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What is An Enhanced Driver’s License and Do you Need One?

The Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) is designed to provide the benefits of both a driver’s license and a passport — well, some passport benefits, at least — to United States citizens who are residents in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington only. They’re valid for traveling by land or sea to and from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

What Is an Enhanced Driver’s License?

An Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) is a driver’s license with limited passport features.

When you have an EDL (or EID, an Enhanced Identification Card for non-drivers), you have a card that is both a driver’s license and an adequate proof of identity and citizenship for traveling by land and sea* to and from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

* When traveling to and from any country by air, you must carry a standard passport. An EDL will not suffice.

>>MORE: When Is a Digital Driver’s License a Reality?

Enhanced Driver’s License Compliance

The EDL is compliant with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), meaning the document was designed to meet identity and citizenship requirements when entering the United States.

Moreover, the EDL is also a Radio Frequency Identity card (RFID), which means it can be identified by radio waves without requiring physical contact or even a line of sight. This technology speeds up identification checks at the border. However, no personal information is stored on the card; the radio frequency accesses only a unique reference number, which is matched up with information in a secure database.

>>MORE: How to Get an International Driver’s Permit?

Which States Issue an Enhanced Driver’s License?

Currently, the following states offer an Enhanced Driver’s License:

  • Michigan.
  • Minnesota.
  • New York.
  • Vermont.
  • Washington.

A few of our neighbors to the north issue EDLs, too; specifically, the Canadian provinces of:

  • British Columbia.
  • Manitoba.
  • Ontario.

>>MORE: What Is a REAL ID Driver’s License or ID Card?

Should You Get An EDL?

While an Enhanced Driver’s License is convenient, it’s not for everyone.

An EDL is not available unless you live in one of the few states that offer them and, if you do live in one of those states, an EDL would only benefit you if:

  • You travel, or expect to travel, to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean by land or sea.
  • You don’t require a passport because you don’t plan to travel by air and/or you don’t plan to travel to another country not covered by the EDL.

However, if an EDL would benefit you, the application process is simple and the cards themselves are more convenient to carry than a traditional passport — just toss it in your wallet!

>>MORE: Can I Get Car Insurance With a Suspended License?

How to Apply for an Enhanced Driver’s License

You’ll apply for an Enhanced Driver’s License or Enhanced Identification Card with your state’s motor vehicle agency. Typically, states require in-person applications, meaning you probably won’t be able to apply online or by mail.

If this is your first driver’s license, or your current driver’s license is expired, you’ll need to pass the same written and driving exams you’d have to take for a regular driver’s license.

Each state has its own application process and required fees, but when you apply for an EDL you can expect to provide:

  • Proof of state residency.
    • Because many states have implemented — or are in the process of implementing — REAL ID driver licenses and identification cards, you’ll probably need to show two or more proofs of residency.
    • States often accept documents like current utility bills, mortgage or rental agreements, and tax documents.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship.
    • Common examples include a certified U.S. birth certificate, a valid U.S. passport, or a Certificate of U.S. Citizenship (USCIS Form N-560) or Certificate of Naturalization (USCIS Form N-550 or N-570).
  • Proof of identity.
    • Usually, a current driver’s license or identification card is fine but if you don’t have one yet your birth certificate might suffice.
  • Proof of your Social Security number (SSN).
    • Bring your Social Security card; in some states, employee pay stubs or tax documents with your SSN might suffice.
  • Proof of any name change.
    • If your current legal name is different from that on any of the other documents you’ve shown, you must provide a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or other court document proving your name is legally changed.
  • Applicable fees.
    • Typically, an EDL costs around $30-$40 more than a driver’s license but far less than a standard passport.
  • Completed application.
    • Some states use the same application for an EDL as they do for a driver’s license, with a box to check indicating which license you want; others will have a separate application.
    • You can access the appropriate application at your local motor vehicle agency or on its website.

Visit the following states’ motor vehicle websites for instructions on applying for an EDL specific to that state:

Summary

Before you rush off to your local motor vehicle agency, determine whether an Enhanced Driver’s License is the best driving and travel document for you. While they’re less expensive than a traditional passport, they also cater to fewer people:

  • You must be a resident of one of the handful of states that offer the EDL.
  • You can only use an EDL for traveling to and from Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean by land or sea.
  • The EDL is not sufficient for air travel.

However, if you do live in one of those states and only occasionally or even daily travel to one of the approved countries (say, drive to Canada), and EDL could be perfect for you.

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