Americans traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean by land or sea need an ID that complies with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to return to the United States. While everyone traveling internationally by plane needs a US passport, land and sea travelers have more options. So, should you get a passport book, a passport card, or an enhanced driver’s license? The table below summarizes the differences:
|Type of ID||Valid for International Air Travel?||Domestic Air Travel?||Land and sea travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean?||Available in all 50 states?||Price|
|US Passport Book||☑️||☑️||☑️||☑️||$130 for adults, $100 for children|
|US Passport Card||❌||☑️||☑️||☑️||$30 for adults, $15 for children|
|Enhanced Driver’s License||❌||☑️||☑️||❌ (Only in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Washington).||Varies|
The federal government offers passport books for all types of travel. You can also get a passport card for land or sea travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.
But if you don’t have either type of passport, you may still be able to travel to these destinations. Some states are offering Enhanced Drivers Licenses, or EDLs, which can also be used for land and sea travel to select international destinations within the Western Hemisphere.
What is the Enhanced Drivers License?
The Enhanced Drivers License contains a radio frequency identification chip that contains information about the person the EDL was issued to, so they are harder to fake than a regular driver’s license. Here is an example of the New York Enhanced Drivers License:
US Passports vs. Enhanced Driver’s Licenses
What are the advantages of having an EDL? First of all, an EDL is cheaper than a passport. Secondly, it fits more comfortably in your wallet than a passport book does, so it’s more convenient. And if you frequently drive across the border, it’s helpful to only need one form of ID for the entire trip.
However, if your state doesn’t offer EDLs, you can always get a passport card, which is the same size as a driver’s license. But remember: neither EDLs nor passport cards can be used for international air travel, even emergency flights home from Canada or Mexico.
About the REAL ID Act
Starting on October 1, 2021, you’ll need a Real ID to take a domestic flight. All US passports and Enhanced Driver’s Licenses qualify as REAL IDs. And even states that don’t offer Enhanced Driver’s license now have REAL ID-compliant licenses available. However, your current driver’s license might not be compliant, especially if it’s been a while since you renewed it. Read more about the Real ID Act here for details.
Which States Offer the Enhanced Drivers License?
Currently, only 5 states offer EDLs: Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington. If you live in one of those states, should you get an EDL or a passport?
An EDL will allow you to make quick trips across the border to Canada or Mexico by car or by boat. However, you should be aware that an EDL cannot be used for travel to countries other than Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean nations included in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. To visit those countries, you’ll still need a US Passport.
Also, remember that all international air travel requires a passport book. Even if you’re on a road trip or taking a cruise, you might need to fly home if an emergency arises. For this reason, it’s best to also carry a passport book. Additionally, if you’re going on a cruise, be aware that even though the EDL is WHTI-compliant, not all cruise lines will accept it without a birth certificate.
Travelers to Mexico should also note that according to the Department of State: “The Mexican government may not let U.S. citizens who are driving or walking to Mexico enter the country at land border crossings if they do not have a U.S. passport book or U.S. passport card.”
So, if all you need is a WHTI-approved ID for quick excursions on the other side of the border, an EDL may be fine. However, if you’ll be visiting our neighbor to the north (or south) for any length of time, it’s safest to travel with your passport. With that in mind, choosing between a passport book or an enhanced driver’s license is easy for frequent travelers: get the passport so you have more travel options and you can fly home if needed in an emergency.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Passport?
Currently, it takes about 7-10 weeks to get a passport if you apply directly to the Department of State with routine processing. If you pay the additional $60 to have it expedited, you’ll still be waiting at least 5 weeks. However, a private passport expediting company can often have your passport processed in as little as one week.