What's a Passport Card?

Anyone who travels from the US to Canada, Mexico or Bermuda on business or vacation should know about US passport cards. They don't cost as much as passports and they're designed especially for people like you.

Some Details

In June 2009, new rules under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) went into effect. The rules require citizens of the US, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to prove their identities and nationality before they're allowed to enter the US from, or leave the US for, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda, or anywhere else in the western hemisphere.

Because of the vast amount of travel between the US and those countries, the US State Department came up with the US Passport Card as an alternative to a regular passport. They became available in July 2008, and as of March 2010, nearly 3 million have been issued to US citizens.

How It Works

The passport card is only only for entering the US from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. In other words, you can't use it to fly to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda, or for any other international flights. It designed for US citizens who may go to one of those countries occasionally - such as for vacation - or who may go there frequently for business.

Here are some of the major differences between a regular passport and passport card:

  • A passport allows you to travel to and from the US by air, land and sea practically anywhere in the world and re-enter the US at any time
  • As of June 2010, a new passport card costs $45 for an adult and $35 for minors, while a new passport costs $100 and $85, respectively. It also costs less to renew a passport card. These fees may increase later in 2010, however
  • The the passport card has a highly secured, vicinity-read radio frequency identification (RFID) chip. It contains a code that allows border agents to see pictures of you and other biographical information about you are stored on government computers. This information is not on the chip, and the information is taken directly from your passport card application

You apply for a new passport card in the same way you apply for a regular passport. Generally, you need to fill out Form DS-11. You also need identification and other documents listed in the form, such as your diver's license and birth certificate and two passport-quality photos of yourself. You take all those materials to one of over 9,000 Passport Acceptance Facilities located across the US. Yes, you must apply in person if it's your first passport card.

You renew a passport card just like you renew a regular passport, too. You fill-out Form DS-82 and mail it to the address listed on the Form, along with your old card and two passport photos.

If you're renewing a regular passport, you can apply for a passport card by mail, even if it's your first passport card. This is because your information is on file and, technically, it's not your first application for passport materials.

Passport cards, just like regular passport books, are good for 10 years for adults and 5 years for minors.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is there anything I can do if my application for a passport card was denied?
  • What happens if I lose my passport card but I have to get back home to the US in a hurry?
  • Isn't the use of the radio frequency identification an invasion of privacy?
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