REAL ID vs Enhanced ID – What’s the Difference?

Updated on April 10, 2024
At a Glance:
  • The main difference between a Real ID and an Enhanced ID is that an Enhanced ID can be used for entering the US by land and sea without a passport.

  • The Enhanced ID also costs $30 more than a Real ID.

  • Real IDs are compliant in all 50 states, while Enhanced IDs serve as an alternative to Canadian passports for entry into the US by land or sea.

  • Enhanced IDs have privacy protection measures, including an RFID chip with no personally identifiable information stored.
  • People have the chance to get a REAL ID or an Enhanced ID in the United States. But the problem is that not many know what these two are and how they are different. It’s important to understand this before getting one.

    Here is all you need to know regarding REAL ID vs Enhanced ID. This way, you can make the right decision on which to get.

    Difference Between REAL ID vs Enhanced ID

    A blue and white icon illustrating a checklist, with some items checked off and others not.

    First things first, we need to establish what REAL IDs and Enhanced IDs are before we can get into the differences between them:

    REAL ID Overview

    The REAL ID came into existence in 2005 as a response to increased security concerns following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    Key Features:

    • Suitable for domestic flights.
    • Can be used to access federal facilities and nuclear power plants.
    • Does not permit entry into the U.S. through land or sea borders without supplementary documents.

    Enhanced ID Overview

    The Enhanced ID provides a higher level of security than the REAL ID and acts as a proof of U.S. citizenship.

    Key Benefits:

    • Incorporates all the use-cases of a REAL ID, like domestic flights and accessing federal facilities.
    • An ace up its sleeve: It allows holders to enter the U.S. via land and sea borders without the need for a passport.
    • Beyond being a driving license, it serves as a cost-effective option for travelers entering the U.S. from neighboring countries such as Mexico, Canada, or even from the Caribbean.

    Tech-Savvy Features

    The Enhanced ID is future-ready. It boasts a Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) or a barcode, streamlining the scanning process for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Moreover, if the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is unavailable, this feature is invaluable. An RFID chip securely presents the holder’s biometric and biographic details to CBP officers, particularly when approaching the border inspection booth.

    What’s the Difference?

    The main difference between a REAL ID and an Enhanced ID is that an Enhanced ID can be used for entering the US by land and sea without a passport. The Enhanced ID also costs $30 more than a REAL ID. Below, you will find a more thorough comparison of the to types of ID:

    AspectREAL IDEnhanced ID
    Issued byU.S. state or territory’s DMV or equivalent agencyU.S. state or territory’s DMV or equivalent agency
    PurposeFederal identification for domestic flights and entry into federal facilitiesFederal identification for domestic flights, entry into federal facilities, and border crossing to Canada by land or sea
    Proof of CitizenshipUsually requires U.S. citizenship or lawful presenceRequires U.S. citizenship and proof of residency in the issuing state
    Documentation NeededTypically requires proof of identity, lawful presence, and Social Security NumberRequires additional proof of residency in the issuing state
    Application ProcessIn-person visit to the DMV or equivalent agency, submission of required documents, and payment of feesIn-person visit to the DMV or equivalent agency, submission of required documents, and payment of fees
    FeesVaries by state but typically $30 – $60Varies by state but typically $30 – $60
    ValidityUsually 8 years (varies by state)Usually 8 years (varies by state)
    Features– Standard identification card– Standard identification card
    – Indicates compliance with federal REAL ID Act– Indicates compliance with federal REAL ID Act
    – Can be used for domestic flights and federal facility access– Can be used for domestic flights and federal facility access
    – Can be used for land and sea border crossings to Canada
    – May have RFID technology for enhanced security

    Guide to the REAL ID

    A simple blue and white icon depicting a user profile on an ID card.

    If you’re going to get a REAL ID, then you might as well get as much information about it as you can, so you know what to expect. Below is some necessary information about the document.

    What Is a REAL ID?

    The federal REAL ID Act has set new standards for forms of identification needed for domestic flights within the U.S. and to access secure federal premises like military bases, federal courthouses, and more.

    If you’re from California, there’s good news: the state’s REAL ID driver’s license or identification card is compliant with these new standards. You can easily identify it by the golden bear and star emblem on it.

    Want to apply for a REAL ID in California? Here’s what you’ll need:

    • Proof of identity
    • Evidence of California residency
    • A visit to the DMV is essential

    Additionally, be prepared to provide your Social Security number when filling out the REAL ID application, though some exceptions might apply.

