Do you need a passport to travel to Canada or Mexico?

Mexican background with copyspace

Do American citizens actually need a passport to travel to Canada or Mexico? Will a driver’s license or birth certificate work?

It’s true — your driver’s license (or a birth certificate) will not get you across the border into Canada or Mexico anymore… nor will it get you back into the USA at the end of your trip. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need a passport.

Here are some of your options.

About the US Passport Card

As long as you’re not flying to or from Canada, Mexico or Bermuda, you can use a US Passport Card (including a Real ID) at land border crossings or sea/lake ports-of-entry.

It’s important to remember, though, that the passport card cannot be used for international air travel as it’s not “a globally interoperable travel document.”

The passport card is embedded with Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID), which transmits a unique number to a secure database as the traveler’s vehicle approaches the border, enabling US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to verify your identity and citizenship quickly.

If you already have a valid US passport book, you don’t need a passport card, too. Get the details about the Passport Card here.

Passport and passport cards - Sentri Nexus etc

Enhanced Driver’s License

Residents of MichiganNew York, MinnesotaVermont and Washington state can get an add-on to their regular driver’s license or ID card — called an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) or Enhanced ID (EID) — that will allow you to cross the border into Canada by land or water. See the state-by-state links above to apply through your local DMV/MVD.

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Trusted travelers

If you commute to a neighboring country on a regular basis, find out if you qualify for the “Trusted Traveler Program” — called NEXUS for travel to and from Canada, and SENTRI to and from Mexico.

SENTRI works only for entry via land or sea, while NEXUS can be used for land and sea/lake travel, and also can be used at certain airports using the system for US and Canadian citizens.

B1/B2 visa/Border Crossing Cards are only issued to applicants who are citizens of and resident in Mexico.


Then there’s the regular passport book — a little bulkier, a bit more expensive, but will get you anywhere on the planet that American passports are accepted.

Get the latest details on how to apply for a US passport here.

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