Posted by: Mark Ashley

passport card Passport or passport card?

This man was not born on January 1, 1981, I assure you.

Since July 2008, US citizens have been able to get a passport card instead of (or in addition to) the traditional blue pamphlet. The cards look like a driver’s license, but contain the basic information that’s contained on the inside cover of the book version.

But because you’ve got no pages for stamps or visas, the card is only valid for land or sea travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda. If you think you might go anywhere else in the next 10 years, you’ll need the regular booklet.

To date, nearly 750,000 Americans have applied for the passport card. The majority have gone to residents of border states, especially Texas, California, Michigan, and New York.

Adult passport cards cost $20, compared to the $75 you pay for a passport book. If you’ve already got a “real” passport, you can add on a card for $20 extra. If you place your order in person, instead of by mail, you pay an additional $25, for either cards or books.

I realize that not everyone expects to travel around the world, but is the passport card something you’d order (or already have ordered)? If so, is it in addition to the passport book? If it’s just a card, why not the passport book? Hit the comments!

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Categorized in: travel

18 Responses to “Passport or passport card?”

  1. Patrick Says:

    It wouldn’t make any sense for me to spend $20 on one of these. –I’m currently living and working in Europe, so I have to have a passport anyway. Even if I wasn’t, I’d probably just get a passport anyway since I’d prefer not to be limited to Canada, Mexico, and the few additional countries the card would cover.

  2. Andrew Says:

    I had to renew my passport, so I ordered the card as well. I like to go on a cruise in the Caribbean every once in awhile, and the card is less cumbersome as it fits in my wallet.

  3. Tino Says:

    Like Andrew, I would order a card along with my next “regular” passport, for trips to Canada. It’s certainly more convenient than the book, and it’s reminiscent of the days when you could cross the border with just your driver’s license. (This was probably never legal, but I sure did it a lot, and neither the Canadians nor the Americans seemed to care much before 9/11!)

  4. Henrik Says:

    In Europe, there is a standardized National ID card (“passport card”) that you can use for traveling within the 25 Schengen countries [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Agreement] (22 European Union countries + 3 more). You don’t need to bring your passport if you have a recognized ID that show your citizenship. (Often you don’t have to show anything if you travel by land, but that’s a different story).

    I got myself one of those as a backup to my regular passport. This is especially useful when your passport is sitting in an embassy (read US) while processed for a visa. This way I have been able to travel to conferences in Europe while waiting for my US visa renewal to get back.

    So, it can be very handy. A globally recognized passport card would be even better, ehe.

  5. Hawkins Says:

    According to state.gov, the cards will contain RFID chips, intended to be readable at a distance.

    inspectors will be able to access photographs and other biographical information stored in secure government databases before the traveler reaches the inspection station.

    Regular passports with RFID chips are supposed to unreadable when the cover is closed, to prevent bad guys from doing stuff like scanning a room to see how many Americans are present.

    From a security perspective, this sounds like a downgrade to me.

  6. Mark Ashley Says:

    Hawkins, there’s a simple solution to the RFID security concern, as posted here back in January 2007:

    Hammertime! Blunt instruments defend your personal information
    New U.S. passports will include RFID chips that contain your personal information, in addition to the printed/scannable inside page. The problem: The RFID chip can potentially be read by identity thieves using a scanner. So what’s the best way to disable the RFID without otherwise mangling your passport? A hammer.


  7. Mark Ashley Says:

    The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of the credit-card sized passport card, but as a supplement to the existing booklet, not as a replacement.

    The European cards that I’ve seen are rather bulky — about the same size as a passport, just not as thick. But perhaps there’s variation between EU member states? Are there credit-card sized identity cards now? The ones I’ve seen have looked like this (note the machine-readable and basic info in the letters at the bottom, just like on the inside cover of a passport):

    As you probably know, Henrik, there are no national identity cards in the U.S., so state-issued driver’s licenses and/or identity cards are officially accepted. But that doesn’t work for Canada anymore, as Tino, perhaps thirsting for an easy Molson run, notes.

  8. mps247 Says:

    In Europe, ID card styles to vary from country-to-country. Those European countries that do issue ID cards seem to be making moves to replace old-style bulky cards with the new-style credit card shape. Some countries have already done this.

    However, I just wanted to raise one point. Mark, you say that there are no national identity cards in the US, but I can’t see very much difference between the passport card and the national identity cards across the Atlantic. It seems to me that the US passport card is a national ID card.

