The Department of State has developed a Passport Card as a more portable and less expensive alternative to the traditional passport book. The passport card is a basic component of the PASS (People Access Security Service) system announced in January 2006, and meets the specific requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) to secure and expedite travel, a provision of the Intelligence Reform Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which requires citizens of the United States, Canada, and Bermuda to have a passport or other designated document that establishes the bearer's identity and nationality to enter or re-enter the United States from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.
The passport card is the credit card-sized travel document that can only be used to re-enter the United States at land border-crossings and sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The card provides a less expensive, smaller, and convenient alternative to the passport book for those who travel frequently to these destinations by land or by sea. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air, however it can be used as proof of identity in Europe.
Valid for international travel by air, sea, or land. The passport card has a vicinity-read radio frequency identification (RFID) chip. Laser engraving and state-of-the-art security features minimize the possibility of counterfeiting and forgery. The card is issued with a protective sleeve that prevents the card from being read when not in use.
The RFID technology used in the passport card will enable the card to be read at a distance by an authorized CBP reader mounted alongside the traffic lane (for instance, Canadian border crossing). The chip contains no biographic data as is the case with the e-passport. The chip will have a unique number linking the card to a secure database maintained by DHS and State. However, to address concerns that passport card bearers can be tracked by this technology, the card comes with a RFID shield sleeve that will prevent the card from being read while inside it. There are travel wallets that also contain such shields.
Should I Carry a Passport Card to Italy or other European Countries?
Even though it's is only recognized at border crossings for Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Carribean, I think it would still be a useful addition to your travel wallet. You should always keep your regular passport in a secure place--some keep it in hotel safes, but I suggest using a money belt, leg wallet or other secure method of carrying it. I would use the Passport Card as a backup in case your Passport is lost or stolen.
One person can carry the passports, the other can be responsible for the Passport Cards. Keep it in a separate place away from your normal passport. I might even keep it in my money clip wallet with my daily cash, main cash card and driver's license. It would function as a second method of identification, such as when renting a car or with local officials, such as the police. I would NOT leave the Passport card with anyone as it has your passport number on it. Think if it as merely a backup to your regular passport. Even then, I would still keep a scanned image of your normal passport in a secure file on your smart phone (preferably via an online storage service like DropBox.)
Keep in mind, the Passport Card doesn't show your visa and/or entry stamp so they can't determine if you are in the country legally or not. So, it may be accepted as proof of WHO you are but not WHY you are in the country. So, for I.D. and backup use, and to help in case you lose your regular passport, yes. For international travel documentation in Europe, no.
How do I get a Passport Card?
To apply for a card, you use the same form that you would use to apply for a passport book (DS-11 or DS-82). There is a checkbox on the form for you to indicate that you are applying for a passport card.
If you already have a passport book and you are eligible to use Form DS-82 (renewal by mail), you may apply for a passport card using DS-82 even if this is your first passport card. Otherwise you will need to use form DS-11 to apply for a passport card. The same one photo requirement for the passport book is true for the passport card.
Valid when entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. Not valid for international travel by air.
Cost for first time applicants when buying regular passport and card:
Adults: $165 Minors: $120
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