Editorials‎ > ‎

Passport Card

I've heard it more than once from Americans: "I live in Japan, but I need an English ID!"

United States citizens who live in Japan face an unusual problem.
In the US, Drivers' Licenses and so-called "State IDs" are issued by the department of motor vehicles (DMV) in each state.  To qualify for either one, you have to be a resident of the state in question.  

If you live overseas, then you are not a resident of any US state.  (No, saying "I used to live in..." doesn't count.)  So, either you can lie and get a state ID (if you can produce the required documentation to prove your US address), or you can go without.  Some people use their parents' or friends' address, but for some people that isn't possible, and anyway doesn't seem like the best option since you would have to go back to the US every time to renew it anyway.  

If you decide go without a state ID, or simply can't get one, then you will be confused the first time you try to visit a bar (or similar) in the US and are asked for your ID.  If you sheepishly hand over your Japanese Health Insurance Card, Japanese Drivers' License, or Zairu card, you will most likely be met with a look of confusion.  Technically, government issued ID is *supposed* to be accepted in most cases, even if it is from a foreign government - but for practical purposes, many people won't accept what they have never seen before and can't read.

So, if you explain the situation, they will usually ask for your passport.
But now you come to the problem - is it really a good idea to carry your passport around?  If you don't carry it, you could be stopped for ID and have nothing usable.  If you do bring it with you, you could lose it somewhere, spill beer on it, etc.  Who knows what could happen to it!   (One of my friends sent theirs through the washing machine by accident, since they carried it at all times!)  And if you lose it, you are in for big trouble when you try to go anywhere else, including back home to Japan.  

So it would be ideal if you could get an ID in English, other than your passport.  (And preferably not by defrauding the DMV).  Actually, it turns out that you can!  The US government now offers a "Passport Card".  It's not really useful as a passport unless you only plan to go to Mexico and Canada (from the continental US) - but it's plenty useful as an English ID!  You are allowed to have both a regular passport book and a passport card at the same time, so you can apply for both next time you renew, or apply for the card separately now.  Also, in the opposite case that you lose your passport book, having the card as proof of who you are could expedite things considerably.