Last week, I shared my experience of replacing a lost passport less than two days before an international trip. In that video/post, I mentioned something called a passport card, so I thought I’d share more information on what it is and how it works. When you apply for or renew a passport, it’s one of the options, and we’ve received a few questions asking whether it’s worth the cost. I’m hoping that this post helps you to decide between a passport card vs passport book.

What is a passport card?

The passport card is basically an ID version of a normal passport book, but it does have it’s own unique card number that’s different than the regular passport. It also has an RFID chip inside, but it doesn’t contain as much information as a standard passport book. It supposedly just returns the passport card number which is only meaningful to government systems.

The passport card costs $65 for new applicants 16 and over, $50 for new applicants under 16, and $30 for renewals. This is significantly cheaper than a regular passport, which usually costs around $145 for new applications and $110 for renewals. Like the passport book, it lasts for 10 years. Keep in mind that you can get both a passport book and passport card (i.e., it’s not an either/or option). Most people likely get one in addition to a regular passport book.

How and where can I use a passport card?

What makes the passport card different is that it can only be used for specific land and sea transportation border crossings. For example, you can use it to enter the following North American and Carribean countries if you’re entering via land or sea. However, if you’re flying to any of these locations, you still have to use a traditional passport.

List of countries and territories that accept US Passport Cards

This also applies to re-entering the US. You can use a passport card when entering the US by land or sea from these countries. Though air travel back to the US from these countries requires a traditional passport book.

There are also a few countries/territories in the region that do not accept passport cards. Here’s the list of places that do not participate in the program.

List of countries and territories that do not accept US Passport Cards

Is it worth getting a passport card?

You might be asking yourself, “who should get a passport card and is it worth getting?” For most people, I it’s not worth the cost. Even though a normal passport book is more than twice the cost, it works almost everywhere, making it much more versatile. In fact, when I last replaced my passport, I opted out of a new passport card since I wasn’t getting value from it.

Who might want a passport card?

Folks living near the Mexican or Canadian border

The passport card may work for folks who live near a border and want a less expensive and more convenient way to get in and out of the country. Since the card is the size of a normal ID, it’s much easier to carry in your pocket or wallet. Though the passport card does not allow travel by air outside of the US.

Travelers that primarily travel on cruises in the Caribbean

If you’re a traveler who prefers to travel on cruises from the US, then the passport card may be an option for you. If you’re planning to travel by ship to the Caribbean, I would check with the cruise company to see what’s required. They can advise whether a passport card is sufficient.

US citizens who need an approved REAL ID or need a way to prove their nationality

Another reason that someone might want a passport card is that it’s a federal ID that proves your nationality. While I don’t want to get into our current politics, a passport card could help you to prove your nationality immediately if you’re in a place or situation where that may be an issue. Also, the passport card is REAL ID compliant, so if you don’t have already have a driver’s license or any other form of ID that meets the requirement, this can do the trick.

Other considerations

I know some people carry a passport card in their wallet when traveling while leaving their regular passport book in a secure location like a hotel safe. While I like the idea of keeping your regular passport book secure and protected, I think it’s safer to carry a photocopy of your regular passport in your wallet. I may be overly cautious, but I worry that a foreign official might not accept or recognize my passport card, especially since it uses a different passport number.

I like to carry one photocopy of my passport book in my wallet, as well as a digital copy that I store in the cloud via my password manager. You can also email yourself a picture of your passport as well. Having multiple copies helps in case you want to keep your main passport secure in your hotel, or in the event that you need to get a replacement passport while traveling.

Final thoughts

For most Americans, the passport card is not worth the cost, unless you happen to live close to a border and make regular trips in and out. For the majority of travelers, the regular passport book is the way to go. It gives you more options and flexibility, which are two things I want whenever I’m traveling.

Do you have a passport card? If so, do you use it? Let us know in the comment section below. I’m curious whether you all have found your passport cards to be useful.

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