Passport Book vs. Card: Understanding the differences

by Catherine Carey | June 20, 2023
Passport from the United States on American flag

If you are thinking of travelling abroad as a US citizen, you must know that you will need a passport, one of the essential documents for traveling. A passport is an official document issued by a citizen’s country as a form of identification and proof of citizenship and as a permit to travel abroad. But what is a passport book? And a passport card? These two official governmental documents allow you to travel internationally and are issued by the U.S. Department of State, but have important differences.

In this article, we will explain what is a passport book, what is a passport card, what are the differences between the passport book and passport card, when do you need to get both and where can you get a passport in the US.

What is a passport book? 

A passport book is a passport booklet available to US citizens and non-citizen nationals that contains important information:

  • First page with photo and personal information like full name, nationality, date of birth, place of birth, sex, the passport issue date and passport expiration date.
  • Other biometric details like height and weight.
  • Visa pages for travel and residency purposes.
  • Blank pages for travel stamps.

This document is the most common travel document and the most ideal one for frequent travellers who need to provide a lot of supporting documentation during their trips. It is used by those international travellers that travel by air, sea or land and can have 28 or 52 pages depending on how many pages they need for their trips.

For travellers age 16 or older at the date of issue, the books are valid for 10 years. Younger travellers are given passports that are valid for five years and minors’ passport books cannot be renewed, while those for adults can.

What is a passport book used for?

Passport books can be used:

  • To travel internationally.
  • To prove your U.S. citizenship.
  • To renew your passport application.
  • To gain entry into the U.S. as a U.S. citizen or in foreign countries.
  • To prove your identity.

Passport book from the United States of America

What is a passport card?

A passport card is a type of passport available for U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals and have the following information on them:

  • The passport card number.
  • You photo.
  • Your official names.
  • Your citizenship information.
  • Your date and place of birth.
  • The card issue date and expiry date.

This document can only be used for foreign border entry by land and sea and only in specific places. It’s not an accepted form of ID for international air travel. Those issued to minors last five years, and those issued to adults are valid for up to ten years.

What is a passport card used for?

The passport cards are very useful for:

  • Domestic travel and boarding domestic flights.
  • Travel to specific international regions by sea or land like Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.
  • Form of identification and proof of citizenship.

Where can I go with my passport card?

These are the only countries you can go to with the passport card:

Anguilla, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Aruba, Mexico (within the border zone), Bermuda, Montserrat, Virgin Islands (British), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Canada, Saint Lucia, Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire; Sint Eustatius and Saba; Curaçao; Sint Maarten), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Dominica, Turks and Caicos and Dominican Republic.

camera, map and United States passport

Passport Card vs. Passport Book: what are the differences?

Although the passport card and the passport book have similarities, they differ in 5 main aspects.

  • How they allow you to travel. A passport card and passport book differ in the methods of travel that are eligible. Passport book holders can travel internationally by air, land, or sea, but passport card holders can only do so by sea or land.
  • Where you can travel. While passport books allow holders to travel internationally to any region, passport cards only allow entry to countries that accept WHTI-compliant documents. Regions like Europe or Africa don’t allow it. For example, if you’re planning a Mediterranean cruise, you’ll need to use a passport book. The passport card isn’t valid for seaport entry in Europe. Due to this important difference, passport books are the preferred document for international travel over passport cards.
  • How much they cost. Passport books tend to cost more than passport cards. Those first-time applicants for a passport book must pay a $35 acceptance fee bringing the total to $165 for adults (16 or older) and $135 for children. Passport cards for first-time applicants cost $65 for adults and $50 for children. However, the cost is lower when you have to renew your passport book and passport card. Travellers will have to pay $130 to renew an adult passport book and $30 to renew an adult passport card.
  • Physical format. Passport cards and books differ in size. Passport books are like mini-booklets (of about 3.5-by-5-inch) which makes them bulkier than the passport cards which are like driver’s licenses or a credit card.
  • The identifiers or numbers assigned to them are different. Those in passport cards feature a C with 8 digits, while books have nine unique numbers.

Which is the best? Passport card vs. book

The main advantage of passport books is that it will allow you to travel anywhere in the world and take all kinds of trips. It will allow you to book a flight, cruise, or road trip. The second main advantage is that it will allow you to get a travel visa. When applying for a visa, you must present a valid passport book at immigration so without a passport book, you cannot get a visa.

Passport cards have a very clear advantage and it is that they are more portable as they are less bulkier than passport books. Passport cards also cost less than passport books. You will spend less money and will be able to travel to some fantastic land or sea destinations like Canada or the Caribbean.

While if you are unsure of your travel needs and thus choose a passport book just in case, you must consider the type of travel you will be doing the next few years. Only then you will confidently choose your most ideal document: the passport book vs. the passport card or both.

When to get both?

You might need to get the passport book in addition to the card in order to overcome the clear limits of the passport card. These limits are mainly its inability to travel internationally by air or process visas. You may need to get both the card and the book if:

  • You need to travel by air, sea, and land and you need to combine different travel methods.
  • You don’t have a Real ID required for domestic air travel. You can fly domestically without a Real ID with your passport card within the 50 states and use your passport book for international travel.
  • You want to save money. You will save money if you apply for both documents at the same time since you only pay one acceptance fee. There won’t be higher costs.

Where do I get my passport in the US?

To get a U.S. passport, you must apply in person at a passport acceptance facility for a new passport. It cannot be done online or by mail. The acceptance facility could be a library or post office and some of them require appointments or have limited hours.

Currently, you must renew your US passport by mail. Online renewals are paused.