Enhanced driver’s licenses provide proof of identity and citizenship when crossing the United States border between Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean by land or via seaport. The licenses serve as low-cost alternatives to passports, as well as driving permits. They are voluntary and issued by states, not the federal government. Enhanced driver’s licenses are recommended as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The initiative was developed by the U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security to help prevent terrorism.
Enhanced Driver's License vs. Regular a Regular Driver's License
There are several differences between an enhanced driver’s license and a regular one. The key difference is that all drivers in the United States are required to have a driver’s license in order to drive. Drivers have a choice whether to obtain an enhanced driver’s license for ease of travel between the countries mentioned above.
Enhanced driver’s licenses are more technologically advanced than are regular driver’s licenses. They include a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip that accesses your personal information when you pass through a border inspection booth. The enhanced licenses also have a barcode that can access the same information in case the RFID chip isn’t working.
Further, a regular driver’s license does not grant you the same permissions to travel across borders as an enhanced license.
What States Have an Enhanced Driver's License?
Enhanced driver’s licenses are only available to U.S. citizens who reside in one of five states: New York, Vermont, Washington, Minnesota and Michigan. These five states border Canada and have a lot of traffic across the border.
Read More: Can You Have Drivers Licenses in Two States?
How do You Get an Enhanced Driver's License?
How you get an enhanced driver’s license is generally the same in all five states. You must apply in-person and show proof of identification, social security verification, state residency and U.S. citizenship. Minnesota and Washington also require an interview as part of the application process.
Enhanced driver's licenses are available to those who are 18 and older who are already licensed to drive. If you do not have a driver’s license, you must apply for an enhanced learner’s permit or intermediate driver’s license. Learner’s permits are available to those 16 years and older. If you don’t need to drive, you can be any age to apply for an enhanced non-driver ID.
All five states require a special fee to obtain an enhanced driver’s license on top of the regular license or renewal fees.
If you reside in one of the five states that offer enhanced driver’s licenses, be sure to check on the specific requirements to obtain one in your state.
Do You Need a Passport or Enhanced Driver's License to Fly?
Enhanced driver’s licenses are insufficient on their own for airline travel across the U.S. border. You still need a valid passport to fly internationally.
Enhanced driver’s licenses provide proof of identity and citizenship when crossing the United States border by land or via sea port, but are not valid for airplane travel.
- Department of Homeland Security: Enhanced Drivers Licenses
- New York State Department of Motor Vehicles: Get an Enhanced Driver’s License
- Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles: Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL)
- Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services: Driver’s License - Enhanced Driver’s License
- Washington State Department of Licensing: Get your EDL
- Michigan Secretary of State: Introduction to the Michigan Enhanced Driver's License
Leslie Bloom earned a J.D. from U.C. Davis’ King Hall, with a focus on public interest law. She is a licensed attorney who has done advocacy work for children and women. She holds a B.S. in print journalism, and has more than 20 years of experience writing for a variety of print and online publications, including the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.