Passport Card vs Passport Book: Which Do You Need?

what is a passport card

If you’ve heard about passport cards but aren’t quite sure what they are, you’ve come to the right place.

I’m always seeking ways to expedite the airport and border crossing process. That’s why I was thrilled to discover the U.S. passport card.

During a recent boating trip to the British Virgin Islands, I realized the passport card’s value. It’s far smaller than a passport book, tucking easily into my wallet.

While boarding the ferry to Tortola, the immigration officer approved my passport card. Turns out the islands welcome the condensed document, speeding up entry for Americans. Likewise, on my return boat trip, the card enabled a breeze of a border crossing. No rifling through my bag for a passport book—just a quick flash of the card.

Clearly, this wallet-sized wonder is the ultimate buddy for U.S. citizens going to the Caribbean or other nearby destinations like Mexico and Canada. I’ll tell you everything about what a passport card is and why it’s become essential in my on-the-go arsenal.

What is a passport card?

passport card
This image is a sample version of a U.S. passport card.

A passport card is a wallet-sized card that can be used by U.S. citizens in place of a passport book when traveling domestically or to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. It’s an official federal travel document that proves both your identity and citizenship.

The passport card program was created in 2008 as an alternative to passport books. The aim was to provide a smaller, more convenient, and less expensive option for those who frequently travel to nearby destinations.

Differences between passport cards and passport books

While the passport card serves the same fundamental purpose as the passport book, there are some key differences between the two documents:

Size and convenience

The passport card is small, lightweight, and handy – about the size of a credit card. It easily fits into your wallet, making it much more convenient to carry around than a passport book.

Validity and usage

The passport card is valid for domestic air travel within the United States, as well as land and sea border crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. However, it is not valid for international air travel.

A passport book, on the other hand, can be used for all types of international travel.

Application process

You’ll need to submit the same citizenship documentation and pay the same fees to apply for both a passport book and card. But the passport card has a quicker processing time – 4-6 weeks compared to 6-8 weeks for the book.


The passport card is less expensive than the passport book. The fee for an adult card is $30 compared to $130 for an adult book.

Benefits of getting a passport card

Here are some of the biggest benefits of having a passport card:

Use for domestic air travel

You can use a passport card to board domestic flights within the United States. Starting in 2018, you’ll need a REAL ID compliant form of identification (like a passport card) to fly domestically.

Use as federal identification

A passport card can be used as a federal identification document for domestic purposes like opening a bank account or entering federal buildings.

Use for land and sea border crossings

The passport card is designed for frequent cross-border travel to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. You can use it when traveling by land or sea across American borders.

Who should consider getting a passport card?

Here are some people and situations where having a passport card makes sense:

Frequent domestic travelers

If you travel a lot within the United States by air, you’ll want a passport card to breeze through TSA security and border control. It’s a great alternative to a passport book since it’s valid for domestic air travel.

Those who travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean

A passport card is a must if you frequently visit any of these nearby international destinations. You can use it when entering these countries by land or sea.

Residents of border states

If you live in a U.S. state bordering Canada or Mexico, having a passport card makes crossing the border a smooth process when using the Ready Lanes. It contains an RFID chip that allows for identification. You won’t have to carry your larger passport book.

Those looking for a federal ID card

The passport card can be used as official federal identification. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a federally approved ID card.

Applying for a passport card

Here’s what you need to know about eligibility, required documents, and the application process:

Eligibility requirements

To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen or national with proof of citizenship. Like the passport book, you must apply in person if it’s your first passport card.

Required documents

When applying, you’ll need to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, proof of identity, a recent color photograph, and applicable fees.

Renewal information

Passport cards are valid for 10 years. You can renew an expired card by mail as long as you meet certain eligibility criteria.

Application process overview

You can submit your passport card application at an authorized passport acceptance facility or passport agency. The process involves completing forms, getting passport photos taken, providing supporting documents, and paying the applicable fees. Routine service takes 4-6 weeks.

Cost of getting a passport card

Here are the current costs associated with getting a passport card:

Application fee

This covers processing, production, and security. The fee is $65 for applicants age 16 and over. It’s $50 for applicants under 16.

Expedited processing fee

This is an additional $60 on top of the application fee if you request expedited service. Your card is then processed within 2-3 weeks.

Execution fee

If applying for the first time, there is a $35 execution fee that goes to the passport acceptance facility.

Lost card replacement fee

There is a $65 fee to replace a lost, stolen, or damaged passport card if you can submit your damaged card.

The Takeaway

Passport and visa

So in summary, the passport card offers a compact, convenient alternative to the passport book that can facilitate travel to many popular international destinations.

If you’re a frequent domestic flyer, resident of a border state, or just want an official federal ID, the benefits of having a passport card are clear!

Let me know if you have any other questions.


Can I use a passport card to travel by air outside of North America?

No, the passport card can only be used for air travel within the United States and U.S. territories. For international air travel beyond Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, you need a passport book.

How long does it take to get your passport card after applying?

Routine passport card applications take 4-6 weeks to process. You can pay an extra fee to expedite this to 2-3 weeks.

Can I renew my passport card by mail?

Yes, you may be eligible to renew your passport card by mail if your previous card expired less than 5 years ago. You’ll still need to submit a new application and photo.

What should I do if my passport card is lost or stolen?

Report a lost or stolen passport card as soon as possible. You’ll need to apply in person for a replacement card. A $65 fee applies unless you have a police report of the loss/theft.

Does a passport card need to be renewed?

Yes. Passport cards are valid for 10 years. After the expiration date passes, you’ll have to renew your passport card.

Can a US passport card totally replace my passport?

No, a passport card cannot fully replace a passport book. While a passport card is valid for domestic land travel and land/sea travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, it cannot be used for international air travel beyond those destinations. To travel internationally by air to other countries, you still need a full passport book. A passport card is a valid additional travel document but not a direct substitute for a passport book if you are planning to travel abroad by air.

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