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When a passport is required for travel outside of the U.S., things can get a bit confusing. There are multiple options, from a passport book to a passport card, and even an enhanced driver's license for those crossing borders by land. While each one has a purpose, passport books and passport cards are the two most sought-after means of identification when leaving the U.S.

However, this does not mean that they are both created equally. A traveler might be asking themselves, 'what's the difference between a passport book and a card if they're both passports?' and this is a common question. One is more powerful than the other; however, one also offers travelers similar benefits at a lower cost. So, which one is right depending on the type of travel one is planning on doing? Let's compare the two.


A Passport Book: What It Does And How It's Used

For those who are in doubt, it's always better to go ahead and invest in an actual passport book. Not only does this have a lifespan of ten years before it expires, but it functions as a gateway to practically anywhere in the world, whereas a passport card is more limited.

For starters, the passport book can be offered to U.S. citizens or non-citizen nationals wishing to travel internationally. The book has multiple pages that are used for stamps and visas, which allows travelers to plan multiple trips around the world without having to renew or add pages to their books right away. Passports come with a standard 28 pages, with the option to add up to 52 pages for an additional fee.

Only electronic - aka biometric - passports have been issued since 2007, meaning that each passport book comes equipped with an electronic chip.

When considering whether or not to go with a passport book versus a passport card, one must be aware of whether they're crossing a border by land, sea, or air. Passport books allow entry by all three and are also necessary one cruises that are outside of the U.S. territories since not every seaport is approved for entry with a passport card alone.

A Passport Card: What It Does And How It's Used

Essentially, a passport card more closely resembles an enhanced driver's license (EDL) than it does a passport book. Whereas a passport book unlocks destinations all over the world, a passport card only unlocks destinations that include land and sea border crossings. For example, a cruise through the Caribbean would accept a passport card; however, one would need a passport book if that cruise were to leave the Caribbean and head to another country's territory. While a U.S. passport is not required for U.S. citizens flying domestically within the U.S., a passport card would not allow U.S. citizens to fly elsewhere, because it is not as powerful as a passport book.

A passport card is not an accepted form of valid photo identification when crossing the border by air, and will not be accepted for international flights.

However, the benefit of a passport card is for those who plan on crossing the border into Canada or Mexico by car. Whereas an EDL is only available in certain states that share a border with another country, a passport card is available in all 50 states and can be used to gain entry across land border crossings. Additionally, a passport card allows travelers crossing either border by car to use the Ready Lanes at entry points for faster border crossings.

The only other reason one might consider a passport card over a passport book is if they're planning a cruise and live in a state (i.e. Florida) where air travel is not required to reach the ship. Cruises traveling through the Caribbean and Bermuda do not require passport books, only cards, so it might be worth saving the extra $100 if a passport book isn't a necessity.

Related: A Full FAQ Guide For Americans Getting Their First Passport

So, Which Is Better - The Passport Book Or The Passport Card?

U.S. citizens are in the unique position of having access to multiple forms of photo identification for travel purposes. While the passport book is the ultimate means of gaining entry into another country, the passport card does have its benefits for adults who would rather pay $65 instead of $165.

Additionally, both forms of travel identification last for ten years and can be renewed, so they're tied in that aspect, as well. Choosing between the two ultimately comes down to where one is going, and where they plan on going in the future.