US travel document requirements have changed for Americans traveling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean by land or sea. US passports were previously only required for air travel to these countries-people traveling by land or sea could simply use their driver’s licenses and birth certificates (or other proof of citizenship). Now, all adults are required to show a US passport or another approved type of ID to return to the US, no matter what method of travel they are using. Fortunately, you have options! Do you need a passport book, a passport card, or an enhanced drivers license?

The federal government offers passport books for all types of travel. But you can also get a passport card if you are a frequent traveler by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. But if you don’t have a passport, you may still be able to travel to these destinations, including domestic air travel too. Some states are offering Enhanced Drivers Licenses, or EDLs in order to satisfy the Real ID Act requirements. The Real ID Act is a federal law that requires all states to issue drivers licenses and state IDs that satisfy federal standards. Without a Real ID Act compliant ID, travelers will not be able to travel within the US by airline. So every American should make sure they have a valid passport book, passport card, or EDL.

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:

New York Enhanced Drivers License

US Passports Vs Enhanced Driver’s Licenses

What are the advantages of having an EDL?  First of all, they are cheaper than getting a passport. Secondly, they fit more comfortably in your wallet than a passport book does, so they are more convenient. However, you can always get a passport card which is the same size as a drivers license. If all you need a WHTI-approved ID for is 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. Choosing between a passport or enhanced drivers license is easy: get the passport so you have more travel options. If there is an emergency and you need to fly home, you won’t be able to board an international flight with the EDL. That includes Canada and Mexico.

Currently, it takes about 2 months to get a passport if you apply directly to the Department of State with normal processing. If you pay the additional $60 to have it expedited, you’ll still be waiting at least 3 weeks. However, a private passport expediting company can often have your passport processed in as little as 24 hours. Consider using our service to get your US passports fast!

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 would still need a US Passport. For this reason, it’s best to also carry a passport card or passport book.

The EDL is also not valid for international air travel. Even if you are only flying in to Mexico or Canada, you still need a passport if you’re leaving the country by air.  Which brings us to another good reason to choose a US passport over the EDL- what if there’s an emergency while you’re in another country and you need to fly home unexpectedly? Your re-entry into the US will go much more smoothly if you have the proper form of ID!

Don’t let your travel plans leave you stuck at the border. Make sure you have your valid passport today!