What Is a Passport Card—and Can It Replace a Passport?

There are a few major differences between a passport book and a passport card. Here’s what you need to know about each.

Person with a rolling suitcase at an airport

Passport cards can be used for domestic air travel but not international flights.

Photo by Shutterstock

If you’ve ever applied for a new passport (or have filled out the paperwork to renew an existing passport), you may have noticed that there’s also an option to purchase a passport card.

While both are valid forms of identification for U.S. citizens and noncitizen nationals that help facilitate travel, there are some significant differences between the two. Here’s what you need to know if you’re trying to decide between a passport book versus a passport card.

What is the difference between a passport book and a passport card?

Passport books and cards both contain information about their owner, including full name, nationality, place of birth, gender, issue date and expiration date, a unique identification number, and a photo.

Here’s how they’re different:


Passport cards are less expensive than passport books. First-time passport book applicants are charged $165 (or $135 if they’re under 16). Passport book renewals cost $130, regardless of age. For passport cards, the initial cost is $65 ($50 for those under 16) and $30 for renewals. Both are valid for 10 years for adults and five years for those who are under age 16 at the time of issuance.

Where (and when) you can use them

With a U.S. passport book, travelers can enter all other countries and territories where Americans are welcomed (although some places require visas arranged ahead of time) by air, land, or sea. Passport cards, however, are only valid for traveling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda, by land or sea. You can’t use them for any international air travel.

Note that both are Real ID compliant and can be used for domestic flights.

An example of a passport card

A passport card is the same size and shape as a credit card.

Courtesy of State Department


The standard passport book is a 3.5-by-5-inch navy blue booklet containing a title page with the user’s personal information and 28 blank pages for visa stamps (which are given when you enter or leave a country other than the United States). Passport cards are sized to fit wallets and look similar to a driver’s license.

Are passport cards worth it?

Because passport books are all-encompassing for international travel, they’re a better choice than passport cards for most people. However, there are some scenarios where it’s worth having a passport card—for example, you’re only planning to travel by land and sea or have a tight budget and need to do a border crossing. According to the Department of State, “The passport card was designed for the specific needs of northern and southern U.S. border communities with residents that cross the border frequently by land.”

You could also get both. Given the passport card’s size, it’s easy to carry around and use as a backup ID.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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