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

Are you looking for some information on a U.S. passport card vs. book? Check out this brief explanation before you book your next international cruise vacation.

About one-third of Americans have a valid passport. Travel outside of the United States, whether by land, sea, or air, requires a valid passport book or passport card. 

But you are going on a cruise, so how do you know whether you need a passport book or a passport card? 

We know that topics like this can be overwhelming and we don’t want it to prevent you from taking that leap to your dream vacation! So read on and let us help you understand the difference between passport books and cards so you can choose which is best for your situation. 

Passport Card vs. Book

You are most likely familiar with the blue booklet that gets stamps when you enter or leave different countries. This passport book has long been the standard for traveling between countries and is portrayed often in movies and TV shows. 

What is a Passport Card?

In 2008, passport cards were made available for land or seaport entry to the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda only. 

This wallet-size passport ID card looks similar to a driver’s license in size and style and is a more economical option for those limiting their travel exclusively to land or sea travel in the countries allowed.

U.S. Passport Card
U.S. Passport Card (Photo Credit: Mike Fouque / Shutterstock)

What is the Difference?

A US passport card is more limited in its use than a passport book. 

For international travel by air, you will have to have a passport book, even to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda. A passport card is only good for land or sea-based ports of entry to these places, not air travel. 

Do I Need a Passport Book or Passport Card For a Cruise?

Closed-loop cruises out of US ports typically allow you to use proof of citizenship (like a birth certificate) and proof of identity (like a driver’s license) for day excursions from the ship.

This means you could disembark for a few hours, but you could not spend the night on foreign soil. Be sure to check with your cruise line before leaving to make sure if this is an option for the ports of call on your itinerary.

If you are departing from anywhere other than the United States or a U.S. territory, you will need a passport book. This includes if the cruise leaves from the US but is disembarking anywhere other than Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda. 

Do You Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise
Photo: waseber / Shutterstock

Also Read: Do You Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise?

With lower application fees, a passport card can be a great option for a traveler on a budget and is sufficient for cruises limited to those specified areas. It will allow you to disembark at ports and go on excursions from the ship.

Does My Child Need a Passport?

All the same requirements apply to minor children as well as adults. Expect to need the same kind of documentation as you would for yourself, though only a birth certificate might be sufficient for certain cruise lines and ports if your child is under 16. 

Another important consideration is if the minor is traveling with only one parent. Having a passport card or book for the child will likely be required. 

Always check with the cruise line for legal documentation needed for minor children, particularly if traveling with only one parent or legal guardian. 

Be Prepared For Emergencies

However, if you are forced to disembark due to an emergency, illness, or other unexpected reason and need to fly home, expect delays if you only have a passport card. Since they cannot be used for international air travel, you may find yourself stuck in a foreign port and have difficulty getting home.

Cruise Ship Emergency
Photo Credit: Turn_Mug / Shutterstock.com

Spending a little bit more to have a passport book will cover all your bases should an emergency arise, and you’ll be ready for international travel in the future. 

FAQ About Passport Books and Passport Cards

We want you to be confident while traveling! Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about passports.

Am I eligible for a passport?

If you are a US citizen by birth or naturalization, then you can apply for a passport book or card. 

How much does a passport book or card cost?

A passport book application fee is $110, while a passport card application fee is $30. There is a $35 execution fee for first-time applicants.

Are there more fees?

While there are no more fees with the application to the government, you can also expect to pay for your passport photo and any expediting or shipping fees. 

How long does it take to receive?

Routine processing takes 10-12 weeks. You can pay additional fees to expedite the time.

Do they qualify as Real ID Identification?

Yes! Both passport books and cards qualify as Real ID identification. 

How long are passport books and cards valid?

Both passport books and passport cards are valid for 10 years for adults and five years for minors under the age of 16. 

Where do I apply for a passport?

You can print the application form to fill out ahead of time, but it must be submitted in person. Click here to find a passport acceptance facility near you. 

What do I need to bring with me?

Make sure you have original proof of citizenship, a valid form of ID, passport photo, application, and any fees that you will need to pay. DO NOT sign your application until you are told to do so in person when submitting it. 

Cruising is Worth the Effort To Get Your Passport

While this article has had a lot of information to process, we hope it helped you feel that your dream cruise vacation is within reach! Now that you know the ins and outs of cruising and passport needs, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Haiyan Ma
Haiyan Ma
I absolutely love cruising with my favorite ports of call being in the Caribbean. As a former crew member for Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line I can continue my passion by sharing my experiences with readers. Find out more about us here.


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