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Passport Cards: A Good Idea to Have One 14 November 12

Posted by Jonathan V. Phillips in Passport, Passport Card.
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Passport Cards

Passport Cards are a relatively new form of federal id. They are a citizenship document, which allows limited international travel across land and sea borders as well being a valid form of  Real ID. The State Department started issuing these cards in response to the provisions of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and the Real ID Act, back in July of 2008.

Citizenship Document

Like a passport, the passport card establishes the holder’s US citizenship. Being a federally issued form of identification, it can be used for any domestic purpose that requires verification of US citizenship, such as opening a bank account or entering a federal building that requires an id. The Patriot Act stipulates many more instances that  require a verification of an individual’s citizenship. Having a passport card is a way to satisfy that requirement when required to do so.

Limited Travel Privileges

Traditionally a passport was the international standard for verification of citizenship at a border crossing or when clearing immigration at a sea or an international air port. Since the inception of the passport card, the BCIS officials will recognize the passport card for certain types of US border crossings. Prior to implementation of the (WHTI) US travelers had been allowed to reenter the US with various forms of id that would satisfy the border the officials at that time. These documents ranged from  US birth-certificates, driver’s licenses or an expired passport. Traveler’s coming back into the US from certain border crossings, have indicated that prior to the Patriot Act, and the implementation of the WHTI, entrance back into the US could be granted simply by speaking in non accented American English and convincing the border official that you were a US citizen. Those days of “casually” crossing the US border with out a citizenship document are now part of history.

The passport card does not have all the privileges of the standard passport book Passport cards are only valid for re-entry into the United States at land border-crossings and sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Travelers entering back into the US by plane or from any other international destination are required to have a passport. Regardless of whether or not you gained entry into a foreign country with out a passport, entry back to the US by plane is granted only by demonstrating a passport to the immigration official. Because of the limited privileges of the passport card, only travelers who are cruising the Caribbean or conducting non air travel between the bordering countries of Mexico and Canada should use a passport card as their primary method for re-entry into the US. All other travelers need the standard passport book.

Real ID

The Real ID Act, which was passed in 2005, is legislation that established the criteria for identification that is acceptable for “federal purposes”.  This includes visiting sensitive sites or entering a federal building that requires an id to gain entry. Also listed as a federal purpose is boarding a domestic flight. Travelers will be required to present a form of Real ID in order to fly inside the US. More information regarding what constitutes a Real ID is available on our recent article “Everything You Need to Know about Real ID“.

A passport card is a form of Real ID. Domestic air travelers with a valid passport card will be able to pass through TSA’s Real ID checkpoint. This applies to minors as well.

Passport Card Attributes

Aside from meeting the criteria for a Real ID, a US passport card is also an enhanced ID. This form of identification  also meets the standards outlined in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.  The US Customs and Border Protection, the folks checking your id when you come back into the USA, have a list of certified WHTI IDs.

  • Limited Use – As mentioned earlier, passport cards are only good for travel across certain land and sea borders. They are a valid Real ID and will allow the bearer to board a domestic flight.
  • Validity – Passport cards, like passports are valid for ten years for adults and five years for Minors under 16.
  • RFID Chip – Passport cards, like passports have a radio chip in them that enables it to be read by a vicinity radio scanner. Passport details are stored in the chip.
  • Biometric Information – Passport cards contain a compressed image of the bearer’s  face, other items like fingerprints and retinal scans are not included in the card.

The State Department has a passport card FAQ a document on the differences between a passport book and a passport card

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a list of Ready Lanes that are in place at US border stations that allow special privileges for travelers with RFID chips in their travel documents.

How to Apply

Getting a passport card is a relatively quick and easy process. Basically, applicants for the new cards must,

  • prove your US citizenship (original birth certificate, naturalization document or existing passport),
  • complete the form,
  • submit a color, frontal portrait photograph with a plain background

Printable passport card instructions are available from the G3 Passport Section.

Traveling with Minors

The value of a passport card might not be in it’s ability to get one across the US but rather as a form of ID for traveling domestically inside the US. Beginning in 2013, TSA officials are going to be demanding that all travelers present some form of acceptable Real ID from passengers. Due to opposition to the law, some states driver’s licenses will not be an acceptable form of Real ID. Many states  have passed legislation that bars them from making their driver’s licenses compliant with the criteria established by the DHS. The fact that most minors are not old enough to have a state issued id such as a driver’s license makes the passport card a doubly attractive form of id if they come from a state that is not Real Id compliant.

A passport card is an excellent option to traveling with a full passport book. Being compact and the size of a credit card, passport card fit inside a wallet and are considerably less bulky than a standard passport book. Costing less than a passport book, passport cards are an excellent form of identification for minors, a group that is usually with out any type of official identification until they are driving a car.

Convenience and a Back Up Plan

Passport cards are easy to obtain, cost less than a passport and are compact. They can also act as a back up form of citizenship identification. Carrying a passport card while traveling over seas in addition to your regular passport book, allows bearers to be able to verify their citizenship easily if they loose their passport. Travelers who loose their passports while traveling have to go to a US Embassy or consulate and get their lost passport replaced before they can be allowed to travel back to the US. Having a passport card will assist in getting the lost passport reissued quickly as it verifies the individual’s identity and right as a US citizen to a passport. The citizenship verification process can cause delays for citizens who have lost their passport while traveling overseas and have difficulty proving their identity.

If you have any questions regarding getting a passport card, passports or replacing lost passports, our expert staff is glad to lend assistance. Inquires can be directed to passports@g3visas.comImage


1. Real ID DHS Update « g3insider - 4 January 13

[…] to get a passport or passport card for flying  purposes. We have an earlier article on the advantages of a passport card for travel. These ids are especially useful in cases where the travelers are minors, and […]

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