    It’s worth noting, however, that those applying or renewing their license under the AB 60 provision won’t be eligible for a REAL ID driver’s license or ID card.

    Which States Are REAL ID Compliant?

    The cool thing regarding a REAL ID is that it’s compliant in all 50 states of the United States. With that in mind, you don’t have to worry about it not being compliant in your state at all.

    Description and Schedule of Enforcement Phases

    There are some enforcement phases, and they are all cumulative. In every single phase, the measures will stay in effect through successive phases. Furthermore, each of the phases will start with a 3-month period, where agencies can send notices to people who attempt to use their ID cards or driver’s licenses from noncompliance states, but access is still allowed.

    Phases of Enforcement

    However, you should keep in mind that when this period ends, no agency is going to accept this identification for entry to any Federal facility. This means the persons will have to follow the alternate procedures of the agency. The agency in question will make these other steps available:

    • 1st Phase: Restricted areas (such as areas that aren’t accessible by agency contractors, guests, and even personnel) for DHS’s Nebraska Avenue Complex headquarters.
    • 2nd Phase: Restricted areas when it comes to all Federal nuclear power plants and facilities.
    • 3rd Phase: Semi-restricted areas (such as areas that are accessible for the general public, but ID-based access control is required) for the majority of Federal facilities. People will still have access to Federal facilities to apply for receiving Federal benefits.
    • 4th Phase: Boarding commercial aircraft that are federally regulated.

    Limitations

    When you don’t have to access a Federal facility, the Act doesn’t require anyone to show any identification. Conversely, it doesn’t stop the agency from accepting other types of identity documents different from non-compliant state documents (like a U.S. passport or passport card).

    On top of that, the prohibitions of the Act will not affect the other uses of the ID cards or the driver’s licenses that are unrelated to official purposes as defined in the act. This also included cards and licenses from non-compliant states.

    The REAL ID Status by State

    A blue and white icon depicting a pinpoint on a stylized map, representing location or navigation.

    The REAL ID Act has been a topic of discussion for years, influencing the types of identification accepted by Federal agencies. Here’s a detailed breakdown of where each state and territory stands with respect to this Act as of October 2023.

    Compliant States/Territories

    If you hail from any of the following states or territories, you’re in luck. These regions are fully compliant with the REAL ID Act:

    • Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    Extension States/Territories

    These states/territories have been given a reprieve until October 10, 2017. Until then, Federal agencies will continue to accept driver’s licenses and identification cards from:

    • Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Northern Marianas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virgin Islands, Virginia, and Washington.

    Grace Period States/Territories

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has provided a grace period for the following state, allowing its driver’s licenses to be accepted by Federal agencies until July 10, 2017:

    • Oregon

    Non-compliant States/Territories

    If you’re from these states, be aware. Federal agencies and nuclear power plants won’t accept your driver’s licenses and state IDs for official purposes:

    • Minnesota and Missouri

    Note: Federal officials will continue to recognize Enhanced Driver’s Licenses from Minnesota.

    Understanding the Classifications

    For clarity, here’s a brief on the classifications:

    • Compliant States/Territories: Fully in line with the REAL ID Act.
    • Extension States/Territories: Granted an extension till October 10, 2017, to get their IDs compliant.
    • Grace Period States/Territories: These have a temporary relief period provided by DHS, which allows their driver’s licenses to be accepted by Federal agencies until a specific date.
    • Under Review: These states/territories are undergoing assessment. REAL ID enforcement will kick-off on January 30, 2017, unless an extension is granted or compliance is attained.
    • Non-compliant States/Territories: These regions are not in compliance, and their licenses and IDs aren’t accepted by Federal agencies.

    Illinois REAL ID Update

    The federal government has given a reprieve by extending the deadline for REAL IDs in Illinois to May 7, 2025. By this date, you’ll need to either carry a valid U.S. Passport or procure a REAL ID from the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office for domestic flights. It’s essential to be informed about the choices available to you.

