A passport and a visa are not the same documents. This is one of those things seasoned travelers take for granted that everyone just knows but there are a lot of folks, especially those new and fairly new to international travel, who aren’t aware that there’s a difference. So in this post, we’ll break down the difference between the two documents in detail.
A passport is a travel document that identifies you and authorizes you to travel from your country of citizenship to other countries and to reenter your country of citizenship. It is REQUIRED for international travel. It’s basically your country giving you permission to leave the country and vouching for you in these international streets. The document says “she’s cool, we vouch for her and if anything goes wrong just hit us up.” You can liken it to a parent’s signature on a permission slip for a field trip.
A passport typically includes a photo of you, your assigned passport ID number, your DOB, your gender, your city of residence, the date the passport was issued, and the date it expires.
We won’t go into the details of obtaining a passport but you can access that information here if you are a US Citizen, otherwise we recommend visiting your country’s immigration website. We also put together a guide to obtaining passports for minors that you can access here.
The following people are not able to receive or renew a passport:
- Those will felony drug convictions on their record or are subject to a felony arrest
- Those who have been forbidden to leave the country (by court order or parole)
- Those who have unpaid child support in arrears above $2,500
- Those who have an unpaid Federal Loan or owe large amounts to the IRS, the government can deny or nullify your passport
- Those who have been deemed a threat to national security
- Minors are not able to obtain a passport without the consent of both parents
One thing we want to make very clear is that while a passport authorizes you to travel outside of your country of citizenship, a passport does NOT grant you the RIGHT to enter any other country’s borders.
Every country has its own requirements to enter their borders and before you travel to another country, you should visit their customs websites to get clear on their entry requirements. This brings us to visas.
A visa is a permission granted to the traveler to entry the countries borders under certain terms for certain periods of time. It’s essentially a country saying “ok, you can come in and stay for a while but you’d better stick to the reason we let you in or we’ll kick you out, ok have fun!”
Visa terms are based on the country’s rules along with the agreements (or disagreements) that they have with your country of citizenship. Visa requirements will not only differ by country but they can differ based on your country of citizenship. For example, as US Passport holder, many countries will grant you a 30 – 90 day visa automatically upon arrival but if you have a Colombian passport for instance, there may be different requirements to enter the same country.
A visa can come in the form of a stamp in your passport or a document attached to a page in your passport.
There are many types of visas, this list below is not exhaustive but it is the most common visa type:
- Tourist Visa – you are entering the country for the purpose of tourism
- Student Visa – you are entering the country to attend school
- Work Visa – you are entering the country to work for a company based in the country
- Spouse Visa – you are entering the country because you have married a citizen of the country
More often than not, you are seeking a tourist visa.
We recommend as part of your travel planning, you check the country’s customs or immigrations website to find out the requirements for a tourist visa because some countries require:
- An application for a visa in advance of entering the country and the process can take days to weeks. You can be turned away from the border if you have not been granted a visa in advance.
- Vaccinations prior to granting a visa.
- Fees to be paid for the visa, you want to be prepared for the amount.
- A certain amount of remaining validity for your passport. Many countries require that your passport be valid for six months after your entry date into their country.
- A certain number of blank pages in your passport (many require two blank pages)
- Additional documentation for minors
- Specific documentation if you are traveling with a minor without both parents who are listed on the birth certificate.
Hopefully this resource was helpful in explaining the difference in these two extremely important travel documents and you are now armed with the right information to do all of your travel planning!