    Of course, it isn’t compulsory… yet! Please correct me if I am wrong, but the British government have given their citizens the option of applying for an ID card for a while now. It seems as though they will soon be forcing it upon those citizens who require a new passport or are just applying for a renewal. This means that within 10 years, every British citizen will have an ID card. Perhaps the US will follow the trend and make “passport card” applications mandatory in a few years.

  9. Mike Maddaloni - The Hot Iron Says:

    I may get one just to get one!

    But if I were going back and forth to Canada, I would prefer to carry this than a passport book, especially now as they have the chip in them and are not as flexible if you stick it in your front pocket.


  10. Flight Wisdom Guru Says:

    Well, you are forgetting a non-travel use for the passport card…

    When one applies for government documents or employment, one needs a certain level of identity verification…a Passport ID card can serve this purpose.

  11. Me too Says:

    I would get a booklet and card. The booklet fills up with too many re-entry stamps to the US. Use the card for that, right?

  12. Mark Ashley Says:

    Flight Wisdom Guru — True, but good luck getting people outside airports to accept the card as identification. I’ve witnessed people showing passports to buy beer at a supermarket, and being turned away, because a driver’s license was required. Idiotic. But reality. With only 750,000 passport cards in circulation, it’ll take a while before there’s enough awareness of these cards to make them widely accepted.

    Me too — Hmm, I wonder if the serial number of the card is the same as the book?

    mps247 — You’re right, this IS a national identity card, but, as you state, it’s not a compulsory identity card. And with regard to credit card-sized identity cards, here’s an example from Poland:

  13. Rob Manderson Says:

    Quite apart from travel my US passport serves as an accepted proof of citizenship (I’m an Australian naturalised as a US citizen). Not that anyone apart from employers and immigration have ever actually cared about my status within the US. However, USCIS do advise we naturalised citizens to get a passport in case we ever lose the naturalisation certificate (it can take up to a year to replace the certificate if lost).

  14. nicole Says:

    If I am allowed to smile on a passport card like that Polish dude is, I am in!

  15. gravy Says:

    For those of us in border states with Canada it is very handy. I can leave my passport elsewhere safely or at an embassy office when needed and still cross the border. That said, if I didn’t live near Canada, or took cruises on a regular basis, I wouldn’t see the value.

  16. askmrlee Says:

    I got my passport card back in August 2008 and these were so new at the time, the Philadelphia TSA asked me for another form of ID because they didn’t recognize it.

    Here are the details. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/travel-safety-security/857576-new-passport-card-not-accepted-tsa-philadelphia.html

    I wished their stupidity was captured for that ABC reality show on Homeland security.

    I carry it with me and use it to buy beer and wine and Sudafed since there is no stripe to swipe and this trumps any stupid “no out of state ID” rule that a store may have.

    Target reads the magnetic strip or scans the 2D barcode on state IDs to “verify” your birthdate. What freaks me out from a privacy standpoint is that the magnetic stripe contains all the info on your license. The 2D barcode contains that plus your image. Only the birthdate is needed for these transactions and I believe a store has no right to read or capture the other data, even if it’s not retained. Sure the sign may say that no other data is captured, but tell that to the people whose info was breached at Stop and Shop because the terminals were hacked.


    The ID number on the card is different from the passport book.

    Yes there is an RFID chip on it, but it comes with a mylar sleeve. If you are extra paranoid, wrap the card in foil if you like.

    The info regarding the fee is not correct. As a passport book holder, you pay $20 and no other ordering fee to the State Department. The card has a validity of 10 years from issue and expiration is not tied to the passport book.

    That picture on the Polish ID is not a dude, it’s a lady named Anna.

  17. Tina Says:

    Believe it or not, I have to get my son a passport so he can get his Texas driver’s license. He’ll get the Passport card.

    The ‘acceptable identification documents’ required to get a TX DL are harsher than the US Passport required documents. Birth certificate and SS card no longer work. A third document is required and out of the list the easiest for him to get including….join the military to get a military ID, go to prison to get a Texas inmate ID card, or get a Passport !!!

  18. Mr. Rodney Long Says:

    I keep reading references to Airports and over seas travel when everything I have read from the Government sources say you cannot use this for air travel. To use this for anything other then land or sea travel between Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean islands and Bermuda is not permitted. Please don’t think this is going to take the place of a Passport in all situations . It was put in place because your legal ability to declare citizenship with out confirmation of the Government was removed. Now under new laws you must have federal documentation proving the Government recognizes you as such.
    ( Reference: Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004)

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