What is a US Passport Card?

Published by Travel Visa Pro on Sun Nov 18 2018

When most Americans think of a passport, they probably tend to imagine a book with pretty pictures of iconic sights across the US filled with stamps and papers documenting travels over the years. This is the most common type of international travel document for every country on this planet, due to the fact citizens of some nations need visas to cross the border into another, and a card often won’t cut it.

Nevertheless, there are situations for which a passport card is more beneficial than a book.


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Why choose a passport card instead of a passport book?

If you have no international travel planned requiring flying outside of North America for work or leisure for the next ten years, then there’s very little reason to pay $110 for a new or renewed passport book. Many travelers prefer trains and boats to planes, and a passport card allows them to visit other countries in close proximity to the US.

However, there’s nothing stopping any US citizen from holding both a US passport book and a card at the same time. Though you can keep your book in a safe deposit box and use the card as your primary form of international ID in Canada or Mexico, any emergency – medical or otherwise – which demands you fly back to the US means you need a passport book in your hand. A passport book may not too much of a burden to carry, but having something as small as the card to fit in your wallet is definitely more convenient.

How can I get a US passport card?

A US passport card is valid for the same time period as the book and has the same application process. An adult applying for a renewal or first-time passport can receive a card valid for ten years, whereas a child under the age of 16 will receive a passport card valid for five years.

The true difference between a passport card and a book is the cost. While adult passport book applications and renewals cost $110 (plus a $35 execution fee in some cases) for a document valid for ten years, a passport card will only cost $30. For children, this is a mere $15. Both adults and children who are US citizens can legally hold both a valid US passport book and card for their travel needs.

Why is a US passport card cheaper than a book?

A passport card allows significantly fewer opportunities for the holder to travel. While passport books can be accepted in any country unless they’ve specifically barred US citizens from entry by land, sea, and air, passport cards can only be used to access other countries by sea or land. In addition, countries requiring visa applications demand travelers hold a passport book.

Where can I travel with a US passport card?

Right away, we can definitively say no passport card can be used for international air travel, even if it’s to a country that does allow entry with a passport card by land or sea. For example, you can take a cruise to Jamaica and have no problems getting past immigration with just a passport card, but if you choose to stay and fly out of Kingston, you’ll most likely be required to apply for a passport book at a US consulate or forced to get back on a boat.

Nevertheless, passport cards still have their uses. With the Real ID Act slowly being enforced across the United States, residents of certain states are starting to realize their driver’s licenses are not sufficient to fly domestically; passport cards, as federally-issued documents, can be used in their stead.

Mexico and Canada remain the most common destinations for US citizens traveling with passport cards, but many islands in the Caribbean are also willing to let US citizens enter with just this document. Before planning your cruise, check with the company or the country pages on Travel Visa Pro to see the specific entry requirements.

Do you have any questions about traveling using a US passport card? Leave them in the comments!

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