Driver’s License

As stated before, it is essential to get a compliant driving license. That will make it easier for the driver and the federal authority in case of a routine stop. Matching your identity to the document you have provided means life goes on.

However, a person may choose a different document to identify themselves. That could be a passport or Real ID card. 

Both options are legally viable, but since a driving license is always on someone, getting the Real ID license is more feasible.

When a person wants to register for a Real ID, they can do so when applying for their driving license. 

If they already have a driving license, they must wait until it expires. The passport would be a great alternative in this case.

States That Meet Real ID Requirements

Some states have been able to comply with the Real ID Act’s standards because it has been in place for some time. The initial reaction was filled with objections and, to some extent,  conspiracy theories. 

Most of the opponents argued that the federal government was crossing the line. The state and federal governments had separate mandates, and the federal government needs to repeat that. Fortunately, they have agreed, and most have implemented the Act.

That means that they are providing driving licenses that are Real ID-compliant. The initial deadlines have been extended several years further. 

Considering that this amendment has been in existence since 9/11, it’s safe to say the deal is frustrating stakeholders. 

There has been a postponement of the deadline back to May 3rd, 2023. The advent of Covid 19 is to blame for this. 

The good thing is that a majority of the states have complied with the Act. Except for Oregon and Oklahoma, all the other states have made necessary arrangements to ensure the citizens have also complied.

It is also essential to understand that just because the state is compliant does not mean the citizens are. 

Citizens of compliant states are advised to check if their driving licenses are up to date and have complied with the Act.

Does Real ID Replace Passports?

This problem has made most US citizens question the validity of Real IDs. Real IDs are essential, but they do not replace a passport, as we discussed before. 

Passports are Real ID compliance and can be used as identification documents by themselves if anyone produces a passport where the situation requires proof of identification or is acceptable. For example, if they take a domestic flight, they can either produce a passport or a Real ID.

Passports are also acceptable in federal buildings. If a person is to walk into a federal property and produce a passport as a means of identification, the deal law enforcers will allow it.

However, passports are the only documents accepted for international flights. Real IDs are only functional within the US border and not when one wants to fly to another country.

Cost Of Real IDs

Some costs are incurred in the process of getting a Real ID. That will depend on what process is undertaken. Expect to pay at least $50 or more for a new Real ID, depending on the state where you live.

The costs of a person who is upgrading an existing DL will be lower; expect to pay at least $10-$20 or more. 

That will also depend on the state in which the application is being created. The expected average cost ranges between $10 and $75.

Benefits Of Real ID Act 

Some rumors have hindered the implementation of the Real ID Act. That has regressed the steps made in national security in general. Apart from the misinformation, the benefits of Real ID outweigh the inconveniences. 

The implementation of Real ID will benefit the entire country in several ways:

  1. Real ID will help deal with terrorism. Terrorists rely on the loopholes in the insurance of identification documents. With the Real ID Act, acquiring fake documents becomes almost impossible. Passengers boarding flights will be closely checked as a result of this.
  2. It will reduce, to a great extent, identity theft. Identity theft costs the United States $60 billion a year in lost income. Thanks to enhanced security features, both on the card and technologically, it will be impossible to steal identities.
  3. Real ID will decrease the number of illegal immigrants making their way and living in the US. The government will do this by mandating the use of Real ID over the falsified documents that some immigrants utilize.
  4. This Act will save taxpayers money to the run of millions, if not more. The implementation will deter identity theft and save states from spending millions as the federal government will subsidize the process. 
  5. Real IDs will make law enforcement easier. Shared information between the states and federal government makes law enforcement seamless and functional.


Identity documents are crucial if a citizen is to enjoy government services. Although changes can cause some inconvenience, it is always for the greater good. 

The ‘Federal limits apply’ tag makes it easy for federal agencies to operate. This article has accentuated the importance of laws that have given birth to this tag. We hope it helps highlight some of the answers you seek.

John Taylor
John Taylor
John Taylor is a seasoned writer with more than 10 years of experience as a professional. He has written professionally for many different organizations, such as The Atlantic and the Boston Globe. John can write on any topic you need him to cover, from business writing to creative nonfiction pieces. His portfolio speaks for his skills; he's not only an experienced writer but also an excellent editor and researcher!


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