When It Comes to Secure ID, Mexico Has the U.S. Beat

If you’re from the United States, you might have seen some news reports a couple of months back saying that residents of several states might not be able to use their state issued drivers licenses as identification at the airport starting on January 22, 2018. This all comes from a federal law known as the Real ID Act.

The purpose of the law is to establish minimum security standards for state issued licenses and identification cards. The federal government established a deadline for states to comply with the law and about half of them have been dragging their feet.

A Problem Decades in the Making

When it comes to issuing secure identification to the masses, the United States has been way behind the curve for a very long time. This has resulted in widespread fraud and identity theft across the country. The Real ID Act is an effort to remedy that.

I have quite a bit of experience in this area. Prior to becoming a blogger, I was a law enforcement officer for 25 years and a recognized expert in document counterfeiting. I was involved in well over 1,000 criminal investigations involving the possession, manufacture and/or distribution of counterfeit identification.

It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that counterfeit identification documents are widely sold and used in the U.S. Without going into a great deal of detail, there are four principal reasons why many of these counterfeit documents often go undetected in the U.S.:

1) The U.S. does not have a federal identification card for domestic use

Without a federally issued identification card, the burden to provide secure ID shifts to the states. That means that there are a minimum of 50 different templates being accepted around the country.

Since it is unlikely that a store clerk in Florida will be familiar with a license from Texas, criminals often use counterfeits resembling identifications issued by other jurisdictions to reduce the chances that they will be detected.

2) Many state licenses only have a handful of security features

Other than enhanced drivers licenses, which are only found in a small number of states, security features vary greatly from one state to another. The fewer the security features, the easier they are to counterfeit.

3) The majority of the security features are not shared with the general public 

A security feature that no one knows exists, is worthless. These documents are being checked by bank tellers, store clerks, HR personnel — in other words, average citizens. If they don’t know what to look for, they’re less likely to identify a counterfeit.

4) The majority of state identifications lack biometric data like fingerprints

One thing that used to amaze me when I was a deputy sheriff is when someone successfully obtained a driver’s license in the name of someone who already had a license. As long as they looked similar, they didn’t have a problem. This sort of thing wouldn’t be possible if fingerprints were collected.

What Mexico Does

When it comes to secure identification, Mexico sets the bar very high.

They provide their adult citizens with a free federal identification card that contains an impressive number of high-tech integrated security features. It is makes many U.S. state licenses look rudimentary in comparison.

Mexico takes identification very seriously, so the card is only issued after personally verifying the person’s identity and collecting their fingerprints.

The card is called the Credencial Para Votar and its primary function is to serve as a voter ID card; however, it’s the preferred form of identification used all over the country (e.g. opening a bank account or boarding a plane). By the way, a Mexican driver’s license is generally not accepted as secure identification for important matters.

Since a security feature is only useful if someone knows about it, Mexico publishes them all on their website. Click HERE to see a PDF version.

As a result of all this, the identification problems that the U.S. has aren’t a problem for their neighbors south of the border.

Let’s Wrap This Up

The Credencial Para Votar is far from counterfeit-proof; however, it would be difficult and extremely expensive to duplicate all of the security features in this card. That means that the majority of the counterfeits being used by criminals contain numerous flaws that make them easier to detect.

Again, outstanding job, Mexico!

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

16 Comments on "When It Comes to Secure ID, Mexico Has the U.S. Beat"

  1. Great article – thank you for the information. I definitely believe we should follow this system in the USA.

  2. The key item here over the US is the FREE ID, that is why voter ID laws are aways under attack. Every citizen should be entitled to a FREE ID in their country.

  3. And people say that Mexico is backward. go figure.

  4. Kaye Richardson | January 3, 2018 at 12:09 pm |

    Another reason to love Mexico! (Not that we needed one!)

  5. I’m sure there will be naysayers complaining that Mexico infringes on people’s “rights” by collecting so much information, but I think it is a GOOD thing!

  6. Hélène Tellier | January 3, 2018 at 1:25 pm |

    Thank you for this very interesting article, Paul and Linda !

  7. Can you get one with temporary residency visa status? Or do you have to be a citizen with voting rights? We plan on getting Mexican driver’s licenses but this looks preferable if we’re eligible for it when we get there in a couple of months.

  8. Sometimes it’s the little things that make México great…and the cards are little, too !

  9. When I check my inbox and see an email from you, I get a little smile on my face. I don’t know what I will be reading about, but I’m sure it will be interesting. This article is case in point.

  10. Hate to inject politics into this but there is ONE POLITICAL PARTY, and its affiliates that are fighting voter ID laws. I would welcome this type of ID in the US. There are states that have lost voter ID laws even though a FREE state ID is part of the law.

  11. Therese Anderson | January 6, 2018 at 5:30 am |


  12. John French Lampe, Mossouri | January 30, 2018 at 12:26 am |

    Paul, I would like to ask you a personel question reguarding my past felony. Is there a way for us to communicate privately? Thanks in advance.

    • John, there is a link at the top of the blog that says “contact”. You can send me your question via that link privately and I’ll send the reply to your email.

Comments are closed.