    Here’s a quick guide:

    1. Accepted Identification: Aside from the REAL ID, there are other identification forms that the TSA accepts. For a comprehensive list, check out the TSA website.
    2. Applying for REAL ID: If you’re leaning towards getting a REAL ID, ensure you have all necessary documents. A handy REAL ID Interactive Checklist can guide you on this. Once ready, you have two ways to proceed:
      • By Appointment: You can schedule an appointment at any of the 30 designated facilities. To know which ones need a prior appointment or to book one, visit Secretary of State Facility Appointments.
      • Walk-in: If appointments aren’t your thing, there are walk-in facilities available.
    3. Facility Locations: Most Driver Services facilities in Illinois are issuing REAL IDs. However, there are some exceptions, including mobile units and express facilities like Diversey, Lockport, Orland Township, Rockford Auburn St., and Roscoe. To locate the most convenient facility near you, use the Facility Finder.

    Plan ahead and ensure your identification is up-to-date for hassle-free domestic travel!

    Florida REAL ID Update

    The nationwide implementation of the REAL ID Act kicked off on May 11, 2008. Florida, staying ahead of the curve, started issuing credentials in line with this act after January 1, 2010. If you’re wondering how to identify them – just look for a star in the upper right corner of the card. An example is showcased on the sample license to the right. With this, Florida proudly stands as a REAL ID compliant state, ensuring that all its licenses are recognized across the U.S.

    In a significant announcement on December 20, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security laid out their plan for enforcing the REAL ID credentials. This enforcement would be executed in a structured, equitable, and judicious manner. The subsequent chart elaborates on the four key phases of this enforcement.

    Wisconsin REAL ID Update

    From May 7, 2025, if you wish to fly domestically, enter a military base, or access other federal buildings, the Department of Homeland Security mandates that you either have a REAL ID compliant identification or another acceptable form like a passport. In line with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005, Wisconsin’s DMV now issues REAL ID compliant identifications, easily recognizable with a ‘µ’ symbol. Not sure if you already possess one? Check your ID’s status now.

    Key Takeaways for Wisconsin Residents:

    • Two Types of Cards: Wisconsin provides both REAL ID-compliant and non-compliant driver licenses and ID cards. The distinction is simple:
      • REAL ID-compliant cards bear a ‘µ’ symbol.
      • Non-compliant cards are labeled “NOT FOR FEDERAL PURPOSES.”
    • Upgrading to REAL ID: When renewing, you can transition to a REAL ID-compliant card at no extra charge. If your existing license or ID doesn’t expire before 2025 but you want to switch to a REAL ID-compliant one, you’ll be charged the cost of a duplicate card.
    • Alternatives to REAL ID: If you don’t have a REAL ID-compliant card, fret not. A valid U.S. passport or other federally approved identification will also suffice for domestic flights. See the complete list of TSA-approved documents.
    • Functionalities of REAL ID: A REAL ID-compliant card isn’t just for flying domestically. It will also grant you access to federal facilities. However, if you’re thinking about international travel, remember: you’ll still need your passport.

    Guide to the Enhanced ID

    A blue and white icon representing an ID card with a verification checkmark, signifying its authenticity or compliance.

    Just like with a REAL ID, there are a few things you should know about the Enhanced ID before you get one. In the following paragraphs, you will find the information you need to be aware of.

    What is an Enhanced ID?

    Enhanced Drivers Licenses, or EDLs, are not your standard driver’s licenses. Issued by select states, they come embedded with features that prove your identity and U.S. citizenship, especially handy when you’re driving across the U.S. border.

    Here’s what sets EDLs apart:

    • Security: These licenses undergo a stringent issuance process ensuring heightened security.
    • Technology-Enhanced: They come integrated with technology features designed to simplify travel.
    • Versatile Utility: Beyond just serving as a driving license, EDLs offer a cost-effective and convenient solution for those traveling into the U.S. via land or sea from neighboring regions like Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been proactive in this context. Post the enforcement of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) on June 1, 2009, DHS collaborated with specific states to uplift their standard driver’s licenses. The goal? To ensure they comply with the WHTI’s stringent travel norms.

    Enhanced IDs by State

    A blue and white icon illustrating the shape of the state of Texas with a flag marker, indicating a specific location or point of interest within the state.

    As of now, you can get an EDL from these states:

    • Michigan
    • Minnesota
    • New York
    • Ohio
    • Vermont
    • Washington

    If you’re a resident of one of these states and frequently travel across the border, consider upgrading to an EDL for a smoother travel experience.

    Privacy Protection

    Although there is an RFID chip included, you don’t have to worry about any personally identifiable information being stored on it. This will not happen. Moreover, it cannot be transmitted electronically by card either, meaning that your information is safe. There’s a unique identification number used by the card, which links to information that is contained in a safe and secure Department of Homeland Security database. The number itself contains no personally identifiable information.

