Having a US citizenship has many benefits. You can live and work anywhere, but you can also travel anywhere. When you are a US citizen, you also get government issued documents. This includes ID cards, driver’s license, and passport for travel.

While most countries in the world issue one passport for national and international travel, the US is different. They have tried to make traveling within America and internationally easier. That is why as a US citizen you can have a passport book and a passport card.

What is a Passport Card?

passport card

A passport card is a simple identification card which looks a lot like a driver’s license. It is small and plastic, but can you can use it to travel within the continent of America. It is very convenient because:

  • it does not take much space;
  • it costs less to replace it if you lose it;
  • gives you easy access to travel within America;
  • it is a great solution for children or those without a driver’s license.

You can use the passport card to go to many different countries such as:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • The Caribbean
  • Bermuda

If you travel to any of these countries, you can show your passport card and border authorities will let you in. Whether you travel to those countries by sea or land, they will accept your passport card. But if you are travelling anywhere else, then you must have a passport book.

The passport card is not valid for international travel so you will not be able to pass borders with it. Some authorities might let you leave the country with only a passport card. But you might have more difficulties returning and entering the US with it. To travel internationally, US citizens must have a passport book.

What is the difference between a passport book and passport card?

Many people wonder why they need a passport book if they already have a passport card. But there are differences in what you can do with one or the other. The passport card is only to make travelling within the North and South America easier. It is so people do not have to carry their actual passport books with them and risk losing them.

US Passport Book

The passport book though is the document that allows you to travel internationally. Even if you do not have a passport card, you can use the passport book. It gives you access to travel anywhere even within the US or the North/South America.

So the main difference between passport and passport card is where it allows you to travel. The passport card is optional, while the passport book is necessary for travelling. Also, any country accepts passport books while passport cards have a more limited use.

What are the requirements to get a passport card?

Getting a passport card is easy. The most important rule is for the person to be a US citizen. Once you have US citizenship, you can apply for it and get it.

Besides the citizenship rule, you must also have a clean criminal record. If you committed a serious crime before and went to jail or prison getting a passport will be difficult. Also, the government will deny you a passport card if they suspect you will run away from the country.

If you fulfill these requirements, then you can immediately start the application procedure.

How to apply to get a passport card?

There are two ways to apply to get a passport card:

  • With your existing passport book
  • In person if you do not have a passport book

Applying with your existing passport book

If you already have a passport book, then the application is very easy. You can complete it and send it by mail. You have to follow these steps:

  • Complete Form DS-82, Online Application Form for Passport Renewal
  • Attach your existing passport to the form if it fulfills these conditions:
    • The passport book is not damaged
    • You got a passport book after you turned 16 years old
    • You got a passport book within the last 15 years
    • The passport book has your current name
  • Attach one photograph to the application
  • Include payment of fees

Put these documents in an envelope which is large enough to fit them without folding it. Then, mail the envelope through the US Postal Services. You must use First Class Mail and include a tracking number to ensure delivery. You can mail the envelope in the following addresses depending on the state you live in:

If you live in the states of California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, or Texas mail it at:

National Passport Processing Center

Post Office Box 640155

Irving, TX 75064-0155

If you live in any other state or Canada, mail it at:

National Passport Processing Center

Post Office Box 90155, Philadelphia

PA 19190-0155

These addresses are for when you choose a standard delivery method. If you need your passport card very soon, you can choose expedited delivery. In that case you will be responsible for the extra fees and can mail the envelope in this address:

National Passport Processing Center

Post Office Box 90955

Philadelphia, PA 19190-0955

If you are outside of the US then you must contact the US Embassy in the country you are in for more information.

Applying in Person

You can apply in person for a passport card if you are in these situations:

  • You have never had a passport book or card before
  • You got a passport book before you were 16 years old
  • Your passport book was stolen, lost, or damaged
  • You got a passport book more than 15 years ago

For these situations, you can then apply for either a passport book, passport card, or both at the same time. The process is as follows:

  • Complete Form DS-11, Application for a US Passport
  • Submit evidence of your US citizenship such as:
    • Expired US passport book
    • Birth certificate
    • Certificate of citizenship
    • Certificate of naturalization
  • Have one photo for your application
  • Attach proof of fee payment
  • Submit your application at a passport acceptance facility where you live

After they process your passport card, they will make a decision. If you fulfill the criteria, there is no reason for denial. When you get the approval for the passport card, they will mail it to you. The card will arrive at the address you provided in the application.

The passport facility will mail the passport card whether you apply in person or via mail. Processing times are different, but you have the choice of standard or expedited delivery. Depending on this, you can get the passport card within a few days or a few weeks.

How long does it take to get the passport card?

To get the passport card it takes the same amount of time as it takes to get a normal US passport. The processing time to get a US passport under a standard procedure is 4 to 6 weeks.

How much does the passport card cost?

To complete your application, you must pay the necessary fees for the passport card. These fees depend on your age and are:

  • $65 for applicants who are 16 years old or older
  • $50 for applicants under 16 years old
  • $30 to renew the passport card after it expires

This is much cheaper than the passport book which costs:

  • $145 for applicants who are 16 years old or older
  • $115 for applicants under 16 years old
  • $110 to renew the passport book after it expires

If you need the passport card or book in a hurry, you must pay extra fees for expedited processing. This can vary, but in general you will have to pay an extra $60 for your passport to be ready fast.

Besides these fees, you will also have to pay for mailing the envelope if you are applying via mail. Also you will have to pay for the delivery of the passport card or book to your address.

The payment methods depend on the location you are applying in. Most facilities will accept money orders and checks. Only some facilities will accept debit or credit cards.

If you want to pay with cash, you must check with the passport facility you are applying in. Most of them do not provide change back, so you must provide the exact amount of money for the fee payment.

How long is the passport card valid?

The passport card needs renewal in certain periods. It does not have lifetime validity so you must renew it every time it expires. For US citizens who are 16 years old or older, the passport card is valid for 10 years.

For those who are under 16 years old, the passport card is valid for only 5 years. This is because children’s appearance changes often as they grow which must show in the picture of the passport card.

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