What is the Difference Between Passports and Visas?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2019
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Passports and visas are both a critical part of international travel, but these documents are used for different things. A passport is a form of identification which is issued by a national government, confirming the identification and citizenship of the bearer. A visa is an endorsement which is added to a passport, indicating that the bearer has permission to enter a particular country, and to stay in said country for a set period of time. As a general rule, both passports and visas will be needed to cross an international border.

A typical passport includes a starting page with a photograph of the bearer, along with basic biographical information, like the bearer's name, date of birth, sex, and basic physical characteristics. The terms and conditions of the passport are printed on the following pages, and a set of blank pages are provided for visas. The most common type of passport is a tourist passport, which is issued to average citizens who plan to travel. Special passports like official passports and diplomatic passports may have special markings to distinguish them.


Carrying a passport does not entitle someone to any inherent rights, beyond the right to return to his or her home nation. However, the terms of a passport may include things like the right to consular protection and other benefits provided to people who hold citizenship in a specific nation. Passports also include lists of countries where people are not allowed to travel, with immigrations officials being expected to inspect the list to confirm that someone is indeed allowed into a particular nation. If someone's passport is stamped with a visa from a country on this list, he or she could face legal consequences.

A visa is an endorsement which can be stamped or pasted into a passport, indicating that the passport has been inspected and the bearer is allowed to be in a particular country. In some cases, visas are given by immigrations officials at the border, while in other instances, people may need to apply for a visa. For trips lasting more than three months or specialized visas like work visas, an advance application may be needed. It is a good idea to consult the embassy of a nation one plans to travel to in order to determine their visa policy.

Passports and visas need to be guarded carefully. Without a passport, someone may not be able to return to his or her homeland, while travelers without visas could get in trouble with immigration officials and law enforcement. A citizen's home nation may be powerless to provide protections or legal assistance if a citizen is determined to be in violation of immigration law. It is a good idea to make copies of passports and visas so that in the event that a passport is stolen or lost, the bearer will not be without any proof of identification.


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Post 1
Whether they have a tourist visa or passport or any other kind, the traveler should do their homework before embarking on an international trip.

Visitors are expected to know what laws do and don't apply to them in the foreign country and what behavior could get them thrown out of the country or into jail.

As one young man found out several years ago in an incident that ended in a legal caning, the laws of most countries apply to everyone in that country regardless of their residency status.

Your home government may be able to provide counsel or assistance if you get arrested in a foreign country, but they cannot provide diplomatic or any other immunity to most citizens.

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