Should You Get a U.S. Passport Card?

You know what documents you need to get on an airplane. For most people in the U.S., you show your driver’s license to the TSA agent at the checkpoint. If you’re taking an international flight, you’ll have your passport with you and might use that instead. The TSA currently allows many different forms of identification to get past the security checkpoint. Here’s the list from

  • Driver’s licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent)
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. military ID (active duty or retired military and their dependents, and DoD civilians)
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

I’ve seen U.S. passport cards before but never thought they were good for much. When my dad showed me he had gotten one, I thought it was a waste of money since he also got his passport at the same time.

What can you use a U.S. passport card for, anyway?

OK, so we’ve determined you can use an U.S. passport card to get onto a domestic airplane flight. What else? As per the U.S. Department of State, here’s a list of the uses for a passport card:

Entering the United States at land border crossings and sea ports-of-entry from:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • The Caribbean
  • Bermuda
The passport card cannot be used for international air travel.
The passport card is Real ID compliant and can be used for domestic air travel.

So if you’d like to drive into Canada to look at Niagara Falls, all you’d need to bring with you is your U.S. passport card.



The U.S. passport card could also be valuable if you like to go on cruises because you don’t need to carry your passport book with you whenever you disembark the ship. Just beware that not ALL Caribbean locations will accept this as a valid ID (per Wikipedia):

Several countries and territories are not participating in the WHTI, and the U.S. Passport Card cannot be used when entering the U.S. from these places even though they are considered part of the Caribbean. These are:


One important point, not to be overlooked, is that the U.S passport card is REAL ID compliant. This means it’s a valid ID for the TSA to get you onto a domestic flight, to allow you into a federal building and even a to get a drink (maybe).

So that leaves the question – should you get one? Personally, I didn’t. For one thing, a U.S. passport card isn’t free, but it does cost less that a passport book.

Passport Fees

Application Fees and Execution Fees are paid separately. For more information on how to apply, please see First-Time Applicants.

Product Form Application Fee Execution Fee
Passport Book DS-11 $110 $25
Passport Card DS-11 $30 $25
Passport Book & Card DS-11 $140 $25
Adult Renewal Applicants (16 and Older):

Adult renewal applicants residing in the U.S. must apply by mail. For more information on how to apply, please see Renew My Passport or Children 16 and 17.

Product Form Application Fee
Passport Book DS-82 $110
Passport Card DS-82 $30
Passport Book & Card DS-82 $140

So getting a passport card will cost you $30 whether you are getting it alone or along with a passport book.

If you’re only planning on going between the U.S. and Canada and/or Mexico via land, or to the Caribbean on a cruise ship, then you can save a significant amount of money by getting a U.S. passport card instead of a passport book.

If you’d rather use the U.S. passport card as your REAL ID to board a plane instead of a state issued drivers license or ID, it might make sense for you to get a U.S. passport card.

It would also make sense to get a U.S. passport card to fly domestically in the U.S. if you live in a state that doesn’t issue a REAL ID compliant Drivers License.

If you make infrequent trips between the US and Canada and/or Mexico by land and are not a frequent cruise passenger to the Caribbean (and you live in a state that provides a REAL ID compliant drivers license) yet you travel internationally by plane, it would make sense to get a passport book and not pay the extra money for a passport card.

It’s all up to you and where/how you tend to travel. So, as always, Your Mileage May Vary.

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Featured Image By U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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