The U.S. State Department issues two versions of a passport: a traditional passport book and a passport card. Not only do they look different, they serve slightly different purposes. The passport book has plenty of pages for visas and arrival/departure stamps, while the passport card is a one-piece credit-card-sized ID card. Which you should get, passport book vs. passport card, depends on how you plan to travel and how much you want to pay for your travel documents.
Passport Book vs. Passport Card
The standard passport book covers all the bases: It’s all the U.S. government requires for you to enter a foreign country and re-enter the United States on your return trip. First-time application fees total $165 (a $130 application fee and a $35 acceptance fee). Many foreign countries require nothing more for entry than a U.S. passport book, although some also require visas.
The passport card, meanwhile, is both less expensive and less flexible. The passport card can be used only to re-enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at a land border crossing or sea port-of-entry. You cannot use the passport card for international air travel, even when you re-enter the U.S. by land. The first-time fee for a passport card is $65 ($30 application fee and $35 acceptance fee).
You can get both a passport book and a passport card for $195 ($160 application fee and $35 acceptance fee).
Passport books or passport cards are both valid for 10 years after issue for adults, and five years for travelers under age 16. The State Department’s website offers complete details and an online application form.
Obviously, it’s far more useful to have a passport book vs. passport card in most cases where you plan to travel internationally. But if your international travel consists entirely of surface trips in the limited areas covered by the passport card, the card is both cheaper and a tad more convenient to carry and use versus the passport book.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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