Life·5 min read

From The Passport Card to Vaccine Passport: Don't Travel Without These Docs

Woman holding a passport book and a phone with a vaccine passport qr code on it
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
May 13, 2022

If you’re planning to travel internationally this year, there are a few things you should know before you book those airline tickets. And it’s more than just info on which suitcase to get. You need to make sure you have all the right docs from a vaccine card to your REAL ID. Plus, you may even want to get a passport card. Don’t know what that is? Don’t worry, we’ve skimm’d it for you. 

What’s a passport book?

Most of us are familiar with the tiny blue book that’s slightly too big to fit in a traditional wallet. It’s considered an official form of ID and is used for international travel for land, sea, or air. So if you’re heading out of the country, your driver’s license won’t cut it.Once you’re 16 and older, your passport is good for 10 years. Any younger than that, you have to renew it every five years. The first page of your passport has all the essential info – your DOB, height, etc. – while the next pages are left blank for the customs agents of different countries to stamp. It’s pretty much a log of all the places you’ve been. 

What’s a passport card? 

It’s sort of like the passport book we all know and love but kinda looks like your driver’s license. You can travel internationally with a passport card but only to certain countries and only by land and sea. That means if you show up to a flight with just your passport card you’ll be turned away. 

The card was created to make travel easier for people who live in southern or northern border communities. Like a passport book, it contains all your basic info including a recent pic. Sadly, there are no extra pages and no opportunities for collecting country stamps. It also has the same validity duration as a passport book. 

What are the key differences between passport books and cards?

  1. Travel Method: Passport books let you travel by air, land, and sea. A passport card won’t even get you through airport security. 

  2. Destination: A passport book lets you go pretty much anywhere your heart desires… well 186 countries. While you can’t just show up at any country’s border with a passport card and expect to be let in. If you’re going on a Caribbean cruise your passport card will work just fine, but if you’re planning on a Mediterranean cruise, you’ll need your passport book for that. Only the following places accept a passport card.

    • Canada

    • Mexico

    • The Caribbean, which includes: 

      • Anguilla 

      • Antigua and Barbuda

      • Aruba

      • The Bahamas

      • The British Virgin Islands

      • Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire; Sint Eustatius and Saba; Curaçao; Sint Maarten)

      • Cayman Islands

      • Dominica

      • Dominican Republic

      • Grenada

      • Jamaica

      • Montserrat

      • Saint Kitts and Nevis

      • Saint Lucia

      • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

      • Turks and Caicos Islands

    • Bermuda (which, FYI, isn’t a part of the Caribbean)

  3. Size: You’re probably going to need a special carrier for your passport since it’s too large for any standard wallet. The passport card, on the other hand, fits snugly into the ID slot of most wallets. 

  4. Price:  Another huge difference between the two is how much they cost. The fees are:

    • Passport book first-time application: $165 if you’re 16 or older and $135 for someone younger.

    • Passport card first-time application: $65 if you’re 16 or older, $50 for someone younger. 

    • Passport book renewal: $130 by mail.

    • Passport card renewal: $30 by mail. 

What about Real ID?

Real ID is the form of identification all Americans will be required to use when traveling domestically by May 2023. Your driver’s license won’t cut it anymore. By then, you’ll need a version of your driver’s license that says you’re able to travel domestically by plane. Luckily both your passport book and passport card count as a form of Real ID. Need more info? Check out the new rules here.

What about a vaccine passport? Is that a thing? 

Yes, it is. And if you plan on traveling internationally you may end up needing one — but it’s not the same as a passport book or card.A vaccine passport is either digital or paper proof that shows you’ve been vaccinated.Some countries don’t mind if you present your CDC vaccination card or show a picture of it on your phone, but other places do.The idea of a “vaccine passport” means something different to every country, so be sure to check out the vaccination guidelines for the country you want to visit. 

And if you’re going to a place like Aruba or the United Arab Emirates which requires proof of vaccination, you can get an official digital version of your vaccination card that creates a QR code that can be scanned to check your vax status. You can upload your card to the digital health app Common Pass to show proof. Or you can use the SMART Health card system.  

So, at the end of the day...what kind of ID should I travel with?

That depends on what kind of traveling you do. If you live in a border town like San Diego and find yourself driving across the border a lot, either for work or fun, consider getting a passport card. It might be annoying to dig out your cumbersome passport book every time you cross, especially if you’re someone that does it daily. A passport card is convenient and fits right into your wallet. 

If you’re the type of person that usually flies internationally or is more likely to backpack through Europe than sail through the Caribbean, a passport book might be your best bet. Though it’s more expensive, the passport book covers all your bases. It lets you go to any country no matter how you get there. 

As for a vaccine passport, whether or not you need one depends on where you’re heading. But if you do plan on going to one of the countries that requires it, plan ahead and figure out the vaccination guidelines well before you head to the airport. 


Traveling nowadays can be super confusing but taking the time to go on a trip can be super beneficial. And with a little planning and research, you’ll be sure to round up all the docs you need to get to where you’re going as smoothly as possible.

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