What is a Passport Card?

Have you heard about the passport card? Have you ever wondered what it’s used for and whether or not you need one? That depends where you’re going and how you’re getting there. In July 2008, the U.S. Government began issuing passport cards to make it easier for U.S. citizens who live in border communities to travel back and forth across the border. It is about the size of a credit card, and it is less expensive than a traditional passport book.

But, unlike a passport book, it cannot be used for all international travel. It can only be used to travel between the United States and Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean by land or sea. The card cannot be used to travel by air. If you are flying to and from any of these locations, you must have a passport book. You must also have a passport book for international travel to any other destination, regardless of the method of transportation.

How Does it Work?

The card has a radio frequency identification chip (RFIC) embedded inside of it. The chip allows border officials to access personal information that is stored in a government database as you approach security checkpoints. Because officials don’t have to wait until you actually reach the checkpoint to access your information, the chip helps reduce wait times at border security.

Some people have been concerned about the security of the passport card. However, the government has taken many precautions to keep your personal information from falling into the wrong hands. To that end, there are security features in place to prevent these cards from being produced illegally. In addition, the chip itself does not contain any personal information.

Instead it contains a unique number that corresponds to a record that is stored in a secure government database. The record contains your personal information, and officials use that information to verify your identity. The card also comes with a protective sleeve to prevent your information from being accessed when it shouldn’t be.

Who Can Apply and How Much Does it Cost?

All U.S. citizens can apply for a passport card at any passport acceptance facility in the country or by mail if they are eligible. The cost for first time applicants is $55 for adults and $40 for minors under 16. The cost to renew the card is $30.

How to Apply

The process for applying for the card is similar to obtaining a passport book, and you can apply for them at the same time. If you already have a passport book, and you are eligible to renew your book by mail, you can apply for a passport card by mail as well even if you are applying for a card for the first time. To apply by mail, complete form DS-82: Application for a U.S. Passport by Mail, and submit it along with your most recent passport, a passport photo and the applicable fees. If your name has changed since your passport was issued, you will also need to provide documentation of your name change.

If you do not have a passport book, or you are not eligible to apply for a passport by mail, you must apply for a passport card in person. To apply in person, complete form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport, but do not sign it.

Take your application along with proof of citizenship; proof of identity; a photocopy of the front and back of your identification; a passport photo; the applicable fees; and form DS-64 if your passport was lost or stolen to a passport acceptance facility. A passport acceptance agent will have you sign the application form in his/her presence and prepare your application for processing.

When Will I Receive My Card?

The application processing time for the card is similar to the application processing time for a passport book. According to the government, routine processing takes about four to six weeks and expedited service takes two to three weeks.

However, the processing time for expedited service is based on overnight delivery to and from the passport agency, and passport cards can’t be shipped using overnight delivery. They are sent by First Class Mail. So, be sure to keep this in mind and plan accordingly when applying for a card.


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