For anyone who doesn't live in a state that offers enhanced driver's licenses, also known as EDLs for short, there's probably a bit of confusion at this headline. What the heck is an enhanced driver's license? Can you get them anywhere? Are they used to travel across any international borders? Does one still need a regular driver's license in addition to an EDL? Can you get one in any state or for another state? Understandably, the list of questions surrounding this unusual travel ticket is extensive.
Alternatively, there's the passport, which is a tried and true form of travel identification that's been used for decades. However, does one need a passport if they have an EDL? And, when it comes to crossing the border, does one need a passport in addition to an EDL? Once again, there are many questions - which is why we're here to answer all the things that confuse travelers about both of these forms of identification. While they can't be used interchangeably, they do overlap in terms of where a person can travel, and how.
For Starters, What Is An Enhanced License, And Where Can You Get One?
An Enhanced Driver's License, EDL for short, can only be obtained in five states: Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington. These are all states that border another country (Canada), therefore, an EDL can be used at the border crossings. However, an EDL also permits travel in other countries, as well, and not just those that share borders with the U.S. So, what is this magical card all about, then?
To obtain an EDL, drivers must go to the DMV and apply for one. The cost of an enhanced license will vary based on the state, but there's always an extra fee to pay for having a license that also doubles as a means for travel identification. The ID will have a visible differentiation between what it is vs. a regular driver's license, which is to keep people from replicating them or counterfeiting an EDL. It also might take slightly longer to get an EDL in the mail since, while it is a driver's license, it does vary from the typical license. The benefit of having one of these is the fact that travelers can use it to get into both Canada and Mexico, and it can be shown at both border crossings as a form of legitimate identification for entry. An EDL can also be used in the event that a traveler is going to the Caribbean, which is helpful in the event that someone doesn't have a passport or doesn't have time to obtain one (always check territory restrictions before booking trips).
So, it could be said that an EDL is great for use in 'local' international travel. However, this doesn't mean that it's always a substitute for a passport. Additionally, since the EDL is not available in every state, it means that more than half of the country does not have access to such a form of identification. So, there are still downsides to this, and it does not grant travelers access across all international borders nor does it replace a passport when boarding a plane to another country. Temporary EDLs also are not accepted at border crossings so, similar to a passport, travelers will be required to wait until they've received the formal copy of their license before using it for travel purposes.
Is A Passport Better?
For people who don't live in states where EDLs are available, obviously, it makes sense to get a passport. EDLs are much cheaper but for those on a budget who are looking to do that 'local' international travel, a passport card might be something to look into. For those who do live in EDL states, it's a worthy thing to have even if they're not planning on crossing international borders anytime soon. For a fee that's not extraordinary, it won't break the budget to splurge for the extra $30 or so license.
Anyone who does live in a state where an EDL is an option but is planning on traveling to a country that's not Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean should absolutely invest in a passport. Simply put, and EDL does not grant access to any other countries and will likely never be used for such purposes. It's easier to think of the EDL as a special privilege granted to certain states that share borders with other countries - it won't grant access to the world, but it will allow country-to-country crossings. A passport is a long-term investment that, in the long run, will permit travel practically anywhere, and will last longer than an enhanced license.