New Passport Cards for US citizens

Nearly 740,000 Ameri­cans have ordered passport cards, a new document being offered by the State Department to speed bor­der crossings by U.S. citi­zens traveling to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Beginning in June 2009, travelers will be required to present documents proving both citizenship and identi­ty when entering the United States through a land or sea bor­der. For Americans who drive to Canada or Mexico or cruise regularly to the Caribbean, but who do not expect to fly abroad, the passport card is a cheaper, smaller, more portable alternative to a convention­al passport book.

The passport card is the size of a credit card or driv­er’s license, and has a photo and identification informa­tion printed on it, like a driver’s license. It also con­tains a chip with a unique number that allows border officials to instantly retrieve your data from a govern­ment database.

It’s not valid for air travel. Passport cards are good for 10 years and cost $45 ($35 for children under 16). Applications can be made at any passport-processing site. If you already have a passport but want the card anyway because of the convenient size or quick scanning, it’s only $20 and can be ordered by mail.

For details on how and  where to get a passport’ card, visit www.trav­el.state.gov.

Processing time for appli­cations for both passport books and passport cards are about three weeks for routine applications. Expe­dited service is not avail­able for passport cards, but for passport books, expedit­ed service takes about two weeks.