Passport Book vs. Passport Card: What’s the Difference?

Books will get you farther.
Books will get you farther. / (Passport Book) spanglish, (Map) ii-graphics / iStock via Getty Images; (Passport Card) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

When you hear the term U.S. passport, you probably picture a blue booklet with a cover featuring the national seal below the word passport. Inside are pages filled to varying degrees with stamps from whatever countries the carrier has entered and exited.

More specifically, that’s a passport book—and it’s not the only type of passport you can get. There are also passport cards, which, true to their name, are wallet-sized plastic cards that look a lot like a driver’s license.

The two most important differences between a passport book and a passport card involve where and how you can travel. With a passport book, you can go to any country that allows U.S. visitors. With a passport card, you can only enter Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean—and only if you’re getting there by land or sea. Passport books can be used for land, sea, and air travel. So if you’re flying to Canada, you’ll need a passport book. If you’re driving there, you can cross the border with a book or a card. 

In short, a passport book can do anything a passport card can do, plus a lot more. So why would you choose a card? For one thing, it’s significantly cheaper. Your first passport book costs $165 if you’re at least 16 years old ($135 for anyone younger than that), and every renewal is $130. A passport card, on the other hand, costs just $65 ($50 if you’re under 16) the first time, and a mere $30 to renew. If, for example, you live in South Texas and often drive across the border to visit relatives in Mexico—but don’t otherwise travel internationally—a card might make the most financial sense.

And while both passport books and cards can be used as a regular photo ID for anything that requires one (bars, concerts, domestic flights, etc.), a card is much less cumbersome to carry around. If you don’t have a driver’s license, it could be convenient to buy a passport card. That said, states also issue non-driver photo IDs, which are typically cheaper than passport cards.