15

US passport cards have limited usage:

Entering the United States at land border crossings and sea ports-of-entry from:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • The Caribbean
  • Bermuda

The passport card cannot be used for international air travel.

Why the limitations on usage and is it likely to change?

  • 1
    Probably because it was a part of: WHTI – Karlson Aug 30 '15 at 17:41
  • 1
    The passport card doesn't conform to ICAO specifications for passports. – Michael Hampton Aug 30 '15 at 21:08
  • @MichaelHampton neither do EU national ID cards, yet those can be used for international air travel. – phoog Feb 8 '18 at 17:01
  • Also accepted to enter Albania by air – Crazydre Feb 9 '18 at 0:03
11

The passport card is a card -- it doesn't have any pages to it, thus there is no place for visas or entry/exit stamps.

Thus, it can only be used to travel to places where no visa is needed and where there are treaties in place to ensure that enough data is exchanged between immigration departments so that they can keep track of you without stamps.

As the use of the cards usually involve bilateral and reciprocal treaties -- and few countries have passport cards to reciprocate -- it's unlikely that more countries will accept American passport cards in the near future.

  • "and few countries have passport cards to reciprocate" - most of the EU does. – JonathanReez Jul 7 '17 at 22:05
  • 1
    @JimMacKenzie nope. EU ID cards are the primary form of identification for most EU citizens (the UK being a notable exception as they don't issue ID cards). You need an ID card to qualify for a passport, not the other way around. And they are accepted beyond the EU (e.g. in Turkey and Georgia). For a full list see en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – JonathanReez Feb 8 '18 at 17:50
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    @JonathanReez in at least one EU country, the Netherlands, you don't need an ID card to qualify for a passport; you need to be a citizen to qualify for either one. – phoog Feb 8 '18 at 18:20
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    (-1) Actually, as others noted, there is a bunch of countries with similar documents that could probably be amenable to some reciprocal recognition agreement. The answer ignores or downplays the real constraint: the US demands for a passport and, in many cases, a visa. For better or for worse, that (and not the lack of willing partners) is what stands in the way of easier travel between the EU and the US. – Relaxed Feb 8 '18 at 21:01
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    @Relaxed More immediate than the question of travel to Europe is, in my opinion, why a US passport card can be used to travel to (for example) Canada by land or sea, but not by air. Canada already accepts US passport cards, but US law prohibits US citizens from using them to fly to the US (8 CFR 235.1 and 22 CFR 53). Questions about why the law is what it is belong on Politics. – phoog Feb 8 '18 at 22:28
2

Why the limitations on usage?

In order for other countries to accept a document from a different country the two must have some sort of an agreement between each other (or at least an official declaration from one of the parties involved). For passports, this is usually done when the two countries establish diplomatic relations and there are also international agreements on the matter such as the ICAO guideline on the issuance of travel documents.

But identity cards are a relatively recent innovation in international travel, so there aren't any international standards on their acceptance. Likewise most countries still use outdated practices such as visa stickers and passport stamps, instead of switching to a fully electronic system. So in order to overcome inertia you need a good motivation, such as:

  • The will to increase mutual integration, e.g. European Economic Area and the Gulf Cooperation Council accept ID cards of all member states.
  • Facilitation of tourism, e.g. Georgia accepts European identity cards.
  • Having a lot of people living on the border - this is one of the reasons why the US passport card was established in the first place.

So let's take a look at the US passport card and how the reasons apply there:

  • The US is currently not seeking increased integration with other countries. The closest country would be Canada which already accepts passport cards.
  • I couldn't find any official rankings, but I suppose that most Americans travel to Canada, Mexico and the Carribean for vacations (all of which accept the passport) card.

    The next most popular choice would be the Schengen area, which would be hard pressed to accept non-EEA ID cards as there currently isn't a Schengen-wide database of entries and exits, so it would be difficult to track US citizens entering without a passport. You could of course issue some sort of an entry-exit form instead of stamping the passport, but that would require a major change in the Schengen agreement which would probably be too expensive given the potential increase in the number of American visitors.

    The only country where I could expect a change would be the UK, but this would have to be coordinated with Ireland as the two countries are part of the Common Travel Area. The UK already has a procedure for issuing an entry-exit form and they do have an electronic database of all entries and exits, so it should be relatively painless.

    But most importantly the US itself would first need to allow citizens to use the passport card for air travel, as few people wish to travel outside of North America by sea. In its current form it's only usable by people living on the border and tourists going on Carribean cruises.

  • As for people living on the border - Canada and Mexico already accept passport cards and the US doesn't share any other land borders. Originally this was the only reason why those cards were created in the first place (see @phoog's answer).

Is it likely to change?

At this point we can only speculate. As of 2018 the answer is that there aren't any specific plans to expand the usage of the card.

  • 1
    (+1) Note that for the Schengen areas, a bigger issue (in my opinion) is the US own rather restrictive approach, demanding a biometric passport and pseudo-visa from everybody and an actual visa from some EU citizens, most notably Polish citizens. Without that, I would speculate that an agreement would be possible (incidentally the EU is supposed to roll out a database of entries and exits in the near future) but as you note the US is a lot more concerned about controlling its borders than facilitating travels by its own citizens. – Relaxed Feb 8 '18 at 21:07
  • An id card is not a recent innovation. Belgium introduced it in 1919 and made it mandatory for all inhabitants from the age of 15 on to have one. Nowadays you get one from 12 years old and at the time it was obviously not the bank card format that it has today. But neither did the passport look like it does today. – Some wandering yeti Feb 8 '18 at 21:44
  • @ptityeti it's a recent innovation in terms of international travel, compared to passports. – JonathanReez Feb 8 '18 at 21:46
  • One minor correction, the UK has a record of most entries and exits. – origimbo Feb 8 '18 at 22:21
  • Passport cards are not valid for passengers arriving by sea from Europe, Asia, or South America, or indeed anywhere else apart from North America and the Caribbean. – phoog Feb 8 '18 at 22:29
2

The limitations on usage are specified in US law (8 CFR 235.1 and 22 CFR 53). All the discussion of reciprocal arrangements with other countries are irrelevant until that law changes.

Why those limitations? See the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, section 7209, subsection (a):

(a) FINDINGS.—Consistent with the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Congress makes the following findings:

(1) Existing procedures allow many individuals to enter the United States by showing minimal identification or without showing any identification.

(2) The planning for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, demonstrates that terrorists study and exploit United States vulnerabilities.

(3) Additional safeguards are needed to ensure that terrorists cannot enter the United States.

The passport card was developed as a mechanism for those who had been accustomed to visiting adjacent territory with only a driver's license, or similar identification, to continue to do so without the expense or inconvenience of a book-format passport.

Is it likely to change soon? That is a matter of opinion, but I do not think you will find many people who are of the opinion that it will.

  • Why were the Carribean islands added on later though? – JonathanReez Feb 8 '18 at 22:46
  • @JonathanReez I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were because of the fact that many US citizens in US possessions in the Caribbean (PR, USVI) were accustomed, like those living near Canada and Mexico, to traveling to nearby foreign places without a passport. – phoog Feb 8 '18 at 22:49

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