New enhanced licenses ready to go
Cross-border travelers looking for a cheaper alternative to passports can apply for the Washington state’s Department of Licensing’s new enhanced driver license and identification card (EDL/ID) program.
Washington residents can now make appointments to apply for an enhanced driver license that can be used as a single document to operate a motor vehicle and to enter the U.S. at land and sea border crossing stations from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. These licenses will work both now and in the future after border crossing stations begin requiring a U.S. passport or other federally approved travel document.
Like U.S. passports, the EDL/ID includes security features like a radio frequency identification device that can be scanned at border crossings to verify the holder’s identity and speed up the border crossing process, but the cost is significantly cheaper – $15 more than a driver’s license.
The move comes after much protest from the business community regarding a 2004 Department of Homeland Security requirement that all visitors into the United States obtain a $97 passport. Business owners were fearful that – especially in small, border towns such as Point Roberts and Blaine – the requirement would negatively affect commerce on both sides of the border.
A Zogby survey predicts that requiring passports at the Canadian border will result in as much as $2.5 billion in lost business on both sides of the border. The poll also predicted a third of Americans and Canadians would be less likely to cross the northern border to shop, attend sporting events or go to resorts if they had to buy a passport or some similar form of identification. This could cost U.S. businesses as much as $800 million a year and Canadian businesses $1.7 billion, according to the study.
Washington is the first state in the nation to offer a fast, inexpensive passport alternative for travel to and from Canada and Mexico.
The Washington state Department of Licensing has been working with their counterparts in British Columbia, who have announced the start of their enhanced driver license program.
“The new licenses will encourage closer social ties as neighbors and support economic growth on both sides of the border,” said British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell in a statement released by the office of Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.
Applicants can call toll-free 866/520-4365 to make an appointment at 11 participating Licensing Service Offices. They need to bring documents proving their U.S. citizenship, identity and Washington state residency. More info about this new program is available at www.dol.wa.go