Home Travel Should You Get a U.S. Passport Card?

Should You Get a U.S. Passport Card?

by joeheg

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
  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
  • An acceptable photo ID issued by a federally recognized, Tribal Nation/Indian Tribe
  • 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
  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)

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 got his passport at the same time.

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

We’ve established 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

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, allow you into a federal building, and even 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 $130 $35
Passport Card DS-11 $30 $35
Passport Book & Card DS-11 $160 $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 $130
Passport Card DS-82 $30
Passport Book & Card DS-82 $160

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 to travel 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.

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, 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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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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

13 comments

Paul June 9, 2019 - 6:48 pm

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.

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Bob Larimer June 9, 2019 - 9:37 pm

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…

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Mark January 22, 2022 - 10:03 am

If you are already out of the country you have obviously used your passport book to get there. Having the card is domestic proof or Canada, Mexico travel as noted above if you have read it. Horrible idea? Really? There are hospitals outside the US too…insert eye roll here

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Eric McSong June 10, 2019 - 12:48 am

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.

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J Smith June 10, 2019 - 8:15 pm

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.

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Ben June 10, 2019 - 11:20 pm

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

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Felipe Salamanca June 29, 2019 - 5:15 am

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

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DaninMCI June 30, 2019 - 5:34 pm

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.

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Maynard D November 21, 2020 - 3:39 pm

I carry it around instead of my passport when I’m in foreign countries. If I lose the passport card or it gets stolen then I still have my original passport to leave the country. I have never had foreign police stop me but it does come in handy when paying with a credit card at a grocery store in another country as it looks more official than a driver’s license

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Dora Cochran February 25, 2021 - 2:48 pm

I carry the passport card in my wallet. My family drives to Mexico many times a year- 3 hr easy drive from my hometown. It is way easier to carry in the wallet & is never left behind. We do also have the passport book but the card is same size as a drivers license – a lot more portable & not easily damaged

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DaninMCI January 22, 2022 - 9:24 am

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.

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Boraxo January 22, 2022 - 2:51 pm

As J Smith notes, a card can be used as ID in many countries so it is a no brainer to buy one in conjunction with a passport renewal. For $30 you get an ID that your kids can carry when they fly alone and avoids waiting hours in line at my local DMV to prove who I am for a real ID.
The best place for your passport is a hotel safe. You carry the ID instead of a passport and don’t have to worry about passport theft. And if your passport is stolen at least you have some ID to use until a replacement can be secured.

The better question is: why would you NOT get one?? To save $30 over 10 years? Really? When you are spending thousands to travel internationally.

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askmrlee March 14, 2022 - 1:48 pm

Another recycled article from 3 years ago. But anyway, the passport card comes in handy when you are at a store like Target, RiteAid, Walgreens, etc. that reflexively scans your drivers license to capture (supposedly only) the birth date when you buy cold medicines, alcohol or other age restricted items. That 2D barcode contains all the information printed on your ID. We all know what happened with Target’s little data breach. The only places I permit my drivers license to be scanned is a bank, brokerage, car rental or TSA.

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