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Passports vs Travel Visas

Thinking of traveling abroad? Certain documentation will be needed to not only enter a foreign country, but to also return to your own upon completion of your travels.

One such document that may be required is a passport. A passport is a document which is issued by a national government as a means of identification for the person who holds it. It certifies the identity and nationality of the person listed on the document, which is important when traveling internationally.

In the United States, passports are issued through one of the State Department's 14 passport issuing centers. They also can be issued through clerks at federal and state courts, designated post offices and U.S. consular authorities in foreign countries for citizens who are living abroad. Persons applying for a passport must provide proof of citizenship and residency at the time of the application, as well as a passport-specific photo.

Passports expire every 10 years for citizens over the age of 18 and every five years for those under 18. Upon expiration, passports must be replaced if the holder wishes to continue having one. Because people change in appearance with age, passports cannot simply be renewed, but must be completely replaced, including with an updated photo of the passport holder.

However, there are some instances when a passport may not be needed, or is not the only requirement for visiting a foreign country. There are times when a travel visa may be required.

What is a travel visa and how is it different from a passport?

A travel visa is a stamp or sticker that is placed on a traveler's passport by officials of a foreign country. The travel visa grants permission for that person to visit or spend an extended period of time in that foreign country. Over 270 countries offer travel visas. The kind of visa required depends on the reason for the visit. Many countries require travel visas in order to enter and spend time within their borders. Even with a passport, there are countries which restrict travel to those who do not also possess a travel visa.

In order to obtain a travel visa, a valid passport is required. Many countries which require travel visas also require that a person possess a valid passport for at least six months prior to using it to apply for a travel visa. The U.S. Department of State offers tips and tools for applying for visas for foreign travel.. Because requirements for visas change frequently, it is best to check with the state department prior to planning any trip abroad.

Travel visas aren't just used by Americans wishing to visit other countries. They also are required for foreign citizens who wish to enter the United States. There are two types of visas issued by the U.S. government: nonimmigrant visas and immigrant visas.

Nonimmigrant visas are required for foreign guests who wish to spend an extended period of time in the United States, whether for tourism, business or personal reasons, but who intend to return to their home country.

Immigrant visas are for citizens of foreign countries who wish to relocate permanently to the United States, often for work purposes. Obtaining an immigrant visa is the first step toward applying for permanent residency.

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