What’s An Enhanced Driver’s License & Will TSA Accept It As Real ID?

by SharonKurheg

Real ID has been on the radar since 2005 (yep, that long). This act of Congress, “…modifies U.S. federal law pertaining to security, authentication, and issuance procedure standards for drivers’ licenses and identity documents, as well as various immigration issues pertaining to terrorism.”

It’s been put off a few times and, thanks to to the coronavirus pandemic, the “hard and fast” date of October 2020 was switched to October 2021…and then May 2023. #thankscovid

Unless the date changes again, a Real I.D. driver’s license will be required of every air traveler age 18+, as of May 3, 2023 (don’t worry about memorizing the date…as the time gets closer, you’ll read about it so often that you’ll be sick and tired of the term).

However a Real I.D. driver’s license isn’t the only I.D. you can use to prove to the TSA that you’re who you say you are. You’ll also be able to use:

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • An acceptable photo ID issued by a federally recognized, Tribal Nation/Indian Tribe
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential
  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License

When this info started going around, I knew what most of the “valid identification” types were. Except for that last one. Ever wonder what the difference was between a Real I.D. driver’s license and a state-issued Enhanced Driver’s License?

I’ll assume you already know what a Real ID driver’s license is ;-). But Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDL), according to the Department of Homeland Security, are:

…state-issued enhanced drivers licenses that provide proof of identity and U.S. citizenship. They are issued in a secure process, and include technology that makes travel easier. EDLs are a low-cost, convenient option for entering the United States from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean through a land or sea port of entry, in addition to serving as a permit to drive.

DHS has been working with individual states to enhance their drivers licenses and identification documents to comply with travel rules under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), effective June 1, 2009.

EDLs make it easier for U.S. citizens to cross the border into the United States because they include:

  • A Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip that will signal a secure system to pull up your biographic and biometric data for the CBP officer as you approach the border inspection booth.
  • A Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) or barcode that the CBP officer can read electronically if RFID isn’t available.

EDLs are currently only available to residents of Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington. Note that they’re all “border countries” to Canada. That’s on purpose – they can be used in place of a passport for border crossings from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

If you live in one of those states, getting an EDL is almost the same as getting a standard DL. Here are the rules for getting an EDL for each of the 5 states:

But since they’re also perfectly legal driver’s licenses, you can use them as those, as well…even at the TSA checkpoints once Real I.D. is required.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary



Ghostrider5408 October 4, 2022 - 4:11 pm

Be AWARE I once drove with one of my associates from Seattle to Vancouver BC crossed over using my enhanced Drivers license, plans change and I had to grab a flight back. When I got to the airport they wouldn’t accept my “enhanced ID” security and US Customs. I had to talk to someone in DC gave them my information etc, then taken to one of “those rooms” for questioning fortunately for me I had a red passport while in the military so my file was pretty full. If you drive in you drive out @!

John B October 5, 2022 - 3:05 pm

I really wish the US would just adopt a Federal ID card like many other nations. Even better would be one that works like a DOD CAC and ties in all your various “licenses” (drivers, professional, hunting/fishing, firearms, etc). While I understand states rights, it would be nice to see the information and processes stop being silo’d in 50+ different ways.

SharonKurheg October 5, 2022 - 3:12 pm

That would be a lot more convenient, wouldn’t it? But you’re right…it all comes down to states’ rights…and different states having different laws. i.e. for driver’s licenses, some states allow you to get a license at 16.5, others not until you’re 18. Some states allow an 18y/o to buy a long gun, others make you wait until you’re 21. Unless everything you mentioned, and more, was standardized by the Federal Gov’t, with no wiggle room, I’m afraid your wish won’t be granted.

derek October 5, 2022 - 6:59 pm

Washington State is pro-illegal immigrant so they refuse to have Real ID. To avoid getting into trouble with the federal government, they say the more expensive enhanced DL is the Real ID.

In contrast, Michigan, which has an enhanced DL also has a regular DL that is Real ID.

Minnesota, New York, and Vermont have enhanced DL at a higher fee but also regular DL that is Real ID and a non-Real ID DL at the same cost.

I consider a DL to be essential for renting a car while traveling so I don’t want to take it out and give it to the TSA at the checkpoint. Instead, I either give them my passport or Nexus card (which is a cheaper version of Global Entry).


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