Many of us remember a time when U.S. citizens could travel to other countries and return home by showing nothing more than a photo ID and a birth certificate. Unfortunately, the attacks on Sept. 11 changed all that. These days, a passport card or passport book is required to return to the states after traveling abroad.

Passport card or passport book: What’s the difference?

If you are traveling to Canada or Mexico on the ground, you can get back into the U.S. with a passport card only. To fly back into the country, you’ll need a passport book. The key difference between a passport card and book is that the card costs less than the book and can be kept in your wallet with your driver license. About the size of a small billfold, the passport book contains helpful information for travelers who don’t cross borders often and a number of pages to which visa stamps can be applied.

Unless you live someplace where you can conveniently cross the border into Canada or Mexico by vehicle, and only plan to drive in and out of the United States, a passport book is the best way to go.

How much does a passport cost?

  • Passport card: $30
  • Passport book: $110

Be aware that unless you go directly to a U.S. Passport office, you will likely incur other processing and services fees, such as application fees and photo fees.

How long does it take to get a passport?

  • Expedited service (extra fee): approximately four weeks after you apply.
  • Routine service: approximately four to six weeks after you apply

If you need your passport quicker, there are two ways to speed up the process:

  1. Pay a fee for expedited handling
  2. Apply directly at a passport processing center

Where can I get a passport?
There are plenty of places you can apply for passports. For starters, there are 25 regional passport agency offices located around the United States. Additionally, you can find passport acceptance facilities in most states to help you apply.

Find an office close to you>>

Since Sept. 11 returning to the United States from other countries is more challenging. If you’re planning to travel abroad in the future, be sure to plan ahead and get a passport in order to help simplify your return home.