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What Is an Enhanced Driver’s License?

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If you live in Washington, Vermont, New York, Minnesota, or Michigan and have plans to visit family members or go on vacation, you might have to rethink your mode of travel. Most of these states have imposed deadlines requiring all state citizens to obtain enhanced driver’s licenses or real IDs if they plan to travel by air. What is an enhanced driver’s license, and how is it different from a real ID? Here’s everything you need to know.

What Is an Enhanced Driver’s License?

An enhanced driver’s license (EDL) looks like a standard driver’s license except for the banner that reads “Enhanced” and the picture of the American flag that appears on the bottom-right corner.

A state-issued enhanced driver’s license serves as proof of citizenship and identity for domestic air travel, as well as gaining access to federal buildings and military bases. It also provides travelers with a convenient, low-cost alternative when re-entering the US from Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean through sea or land ports of entry. Since it is also a driver’s license, an EDL license also functions as a permit to drive.

The Department of Homeland Security has been working closely with states to enhance their identification documents and driver’s licenses to comply with the travel guidelines as defined by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

The WHTI is a joint plan between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to implement one of the primary recommendations of the 9/11 Commission as well as the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act’s (IRTPA’s) statutory mandates.

The IRTPA tasked the DOS and DHS with developing and implementing a plan that requires all travelers – both US and foreign nationals alike, to present a passport or any other acceptable documentation that denotes an individual’s citizenship and identity when entering the country.

Enhanced driver’s licenses contain two main technologies that make it easy for US citizens to cross into the country at a port of entry:

  • A Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip that transmits a signal to a secure system. It prompts it to bring up your biometric and biographic information as you approach a border inspection booth.
  • A Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) in the form of a barcode. It can be read electronically to pull up your biometric and biographic information at a border inspection booth if the RFID chip malfunctions.

Enhanced Driver’s License Requirements

To apply for an enhanced driver’s license in Washington, Vermont, New York, Minnesota, or Michigan, you’ll need to provide:

  • Proof of name
  • Proof of identity, social security number (not required for Washington state residents), US citizenship, and state residency
  • Completed application form
  • EDL fee ($35 for Washington residents, $25 for Vermont residents, $30 for New York residents, $15 for Minnesota residents, or $45 for Michigan residents)
  • Photograph (for Michigan residents only)

What Is a Real ID?

In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act. This federal law defines the minimum security requirements for license production and issuance and makes it illegal for certain federal agencies to accept identification cards and driver’s licenses from states that don’t meet these standards.

The Act further establishes the situations in which a real ID (and not any other form of identification) would be required. These include:

  • Access to certain federal facilities
  • Access to all nuclear power plants
  • Boarding a federally regulated commercial aircraft

In December 2013, the DHS announced that the enforcement of the Real ID Act would be carried out in phases. This mode of implementation was designed to ensure that the law was enforced fairly and responsibly.

To date, half of all the states have met the minimum standards provided by the Act. The deadline for compliance has been set for May 3, 2023. This means that any adult aged 18 years or older flying to anywhere within the US borders, accessing a federal building, or entering a military base needs a real ID before they can do so.

Real ID Requirements

To apply for a Real ID, here’s a list of the things you need:

  • Proof of identity that displays your date of birth; proof of US citizenship or a government-issued document showing lawful status
  • Name change documents (if applicable) such as a marriage certificate if the name on your identity document is different from your current name
  • Social security number (SSN) as displayed on your social security card, W-2 Form, SSA-1099 Form, Non-SSA-1099 Form, pay stub, or a printed deposit slip displaying your name and SSN
  • Proof of residency by presenting two documents: a bank statement, canceled check, credit card statement, certified college/university or grade/high school transcript, deed/title or lease/rental agreement, etc., bearing your residential address.
  • Written signature on a canceled check, standard driver’s license, credit/debit card from a major provider, or social security card

Enhanced Driver’s License vs Real ID – Which One Should You Get

Now that you know the difference between an EDL and a real ID, the question becomes – which one should you get? The answer to this question all boils down to your current lifestyle. How often do you travel for work or leisure? Are your travels primarily within the US, or are you mainly an international traveler?

A real ID will suffice for individuals who travel a lot within the US. On the other hand, international travelers may require enhanced driver’s licenses. An EDL and real ID can both be used to fly within the US and enter federal facilities.

The difference between the two documents comes in when re-entering the country through a land or sea port-of-entry. Only EDLs allow US citizens to cross into the country from the Mexico and Canadian borders, as well as from some countries in the Caribbean.

It is worth noting that EDLs are not available in every state. Currently, only five states in the country are issuing enhanced driver’s licenses, namely: Washington, Vermont, New York, Minnesota, and Michigan.

Do You Need an Enhanced License to Fly?

From May 3, 2023, US citizens will need an EDL or ID card, a passport or passport card, or any other form of accepted documentation to board domestic flights. Technically speaking, if you already have a valid Global Entry Card, US passport, federally-recognized tribal-issued ID, or a Department of Defense ID, you don’t need an enhanced license to fly.

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