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 tsa.gov:

  • 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. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • 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 a 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.

waterfall-2631399_1920

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:

ferry-boat-123059_1920

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 than 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 $35
Passport Card DS-11 $30 $35
Passport Book & Card DS-11 $140 $35
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

9 thoughts on “Should You Get a U.S. Passport Card?”

  1. I’ve had my passport card for 4-5 years. I carry it with me at all times and use it as my ID instead of my driver’s license, which displays a lot of personal info that the passport card does not, such as height, weight, eye color, hair color, and address.
    I also use my passport card as a National Identity card whenever I feel the need to prove my citizenship status (legal right to be in USA) such as when I’m within 100 miles of any US Border and I get approached or stopped by border patrol.
    I feel there are many other uses for a passport card other than for travel.

  2. A passport card is a horrible idea because no matter where you are, if you are seriously injured or ill and need to be flown home for medical care you must have a passport to fly international and that would be an international flight. Even if you got the US state department to issue a waiver for the patient, the family would still be stuck on the ground and would have to wait for their cruise to end or drive back to the US to catch a flight to be with the patient…

  3. Basically, I would say passport card is simply designed for those people who plan to cross the land border or enter a sea port, for example, there are many Americans who only travelled to Canada in their whole life. For,these people, it is just a wasting of money to get a passport book. On the other hand, if you travel somewhere outside North America, a passport card is definitely a wasting of money.

  4. My family lives internationally and travels extensively. Our passports are frequently tied up in embassies waiting on visas to be issued, and we still need to fly domestically within our country of residence. We have 5 children and use their passport cards as a valid, internationally recognized form of ID. These cards have been extremely useful for us to prove citizenship, age, and verify their identities for domestic travel. Obviously, we’re not crossing any international borders here in Asia using passport cards, but they’ve been extremely valuable to us simply because our kids still have a valid form of ID when their passports are tied up and out of our possession. Officials in our country of residence view them as a form of national ID card, which everyone here has, while state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards are treated with suspicion .

    When we go to renew our kids’ passports, there’s invariably some well-intentioned person there to tell us that we shouldn’t get passport cards because they’re worthless for our purposes. They couldn’t be more wrong. On many occasions, these things are the only reason we haven’t been stranded and unable to travel within our adopted country.

  5. I live in San Diego and should really get one of these so that they stop wasting pages stamping my passport on day trips

  6. Hi Joe,
    Great post! I think that is a good idea to have passport cards.

    I got them for my kids. We commonly use them when we travel out of the country, we like to keep some kind of ID with us in case that something happens without having to carry the passports all the time. They can be placed in the wallet so for sure its more convenient.

    Thanks

  7. I like my passport card as a good ID to take with me at cruise ports because it’s waterproof and provides some proof of a passport if you had to go to an embassy, etc.

  8. Just got back from a week-long trip to Canada. We drove up to Toronto and then stayed a few nights in Niagara Falls (Canadian side) on the way back. The passport card was perfect, as it conveniently fit in my wallet and didn’t require having to keep/carry my U.S. passport. For only $30, I think the passport card is worth getting if you (as mentioned in the article above) do any land or sea-based travel to Canada/Mexico/Caribbean. (But if the card cost more than $60, I’d probably just stick with the plain old $110 passport.)

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