What’s The Difference Between A Passport Book vs Passport Card?

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Suppose you live near the Canadian border and are taking a day trip into Canada. You’re not staying overnight so you are not bringing any luggage or large bags.

Without a passport card, you’d need to carry your full-size passport book around all day. Thanks to the passport card you can leave the larger booklet at home and keep the ID you need in your wallet.

Or in another scenario your cruise ship docks and you entering a country for a day visit. You will be returning to the ship in the evening. The passport card is a small convenient mini passport that you can easily carry.

This is why the passport card was invented. It’s designed to replace the passport in a very limited range of circumstances.

Both the passport card and the passport book are designed to prove your U.S. citizenship and identity. However, only a handful of countries accept the passport card as proof.

In a sense, the passport book is the real deal passport that you use when you travel internationally. In comparison, the passport card is an ID card that will also let you cross the land border on foot to Canada or Mexico or at seaports for trips to The Caribbean or Bermuda.

Check out all the differences in this table:

Passport Card vs Book Differences

Passport CardsPassport Books
Accepted as Photo IDAccepted as Photo ID
Use it to cross sea or land borders to Mexico, Canada, The Caribbean, and BermudaUse it worldwide for international travel by airplane, train, or automobile.
No blank pagesBlank pages for visas and stamps
Use to travel to 19 countries close to the USUse to travel to 187 foreign countries visa-free
Valid For 10 Years If You Are Over 16 Years OldValid For 10 Years If You Are Over 16 Years Old
Valid For 5 Years If You Are Under 16 Years OldValid For 5 Years If You Are Under 16 Years Old
Not fully recognized internationallyFully recognized internationally
Convenient credit card sized fits in a walletLarger, 4 15/16 x 3 7/16 inches
Cost is cheaperThe cost is more expensive
Costs $65 for first-time applicantsCosts $145 for first-time applicants
Costs $50 for applicants under 16Costs $115 for applicants under 16
Costs $30 for renewalCosts $110 for renewal

It’s a little unfortunate that the U.S. Passport Card and the U.S. Passport Book share the same name because they are not equivalent documents.

It would have been better to call the passport card The Passcard or something other than “passport”.

The passport card is not really a true passport and more of an ID card. It can only function as a passport in very limited circumstances.

Here is the full list of countries where the passport card is valid. Remember you can’t use the card if flying to these destinations, you can only use it if you are traveling by land or sea.

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • The Bahamas
  • Anguilla
  • Bermuda
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Aruba
  • Dominica
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Dominican Republic
  • Grenada
  • Saint Lucia
  • Caribbean Netherlands
  • Jamaica
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Montserrat
  • Turks and Caicos Islands

For international air travel a proper passport book is necessary.

Why Would You Need Both A Passport Book And A Passport Card?

You don’t need a passport book and a card.

A passport book can do everything that a passport card can do. The main benefit of the passport card is the size. A passport card can fit in a wallet.

A passport card is a great form of ID. Think of it like a driver’s licence for people who can’t drive.

The passport card is a great alternative to state-issued ID. You need ID to fly on a domestic flight in the US and the passport card is a good option to bring without carrying a full-size passport around with you.

You can apply for a passport book and a passport card at the same time using form DS-11 if it’s your first time or form DS-82 if it’s a renewal.

Is The Passport Card Worth It?

If you live near the border and take regular trips into Mexico or Canada then a passport card can be a handy document to have.

If you regularly cruise The Caribbean and enjoy island hopping then it can be worth it too.

For most people the passport card just functions as another form of ID.

Whether it’s worth it for you will depend if you need another ID card. The passport card is a better ID than a birth certificate or state-issued identification for u.s. citizens.

Driving licences will soon need to be Real ID compliant to be used to prove your identity when flying domestically. If you don’t have a Real ID compliant card then the passport card would solve that problem.

The Verdict

The traditional passport book is valid as a travel identity document for international travel.

The passport card is only useful in a limited range of circumstances.

Get a passport card if you live near the border and want to be able to take trips by land or sea while leaving your passport book behind.

Or get a passport card just because it’s a good solid form of ID to carry around with you. It’s a good alternative to a driver’s license for children or people who don’t drive.

When people say you cannot use the passport card for air travel they mean international air travel. You can use a passport card as a form of ID for domestic air travel.

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