The State Department says it will begin accepting applications on Feb. 1 for passport cards as alternatives to passports for Americans who travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The wallet-sized cards will be available to U.S. citizens by this spring.
They will cost $45 for adults and $35 for children, cheaper than a regular passport, and adults who have passports will have to pay only $20. They will be accepted for land and sea crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, but not for flights.
The new passport cards are being offered as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI. The first phase of that went into effect last year, requiring U.S. travelers returning by plane from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean to carry a passport. That led to a temporary surge in demand for passports, with wait times for passports increasing from four to six weeks to 12 weeks, although they have since returned to normal.
The Bush administration wants to begin requiring passports or passport cards for land and sea border crossings in mid-2008, but Congress is trying to force a delay on that requirement until summer 2009.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said in a statement that the wallet-sized passport card will be a better option than a passport for many border residents.
"Also, by making the card available starting this year, I am hopeful that we will not see a repeat of the passport problems that plagued the State Department last year," he said.