Many people assume a visa and a passport are the same, but these are two separate documents that are both required when people travel internationally. Some countries have a visa agreement that allows their citizens to travel visa-free, but anyone travelling to another country must have a passport in most cases. 

Difference Between a Passport and a Visa

There are several significant differences between a passport and a visa: 

A passport is a national travel document used as identification.A visa is usually attached to a passport as an entry permit to another foreign country.
A passport is issued by your birth country or current country of residence.A visa is issued by an Embassy/Consulate representing a foreign country.
A passport is required in most cases when you enter a foreign country.A visa is not required when there is a visa facilitation agreement between two countries.
A passport is usually valid for 5 to 10 years.A visa is usually valid for a few days to a few months. 
A valid passport from one country is sufficient to travel.A visa from each destination country is required for entry. 

What Types of Passports Are There? 

Different types of passports are issued depending on your needs and situation:

  • A regular passport. This is a typical national passport issued to most citizens of a country.
  • A service passport.  This type of passport is issued to government officials and their dependents travelling for work-related purposes. 
  • A diplomatic passport. A diplomatic passport is issued to diplomats and their dependents for international travel and residence, usually to serve a state mission. However, having this type of passport does not automatically mean diplomatic immunity; privileges for diplomats are discussed with the host country. 
  • Emergency passports. An emergency passport is issued in cases where someone has lost their passport, or it was stolen, and they need a passport fast for international travel. This type of passport is usually temporary until a regular passport is ready. 
  • Collective passports. These travel passports are issued for group travels, i.e., students travelling for a school trip.
  • Family passports. Family passports are issued for one family and used as a joint travel document. So, for example, there is one passport holder, and the other family members are included in the document. This was usually the case with parents and their young children, but nowadays, not many countries issue passports and require separate travel documents for each family member. 

Other Travel Documents

Certain countries issue documents that serve the same purpose as a passport but are specific travel documents such as: 

  • Refugee travel document. A refugee travel document is issued to individuals under a “refugee” status and cannot use their previous national passports. Each country that offers asylum issues travel documents for refugees, but individuals recognised as refugees under the Geneva Convention usually receive a uniformed document. 
  • Interpol travel document. This travel document is issued to Interpol officers to make international travel easier when investigating a transnational crime. 
  • Certificate of identity. This document is issued to individuals that are non-citizen residents, usually due to statelessness. A typical example of this document is the “Nansen passport”. 
  • Travel permits. Individual countries issue travel permits to make it easier for residents of those countries to travel who cannot use their passports due to personal circumstances. Such documents include the following: 
  • Chinese travel document. Chinese travel documents are issued by the People’s Republic of China instead of regular passports.

Different Visa Types 

There are several types of visas you can apply for depending on your reason for travel: 

  • Tourist visa. A tourist visa is usually issued for 30 days to 90 days to visit a specific country as a tourist destination. Some countries issue tourist visas for up to 10 years but with periodical entries. 
  • Transit visa. A transit visa is issued only to allow travellers to transit through a country while they wait for their connecting flights- it’s usually valid only for 24 hours, but it can be issued for ten days to two weeks. 
  • Business visa. This visa is issued to conduct business in a foreign country- its validity depends on the country and the type of business; it can last for several months.
  • Medical visa. Medical visas are granted when visitors need to travel to another country to seek medical help- the validity of the visa depends on the patient’s situation. 
  • Student visa. Student visas are given to students who want to complete a degree in a foreign country- student visas are valid for the duration of the study program. 
  • Work visa. A work visa is issued to individuals employed in another country; the visa is typically valid for the duration of the work contract but can be extended.
  • Working holiday visa. Working holiday visas are generally valid for a year or two, allowing individuals to travel to a country as tourists and work in specific industries. 
  • Pilgrimage visa. Pilgrimage visas are issued for religious travels such as the Hajj pilgrimage. 
  • Retirement visa. This type of visa is granted to people of retirement age and can afford to support themselves in another country to spend their golden years.
  • Immigrant visa. Immigrant visas allow another person to gain a permanent residency in another country. 

The Most Powerful and Weak Passports in the World 

As of 2020, the strongest passport is the Japanese passport with visa-free entry to most countries. On the other hand, the weakest passport is issued by Afghanistan, with only 26 visa-free countries. 

The Easiest and Hardest Countries to Get a Visa To

Some of the easiest countries to get a visa include the following: 

  • Lithuania- with a rejection rate of 1.3%
  • Estonia- with a rejection rate of 1.6%
  • Finland- with a rejection rate of 1.7% 
  • Iceland- with a rejection rate of 1.7%
  • Latvia- with a rejection rate of 2.1%

The hardest countries to get a visa for are: 

  • North Korea
  • Somalia 
  • Afghanistan 
  • Saudi Arabia 
  • Bhutan

Here you can find the full list of the hardest countries to get a visa to.

How Do I Get a Visa If I Need One?

You have to apply for one at an embassy or consulate representative of the country you want to visit to get a visa. Generally speaking, to get a visa, you need to have a valid passport of at least three months after your departure date- so make sure you first have a passport and then apply for a visa. 

What Happens After I Get a Visa?

If you get a visa, the embassy or consulate will stamp your passport, but lately, certain countries are issuing visas as separate documents. So mainly, if you apply for an electronic visa, you don’t get your passport stamped; you have to print out the visa and take it with you. 

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