What Exactly Is A Passport Card?

Personally, I was not really aware of a US passport card prior to becoming a professional travel advisor. I’ve had a regular passport since 2009 and just figured that’s all there was. Wrong! The US State Department also offers a US passport card and, for some folks, it may be all you need.

The rub comes if you don’t have the right one for the travel you’re planning to do. The last thing I want to see is you showing up for your trip and you don’t have the proper identification for your trip! To help ensure this doesn’t happen, here’s a simple comparison between US passport books and US passport cards:

  1. Purpose and Usage:
    • Passport Book: Used for international travel by air, land, and sea. It’s accepted worldwide as a form of identification and proof of US citizenship.
    • Passport Card: Designed for land or sea travel only to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. It’s not valid for international air travel, and its use is limited to specific regions.
  2. Size and Format:
    • Passport Book: Resembles a small booklet, typically containing multiple pages (28 to 34 pages), with blank pages for visas and entry/exit stamps.
    • Passport Card: Compact and similar in size to a credit card, made of plastic. It includes essential information such as card holder’s photo, biographic data, and citizenship details.
  3. Cost:
    • Passport Book: First-time applicants, Adults $165 and Children <16 $135. Renewal $130
    • Passport Card: First-time applicants, Adults $65 and Children <16 $50. Renewal $50
  4. International Travel Validity:
    • Passport Book: Valid for international travel to any country by air, land, or sea.
    • Passport Card: Valid for travel by land or sea only to specific countries mentioned earlier. Not accepted for international air travel. Note…this means you can not use a passport card when flying to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean.
  5. Domestic Use and ID:
    • Passport Book: Can also serve as a primary form of identification within the United States, including for domestic flights.
    • Passport Card: Can also serve as a primary form of identification within the United States, including for domestic flights.
  6. Renewal Period:
    • Passport Book: Valid for 10 years for adults and 5 years for minors before requiring renewal.
    • Passport Card: Valid for 10 years for adults and 5 years for minors before requiring renewal.
  7. Proof of Citizenship:
    • Both the passport book and passport card serve as proof of US citizenship and identity.

In summary, if you’re planning to travel internationally, a regular US passport book is the way to go. It’s more versatile and accepted for all international travel, including air travel. The US passport card, on the other hand, is limited and only accepted for land or sea travel to specific neighboring countries.

My advice? Save yourself any possible grief and go with the passport book. You won’t regret it!