Trick out your US passport (part 1): passport cards

The Rapid Traveler drove yesterday from Syracuse, NY to Kingston, Ontario without a passport and without swimming across the Thousand Islands. He was carrying a little-known US passport card, which as the card says is “valid only for international land and sea travel between United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.” He preemptively renewed his passport in 2009 before fees skyrocketed and ticked the box to add in a passport card. Cards can be obtained for $30, much lower than the $110 for a passport book and if applied together, the $25 execution fee is only charged once.

Thousand Islands

Thousand Islands, photo by Alberto OG

Though not accepted for air travel, there are numerous uses for the passport card:

  • As stated above, land and sea travel between United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
  • Convenient credit card size.
  • Lower fee to replace if lost.
  • Can leave the passport book safely at home and not at risk of loss on land and sea trips.
  • No chance for stamp-happy immigration officials to mess up a precious passport page with a stamp (US officials often do this, and now additional pages have gone from free to $82, a greater than infinity % increase).
  • Many countries technically require foreigners to carry their passport at all times, which /can increase chances of theft or loss. The passport card may work as a stand-in, especially in combination with a photocopy of the passport.
  • Better than a driver’s license to prove identify if passport book is lost overseas. Travelers that have lost their passports and tried to gain access to US consular missions will appreciate this.
  • A great backup ID for domestic US trips if driver’s license is lost.
  • A handy government-issued ID to pair with a driver’s license for everyday tasks like opening a bank account that often require two IDs.

For frequent air travelers, the passport card may seem of limited utility but the benefits can more than justify the extra check mark and $30 when next up for passport renewal.

Part 2 will cover Global Entry and more.

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  • Eric

    Getting ready to renew my passport and curious if you still recommend this. I’ve got a Nexus card that I use for land crossings – do you find that you’ve used it enough to justify the $30?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Eric – I rarely use the land or sea crossings. I like the second ID for US travel and practical tasks like opening bank accounts, reduces the amount of times I need to be with my passport.