Enhanced Driver’s Licenses – What They Are and Where to Get Them

Five states can issue Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDLs). These licenses can confirm U.S. citizenship and make it easier for citizens to enter the United States from certain countries. EDLs contain radio frequency identification (RFID) chips that are connected to a database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

As of now, five states on the Canadian border (Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington) participate in the program. Those with an EDL do not need to show a passport when crossing the border by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

Instead, border agents can read the RFID chip. The card instantly lets the agent know the person is approved to pass through. This simple step cuts down on border-crossing wait times for everyone.

Enhanced Driver’s Licenses may not be used instead of a passport to board international flights.

How to Get an Enhanced Driver’s License

The rules for obtaining an EDL are slightly different for each of the five states:

Michigan: As long as there are no violations on your Michigan driver’s license that would prevent you from otherwise legally operating a motor vehicle, you can upgrade to an EDL. The Michigan Secretary of State issues EDL upgrades. To apply, you must make an in-person appointment and:

  • Provide documents showing your valid Social Security number, U.S. citizenship, identity and Michigan residency
  • Take a new photograph
  • Pay a $45 fee

Minnesota: Residents of Minnesota may apply for an EDL. Applicants must be at least 16 years old. The Minnesota DMV requires new applicants to answer a 120-item questionnaire. Additionally, you must provide:

  • Proof of identity (including date of birth and full legal name)
  • Proof of a valid Social Security number
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship and Minnesota residency
  • A new photo taken at the DMV
  • A $15 fee in addition to other licensing fees

New York: New York drivers can upgrade their current driver’s license to an EDL by visiting their local DMV. To apply you will need to provide:

  • Proof of Social Security number
  • Proof of name
  • Proof of S. citizenship and New York residency
  • A $30 enhanced document fee in addition to other DMV fees

Vermont: Vermont residents who are also U.S. citizens may apply for an EDL. Currently, applications are only accepted in Bennington, Montpelier, Newport, Rutland, South Burlington and Springfield. To apply, make an in-person appointment at the DMV and bring:

  • A completed ELD Application
  • Current operator license
  • Proof of Social Security number, identity, US citizenship and Vermont residency
  • A $30 fee in addition to any other fees

Washington: Washington state residents can obtain an EDL by making an appointment at a licensing office. You will need:

  • Proof of citizenship, identity and Washington residency
  • Your Social Security number (card is not needed)
  • A credit card, check or cash to pay fees
    • Fees for your first EDL include a $35 application fee, a $1 technology fee and a $16 per year issuance fee ($116 for five years).
    • The fee to upgrade your current Washington license to an EDL is $7 per year for the time remaining on your license ($7 to $56).

Adoption in Other States

On June 30, 2023, Ohio signed House Bill 23 into law. HB 23 makes Ohio the sixth state to offer Enhanced Driver’s Licenses. At this time, Ohio residents can’t apply for an EDL. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is still coordinating with the DHS. Ohio EDLs will cost $25 more than a standard card.

Several other states have considered joining the program, including California and Texas.

California was close to approving EDLs in 2015. Legislation moved past the Senate, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill amid privacy concerns. Advocates for privacy worry the RFID chip could be used to track and store more information than citizens realize, and there was nothing in the legislation preventing California law enforcement from accessing the chips.

The Department of Homeland Security states that no personally identifiable information is stored on the card’s RFID chip. When scanned, it uses a unique ID number linked to information contained in a secure DHS database.

The EDL also comes with a shielded sleeve that prevents anyone from reading your license without your knowledge.

The technology for the border patrol to read these cards is already in place. More than 95% of border crossings are through the top 39 land ports. All of these ports are already equipped with RFID readers, which read passports in addition to EDLs.

Using RFID technology, driver’s licenses are getting a technological boost that will also save time at American borders. As this technology becomes more widely used, more states may opt into EDL technology.

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