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Passport Book vs. Passport Card: Which Do I Need?

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 $145. Many foreign countries require nothing more for entry than a U.S. passport book, although some also require visas.

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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, although these areas generally accept it as valid ID for entry as well. 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.

You can get both a passport book and a passport card for $175.

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.

The Travel Wallet

Most travel wallets are made to merely hold your passport and don’t consider the currency factor—especially if you’re crossing borders on your trip. Fortunately, this inexpensive, hyper-organized wallet keeps everything safe and secure in a compact place.

 

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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