The difference is clear

by Evans Yonson

Barcelona – At the Girona airport, on my way to Poland last June, I was completely appalled by a woman’s ignorance of the difference between a visa and a passport. The woman claimed that she was from a South American country and she didn’t need both documents to go anywhere else in the Schengen countries.

So, what’s the difference between a visa and a passport?

A passport is a booklet/document issued by a government where you claim your nationality. The passport issued to a national/citizen for the purpose of international travel. If you are in the Philippines, you don’t need to have a passport to get to another island. You simply buy a ticket to guarantee your travel. However, for identification purposes the passport is a very good document to present. The elements of identity included in the passport are your name, your date of birth, sex, and place of birth. As a Filipino citizen, it is a basic right that we are all entitled to have a passport. Or anyone who is a citizen of a country has the same right to have one themselves. But understanding the Philippine bureaucracy and the ingenuity of the Filipino, having a passport is like taking your own cross to Golgotha.

The passport is your official identification document wherever you go. Be it in your country of residence or abroad.

Your passport includes your name, gender, date and place of birth, and so on. In the Philippines, the standard passport has a 5-year life span.

You need to get your original birth certificate copy in security paper from any National Statistics Office all over the country. Thanks to technology, what used to take months before could now be claimed in less than a day depending on the payment speed you did at this office. It is always proportional in any Philippine government, the higher the payment the faster the service will be. Why can’t they just have a standard price for a standard time for everyone? From the same office, you need the marriage certificate again in security paper. If your marriage has been annulled by the courts, then that’s another document from the same office again in security paper. Another  document that you need before you get to hold of your prized passport is the National Bureau of Investigation clearance. You can get this clearance also anywhere in the country but the queue is like the exodus led by Moses. Another exodus is the line at the Department of Foreign Affairs in your area. It’s a sign that almost everyone in the Philippines wants to get out the soonest possible time. Pronto! Add to that the highly exorbitant fees for each document that you request from all these offices. Again, the higher prices you pay the faster your required services will be.

The visa, on the other hand, is an entry stamp or sticker issued by the government of the country of destination. This document is issued by the country’s embassy or consulate office in your country. Most foreign embassies in the Philippines have their offices in Manila where they issue the visa for Filipinos wanting to visit their countries. All these countries have different requirements for visitors. It could be a transit visa, 30,60,90-day tourist visa, business visa, student visa, and so on. Some countries issue upon entry an airport or seaport or upon crossing the border. Most, if not all, visas are obtained with a minimal fee. Some you have to pay in advance. Others you pay directly in their office. Some embassies require a personal interview of the requesting individual. If the acquisition of your personal passport was an exodus, most visas will ask you for the moon, the heavens and the stars. More documents and more sweating under the heat of the Philippine sun.

Filipinos don’t need visas to enter any ASEAN country like Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. We can also enter Hong Kong and Macau without a visa. For those who are looking forward to watching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Filipinos can enter the country freely without the need of a visa. We can breeze through the immigration officers of Morocco, Colombia, Slovenia, Ecuador, Cuba and even Nicaragua. I also found out that I don’t need to find a Mongolian embassy to see Ulan Bataar. Or go to Israel and marvel at the Holy Temples. Again, we may not need visas to get enter the countries I mentioned earlier but we still need to present our passport upon arrival at any port of entry to the country we’re visiting.

Perhaps, you’re wondering why I have travelled to several countries in Europe these past months. If we have the ASEAN No-Visa agreement, here they have the Schengen Agreement, which opens 25 member-countries to the residents and tourists alike. There is free movement within these countries if you have the required residency papers or you have been granted a Schengen visa from a member-country embassy in your country of origin. Since I have my residence visa, I am entitled to move around freely within the Schengen countries like Portugal, France, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, and so on.

My residence card affords me to move around freely within the Schengen countries. This card is also equivalent to the visa within these territories.

The lady beside me was already furious because she was running after her flight to Germany that afternoon. I didn’t mind her at all. I showed both my passport and my residence card to the immigration officer infront me. The lady had already raised her voice in desperation and my immigration officer raised my documents and showed it to her.

“Look, lady! These are two different documents. One is called the passport. And the other is the residence visa. See the difference?” exclaimed the officer.

I rest my case.