What Is the Difference Between a Visa and a Passport?

Most travelers are aware that you generally need a passport to travel by air to a country outside. But there is often confusion about whether you need a passport or a visa to travel to an international destination.

On this page, you can learn about the difference between passports and visas and which of these documents you need to travel abroad.

What Is a Passport?

A passport is an official ID document issued by your country of citizenship which is generally required to travel to an international destination. It is also usually necessary to use a valid passport to regain entry to your country of residence.

A passport contains key personal information such as your full name, nationality, date of birth and an up-to-date photograph. It also contains a number of blank pages which are stamped when entering/exiting certain countries.

Most modern passports are biometric, which means that they come embedded with an electronic chip that contains biometric information that can be used to authenticate the identity of the holder.

What Is a Passport Number?

A passport number is a unique identification code that can be found on the biographical page of the passport alongside the holder’s personal information and photograph. If you book a flight, this number will often appear on your airline ticket.

This number identifies the passport office where the document was issued, as well as the date the passport was approved. Prefixes may also be used to identify different types of documents, such as military and diplomatic passports.

In some countries like the US, this number changes if you renew your passport or get a new one. Therefore, if you have booked a flight but changed your passport in the interim, you will need to update your airline ticket to reflect your new passport number.

What Is a Visa?

A visa is a document issued by a foreign government that permits the holder to travel to and enter their territory. A visa may be issued as either a single or multiple entry document and for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Tourism
  • Business
  • Transit
  • Employment
  • Study
  • Residency

Depending on your destination, there may be several ways to obtain a visa, including from an embassy or consulate in advance of departure, or by submitting a visa on arrival application at a border entry checkpoint. Many countries also now allow travelers to apply for an electronic visa online, which greatly expedites the application process.

The Difference Between a Passport and a Visa

The main difference between a visa and a passport is that passports are issued by the government of your home country and permit you to enter and exit your territory of residence. Visas, on the other hand, are issued by the authorities of a foreign country and allow you to enter that specific territory.

Another difference is that you must have a passport to apply for and obtain a visa. A visa is usually directly linked to the same passport you used to complete the application process. If you change your passport, an approved visa will usually expire, and it will be necessary to apply for a new one before you can continue to travel to your destination.

Do You Need a Visa if You Have a Passport?

Whether you need a visa in addition to a passport depends on your nationality and your destination. Some countries do not require a visa for a short-term visit for purposes of tourism, transit, or business activities.

You may gain entry to these territories simply by presenting a valid passport, although in some cases you may need to have an approved travel authorization  such as the ETIAS for Europe.

In other cases, a visa is a mandatory requirement regardless of the length of stay.
Therefore, it is important to check the visa requirements for your nationality before planning a trip to an international destination you have not visited in the past.