Passport vs Visa: Differences to Keep in Mind

May 29, 2024

3 min. read


travel visa vs passport

It seems like an easy question to answer: what is a passport vs a visa? On the other hand, the differences might vaguely come to mind at once.

There is one thing you need to know upfront. You require a passport to fly abroad at all times. And you don’t need a visa to go to some countries, and you do to go to others.

To cut it short, the passport vs visa question depends on the destination country. Let’s learn the differences between a visa vs a passport in a concise and digestible way.

In Focus

Passport vs visa differences

First of all, let’s look at the passport and visa separately. What are they and how to get a passport and a visa?

What is a passport?

A passport (vs a visa) is an official identification type of document for international travel that stores the most important information like your photo, name, date of birth, gender, and the number of the passport itself.

Now, new passports may contain electronic RFID chips that have your data in digital format. It prevents a document from forgery and identity theft.

Passports are not all tourist kinds issued travelwise. The US Department of State issues a few types of this document that have various designations. They can be diplomatic, official, emergency, etc.

Passport first vs visa

As we mentioned earlier, you need a passport (vs not always a visa) to travel internationally. If you don’t have a passport, there are workarounds when you can still go traveling, like visiting Canada, Mexico, and a few other destinations abroad that don’t require one.

If you travel to these countries from the US, you can have another identifying document rather than a passport.

What is a visa vs passport?

A visa is a permitting document that is paired with a passport and that allows the holder to enter and reside in the country for a certain period. It also defines the purpose of stay, such as work, travel, study, etc.

These are the most popular visa types:

Tourist visas are issued for traveling to other states when you plan on visiting friends of yours, going sightseeing, and other tourist visits that take from a few days to a few months.

Work visas vs just a mere passport will allow you to work in the country as an employee.

Student visas are given to students or those who plan to study in a foreign country. With such visas, you can study in academic institutions but you may or may not be allowed to work.

Transit visas are usually given for a very short period to pass through a country and change the flight.

Passport vs visa on arrival

It’s not a rare occasion when you don’t have to apply for a visa when you are planning your trip. However, you will still be getting a visa stamp on arrival.

It’s a common international practice, especially in countries that offer beach vacations for tourists. Visa on arrival placed to your passport can be free or paid for. For instance, the Egyptian visa costs $25. It’s issued for 30 days.

Passport vs visa: what else do you need to know?

If you learn that your destination country allows entering with a visa on arrival, then all you need to worry about is your passport validity vs visa.

As a rule of thumb, your passport needs to be valid at least for 3 or 6 months when entering or departing your destination country. It varies from country to country. It’s a good idea to check what the validity requirements for the country of your visit are.

Coming back to the visa application. To apply for a visa in advance, you need to prepare a few things and provide them to the embassy or consulate before your travel. It will also require you to have a valid document and free pages in your passport for the visa to be placed.

Visa application vs passport application should include:

  • Hotel bookings,
  • Passport-style photo that you can easily get online or at a store, like a Walmart passport photo,
  • Visa application and proof of residence,
  • Few days to more than a month.

Another way to do it:

While you don’t need a visa or a passport to go to US noncontiguous states, like Hawaii or Alaska, you do for some other countries. The good news is that with some of them, you can apply for your visa electronically.

Australia is one of these countries that allows US citizens to apply for visas online and obtain an Electronic Travel Authority. It is a convenient way to get a visa as you don’t have to apply in person with your passport at an embassy or consulate.

Summing up: passport vs visa differences

Below is a quick wrap-up of the differences between a passport vs a visa.

1. Purpose

  • Passport: identification
  • Visa: entry permit for a country

2. Issuing body

  • Passport: US Department of State
  • Visa: consulate or embassy of a foreign state

3. Cases of application

  • Passport: traveling abroad
  • Visa: visa-entry-only to another country

4. Validity

  • Passport: 5-10 years
  • Visa: a short period (a few days to several months)