What Is a Passport Card?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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A passport card is a form of identification issued by the United States Department of State that citizens of the United States can use in place of a standard passport for some types of international travel. While the card is not valid for air travel, those who travel by land or by sea can use the card to reenter the United States from certain countries. As of 2011, the card can be used for travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The purpose of the card is primarily convenience for travelers who may not wish to always have to carry a bulky passport book for travel to nearby international destinations. The passport card is less expensive than a standard passport, though citizens who are trying to obtain a passport at the last minute should be aware that passport cards cannot be sent via overnight mail.


Historically, United States citizens have not needed to carry a passport when visiting many countries that are close to the United States. For example, when visiting Canada or Mexico, individuals frequently needed only to show some type of government photo identification in order to reenter the United States at the conclusion of their trip. While some citizens chose to carry a passport, particularly if there might be any concern about their nationality, they were not required by law to do so. Concerns about terrorism led to stronger port control laws, such as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires citizens to present a passport when reentering the United States after visiting any country. The process for applying for a passport card, as well as the documentation that must accompany the application, is the same as that required to apply for a standard passport.

For many travelers, carrying a book-style passport for all travel became cumbersome, as the books are relatively large and do not easily fit in wallets. The Department of State decided to begin issuing the passport card for those who wish to avoid carrying a book-style passport for trips to nearby nations that can be accessed without resorting to air travel. The passport card is particularly handy for United States citizens who frequently drive to Mexico or Canada on business, as the card can be kept in a wallet along with the traveler's driver's license. Another population that typically appreciates the passport card are cruise ship travelers who would generally rather not be burdened with a large passport book while visiting ports of call.


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