Passports are internationally recognized documents that provide identification and proof of citizenship. Travelers need a passport to enter a foreign country and re-enter their home country. Visas are issued for vacation, work, school or travel reasons, and may be obtained in advance from an embassy or local consulate.
Passports are small booklets with blank pages for visa stamps or stickers. The first page provides a photograph of and information on the bearer. IndependentTraveler.com suggests carrying two to three extra passport-sized photos and a copy of the passport identification page separate from a passport for emergency replacement.
U.S. citizens may apply for a passport or passport card. As part of the Western Hemisphere International Program, passport cards allow Americans to enter Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and Caribbean nations at border crossings or seaports, but not airports. Visas fall into nonimmigrant (temporary) or immigrant (permanent) categories, but differ across nations.
According to the U.S. Department of State, over 270 countries offer travel visas. Different visas exist depending upon the country, length of visit and reason of visit---business, vacation, school or transitory.
A U.S. passport issued for children ages 15 or younger is valid for five years, while passports issued for those 16 and older are valid for 10 years. Depending upon the visa type, these may be valid from three months to years.
According to PassportsandVisas.com, over 1,000 different types of visas exist, and countries may change their travel requirements. Prior to travel outside of the U.S., Americans should review a foreign country's document requirements (see References).