Visa vs. Passport: Difference Between Travel Visa and Passport

Many people intending to travel to another country begin to think about entry requirements and wonder if a passport and a visa are the same things.

Even though both passport and visa are used for traveling abroad, these are two separate documents. The main difference is that a passport identifies the person and their citizenship, while a visa indicates a permit to visit another specific country for a limited period and a particular purpose.

A passport and a visa are issued by different institutions. The difference also lies in the form of issuance: a passport usually looks like a booklet, whereas a visa can be a stamp or sticker in the passport, as well as an electronic visa or a separate document to be printed out.

What are a passport and a visa

A passport is an official document containing a person's identity. It allows its holders to travel to and from other countries and get access to overseas consular assistance. This travel document certifies the personal identity and nationality of the holder.

Standard passports contain personal information such as the full name, photograph, place, date of birth, signature, and the passport's expiration date. Many countries issue biometric passports containing an embedded microchip.

A passport usually looks like a booklet displaying the national coat of arms of the issuing country on the front cover.

A travel visa is a conditional authorization allowing foreigners to enter, stay, or leave a territory. A visa is checked by an immigration official at the time of actual entry and can be revoked at any time.

Visas generally include limits on the duration of the stay, areas within the country that can be entered, the dates of possible entries, the number of permitted visits, or if the individual has the permit to be employed.

The modern visa can be a sticker or a stamp in the passport, an electronic authorization record, or a separate document to be printed.

Issuing institutions and purposes

A passport is issued by governmental institutions of the country of the applicant's citizenship. It is an individual document identifying citizens when they are traveling abroad.

A passport has international validity, and its purpose is to show other countries that a person is a legal citizen of that particular country. For example, when a country gives the citizens of another country visa-free access, this basically means that this country trusts those citizens in the sense that they will respect its laws and customs.

Another difference is that visas, on the contrary, are usually made at and collected from a foreign country's consulate, embassy, or other diplomatic mission.

Visa applications in advance of arrival give countries a chance to consider the applicant's circumstances, such as financial security, the reason for travel, and details of previous visits to the country. Visitors may also be required to undergo and pass security or health checks upon arrival at the port of entry.

The Validity Period

Passports usually stay valid for 5 - 10 years. Many countries state that a traveler must have a valid passport that doesn't expire within at least six months beyond the planned departure date.

There are single-entry, double-entry, and multiple-entry visas to be used within a certain authorized period of time. The validity and duration depend on the visa type. Usually, a visa allows staying from several days to a year, which is a much shorter period of time compared to the validity of a passport.

The difference is that in most cases passport is mandatory for traveling abroad, and a visa is not, as many countries drop their visa requirements and allow citizens of some countries to travel visa-free.

Passport and visa types

Passports and visas are issued for different purposes, and so there are different types of them.

Types of passports

Passports come in the following types:

  • ordinary passports issued to individual citizens and other nationals;
  • emergency passports (or temporary passports) issued to individuals who don't have passports at all or whose passports were lost or stolen;
  • diplomatic and official passports issued to diplomats and other individuals traveling on government business to reduce hassle at border checkpoints when traveling overseas.

Visa types

Visas, in terms of purposes, are issues in these types:

  1. Transit visa
    • airside transit visa for passing through airports without going through passport control;
    • crew member, steward, or driver visa issued to persons employed or trained on the means of international transportation.
  2. Short-stay or visitor visas
    • private visa for private visits by invitation;
    • tourist visa for a limited period with no business activities allowed;
    • medical visa for undertaking diagnostics or treatment in the visited country's medical facilities;
    • business visa for engaging in commerce in the country;
    • working holiday visa for young travelers to undertake temporary work while traveling;
    • athletic or artistic visa issued to athletes and artists (and their supporting staff) performing at competitions, concerts, shows, and other events.
    • refugee visa for those fleeing the dangers of persecution, a war, or a natural disaster;
    • pilgrimage visa issued for visiting religious destinations or attending particular religious ceremonies.
    • digital nomad visa for digital nomads to temporarily reside in a country while performing remote work.
  3. Long-stay visas
    • student visa for studying at an institution of higher learning in the issuing country;
    • temporary worker visa for approved employment in the host country;
    • residence visa for people obtaining long-term residence in the host country;
    • asylum visa for people who are exiled from their own country or experienced persecution;
    • dependent visa issued to certain family members of a long-stay visa holder.
  4. Immigrant visas
    • spouse visa granted to the spouse or civil partner of a resident or citizen;
    • marriage visa for a limited period before intended marriage or a civil partnership with a citizen of the destination country.
    • pensioner visa for those demonstrating a foreign source of income and not intending to work in the issuing country.
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