If you’ve ever applied for or renewed a U.S. passport, you may have noticed the option to purchase both a passport book and a passport card.
Although both serve as proof of your U.S. citizenship and identity, they are used for different travel purposes.
Here’s all you need to know about the differences between a passport book and a passport card, as well as which one you should get.
What is a passport book?
A passport book is likely the document travelers are most familiar with, as it’s used for international travel to and from the U.S., including by air, sea or land.
All U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals are eligible for a U.S. passport book.
Passport books contain identifying details, including your full name, nationality, date and place of birth, sex, place of issuance, birthplace, issuance and expiration dates, and an alphanumeric eight-digit passport number.
Biometric passport books come in the form of a booklet with a navy blue cover, containing 28 pages, where border agents stamp each time you cross into a new country. Should you ever receive a visa to enter a country, that information will also be documented on those pages.
For travelers aged 16 or older at the date of issue, passport books are valid for 10 years. Otherwise, they’re valid for five years, and these travelers must renew their passports at that time.
What is a passport card?
Unlike passport books, a passport card is wallet-sized, similar to the size of a driver’s license. Passport cards can be used for land and sea entry to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.
These contain almost identical information as passport books, specifically your full name, nationality, date/place of birth, sex, issue and expiration dates, plus a unique passport card number.
All U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals are eligible for a U.S. passport card.
Unlike passport books, a passport card can be used in Ready Lanes in Canada and Mexico, which provide expedited vehicle and pedestrian border entry for approved users by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Like passport books, passport cards are also valid for 10 years for travelers aged 16 and older, and five years for those under age 16 at the time of issuance.
Differences between the passport book and passport card
The passport book is larger than a passport card, measuring 5 inches by 3.5 inches when closed. The passport card is the size of a standard credit card.
Overall, obtaining a U.S. passport book is much more expensive, at $165 for first-time applicants aged 16 and older, $135 for those under 16 and $130 for those who renew their passport book by mail, regardless of age.
It only costs first-time applicants aged 16 and older $65 to get a passport card, while it’s $50 for younger applicants. Passport cards are renewable by mail for just $30.
Both serve as acceptable alternatives to a state-issued ID (driver’s license) for U.S. citizenship identification for travel and other purposes. However, only passport books are valid for international air travel.
Can I have both a passport book and a card?
You can apply for both a passport book and passport card at the same time, either in person using Form DS-11 or via mail using Form DS-82, simply by checking the appropriate box at the top of the form indicating that you would like to apply for both products. You cannot renew one without the other.
If you have a passport book and are eligible for mail renewal, you can also apply for a passport card renewal via mail even if it is your first passport card.
For eligibility rules regarding mail renewal, see here.
Which should I get?
You can technically obtain both documents. However, it doesn’t make sense to pay for both when a U.S. passport book grants international air, land and sea access to the U.S., from all destinations the passport card does.
Having said that, you may want to consider also applying for a passport card if you frequently travel both by air and land, as a passport card is a smaller document to travel with and potentially more convenient than carrying a traditional passport book.
Either way, both a passport book and card are accepted as forms of Real ID. As a reminder, Real-ID-compliant driver’s licenses will be required to pass through TSA security lines at airports for all travelers aged 18 and older starting May 3, 2023.
Passport books and passport cards serve different purposes. Passport books are required as identification verification for international air travel. Passport cards serve that purpose but can only be used for land travel into the U.S. from specific destinations.
Travelers can apply for one or both documents, as they both are acceptable as U.S. citizenship identification.