    Additionally, when you obtain an Enhanced driver’s license, you’ll get a shielded sleeve that won’t allow anyone to read your license. You’ll also receive some information on how to carry, use, and protect your license.

    Passport vs. Extended Driver’s License: Which is Better?

    When it comes to international travel credentials, is a passport the superior choice or can an Extended Driver’s License (EDL) suffice?

    The Might of the Passport Undoubtedly, passports hold an edge over EDLs. They are globally recognized and grant you entry to almost any country in the world. For individuals residing in states where EDLs aren’t available, the decision is straightforward – a passport is essential. However, for those primarily interested in localized international travel, particularly to neighboring regions like Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, a budget-friendly alternative could be the passport card.

    The Appeal of the ED For residents of states offering EDLs, obtaining one can be a pragmatic choice, even if there’s no immediate plan to venture internationally. Not only are EDLs more economical, but for an additional fee of around $30, residents gain the convenience of smooth cross-border travel to select countries. However, the EDL has its limitations. It’s primarily a privilege for states that share borders with specific countries. While it facilitates easy country-to-country transits, it doesn’t serve as a gateway to global travel.

    The Verdict If you live in a state with EDL access and only anticipate travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, an EDL could serve you well. However, for those with broader international travel aspirations beyond these regions, a passport is invaluable. Think of it as a global key, opening doors to countless countries, making it a worthwhile long-term investment that offers broader access and longevity than an EDL.

    Alternative to Canadian Passport

    There has been a lot of work around this matter. Basically, the Department has worked with multiple Canadian federal and provincial officials, trying their best to make the Enhanced driver’s license an alternative to Canadian Passports. As such, this became a reality and now people can use the document to get into the U.S. without a passport as long as they don’t travel by plane.

    Four different Canadian provinces are issuing EDLs to eligible Canadian citizens. The provinces in question are Manitoba, British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario. If you enter the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean using a sea or land port of entry, you can show your EDL and forget about your passport.

    Read More

    Final Thoughts

    Knowing the difference between real ID vs Enhanced ID is necessary if you’re going to get one of them. These documents can be helpful in their own way. Whichever is best for you depends on your particular needs, and you must make sure you have the right type for what you’re trying to do. We hope this post will help you make the right decision.

    REAL ID vs. Extended ID FAQ

    Below, you will find some commonly asked questions about the REAL ID and the Extended ID and their answers.

    What is a REAL ID?

    Answer: A REAL ID is a form of identification that meets increased security standards set by the REAL ID Act of 2005. It is required for certain federal activities, such as boarding a domestic flight or entering a federal building.

    What is an Extended Driver’s License (EDL)?

    Answer: An EDL is a driver’s license that also serves as a proof of identity and U.S. citizenship. It allows for land and sea border crossings between the U.S. and some neighboring countries like Canada and Mexico.

    Do I need both a REAL ID and an EDL?

    Answer: No, you don’t need both. An EDL can serve the purposes of a REAL ID, but it also has the added benefit of allowing travel to specific countries by land or sea. Consider your travel needs before deciding.

    Will a REAL ID be required for international flights?

    Answer: No, a REAL ID is not designed for international air travel. You’ll need a valid passport for international flights.

    Can I use an EDL for international air travel?

    Answer: No, an EDL is not a replacement for a passport for international air travel. It’s only for land and sea border crossings between the U.S. and certain neighboring countries.

    How do I identify a REAL ID?

    Answer: A REAL ID card typically has a star in the upper part of the card. The design might vary slightly between states, but the star is a common indicator.

    How do I apply for a REAL ID or an EDL?

    Answer: You’ll need to visit your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or equivalent agency. It’s important to bring necessary documents such as proof of identity, Social Security number, and residency.

    Is there an additional fee for a REAL ID or EDL?

    Answer: Yes, there’s often an additional fee, but it varies by state. Check with your local DMV for specific pricing.

    If I don’t get a REAL ID, can I still fly domestically?

    Answer: Starting from the federal enforcement date, you’ll need a REAL ID or another acceptable form of identification (like a passport) for domestic flights.

    How long is a REAL ID or EDL valid?

    Answer: Typically, both are valid for the same duration as standard driver’s licenses in your state, but exact durations may vary.

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    Frank Gogol

    I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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