Do I Need To Carry My Passport In Europe? — Ask Anything

by Sarah

I think most of us in the U.S. take for granted that (barring some exceptions) we pretty much always have a valid form of ID on us – our drivers license. Moreover, our constitution actually protects us from having to carry any form of ID at all, if we don’t want to. Not all countries enjoy such freedoms, but when you travel, you are subject to the local law. So, do you need to carry your passport in Europe?

Italy, for example, requires everyone to have a valid form of ID at all times (including citizens) – and on the off chance you do get stopped, you’ll need to produce a passport. I’ve also needed to input my passport data when requesting an Uber in Barcelona.

In some countries, you need to input your passport data when requesting an Uber. Creative Caliph / Shutterstock.com

In some European countries, you need to input your passport data when requesting an Uber. Creative Caliph / Shutterstock.com

So, when my friend Jonathan messaged me to ask “do I need to carry my passport in Europe?” I though it was a great question for this post. Does he?

As a luxury travel advisor, part of my job is to ensure my clients have every single detail they’ll need so they’re not stressing. Knowing passport rules and regulations is key. Do you have a burning travel question? Email it to me at sarah@pointmetotheplane.com and keep an eye out for it! Questions may be edited for clarity or length.

Do you need to carry your passport in Europe?

Do you need to carry your passport in Europe?

Question: Do I Need to Carry My Passport With Me In Europe?

Hey Sarah,

Thanks for the great tips on Portugal! I’m travelling to Europe this fall (Rome, Barcelona, and Lisbon). Do I need to carry my passport in Europe, or can I leave it in the hotel? 

Thanks, Jonathan

Answer: It Depends on What European Country You’re In

Hi Jonathan, thanks for the great question! There are so many different rules regarding passports, and its very country-dependent. Then, there are all the tips on how to keep your passport safe! And, finally, the debate rages on across the TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk forums! Who on earth do you listen to!?

A quick google search reveals thousands of results for "do I need to carry my passport in Europe?" and the answers are pretty varied!

A quick google search reveals thousands of results for “do I need to carry my passport in Europe?” and the answers are pretty varied!

Yes Or No – Carry Your Passport in Europe?

In general, across Europe, you should carry either your passport or a copy of it. You are required by law to have a valid form of identification.

If I had to estimate, I’d say I have my passport on my person about 95% of the time. It’s just simply in my travel wallet that goes where I go. If you aren’t going to carry it, carry a color copy.

You will always need to show your passport to immigration officials upon entering and leaving the European Union and/or Schengen Zone. EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

You will always need to show your passport to immigration officials upon entering and leaving the European Union and/or Schengen Zone. EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

There are some times you will need your passport in Europe, regardless. Checking into a hotel, for example, and flying between countries. You’ll also need to show your passport when renting a car, in addition to your drivers license. Because most Western European countries are Schengen zone members, you don’t need to show it when crossing the border. Exceptions include crossing into Switzerland or Croatia by land/sea, or flying into Ireland or the U.K.

Those are obvious, but what about the not so obvious?

You will need to show your passport if you want to receive the VAT refunds aftering a shopping spree in Paris! Rrrainbow / Shutterstock.com

You will need to show your passport if you want to receive the VAT refunds aftering a shopping spree in Paris! Rrrainbow / Shutterstock.com

You will need to show your passport to claim the VAT tax refund at a store. In some places, and at times, you can get away with showing a copy, or even just knowing your passport number by heart. To me, it’s not worth risking it if you get that one salesman who’s just a total stickler for the rules (and who wants to get stuck paying foreign sales tax?). A form of ID is also sometimes required to pick up tickets, as in show tickets or sporting event tickets.

While I never assume I'll need to show an ID at a bar, there are some places in Europe where bartenders and bouncers will request it.

While I never assume I’ll need to show an ID at a bar, there are some places in Europe where bartenders and bouncers will request it.

The other five percent of the time I’m in Europe, I leave my passport at the hotel.

I’ll often leave my passport secured at my hotel if I’m going out for an evening; It’s extremely rare for bars in Europe to request ID, even for those who look young. However, I never assume I won’t be asked for an ID at a bar, either. In my experience, my U.S. license works fine for age verification purposes in Europe.

I also, as mentioned above, needed to input my passport number when I ordered my Uber one morning in Barcelona!

What Is A Valid Form of Identification?

If you plan to drive in Europe, you will need to show a passport, a drivers license, and an international driving permit in most places.

If you plan to drive in Europe, you will need to show a passport, a drivers license, and an international driving permit in most places.

As I already noted above, Italy’s law requires everyone to carry a valid form of ID on them. So does Spain, Portugal, Germany, the U.K., Ireland, … the list goes on. Unfortunately, European countries don’t consider our U.S. drivers licenses to be valid forms of ID, so therefore, non-E.U. citizens must carry a passport in Europe.

I’ll admit it’s unlikely, but legally, the police can come up and ask you for identification at any time.

Why Do European Hotels Ask For My Passport, and Is It Safe?

A lot of European hotels ask for your passport when checking in, as they are required by law to keep the names, nationalities, and passport details of their guests.

A lot of European hotels ask for your passport when checking in, as they are required by law to keep the names, nationalities, and passport details of their guests.

You will be asked to show your passport to the hotel upon check in.

This is because some European laws require that all guests are registered with the police. It’s totally normal. I’ve even left it with the front desk and had it returned later. This occurs often enough for me, so I don’t usually question it.

John, editor of PMTTP, brought up that he’s had to leave his passport at the front desk. What do you do if they say they need to keep it? I did some digging, as I’ve always had my passport returned within an hour or so.

Do you need to let the hotel keep your passport in Europe? It happens regularly, but you are within your rights to ask for it back!

Do you need to let the hotel keep your passport in Europe? It happens regularly, but you are within your rights to ask for it back!

In late 2015, the U.K.’s Daily Mail asked this question. The truth is, you are within your rights to not hand the passport over for the duration of your stay. European laws require that hotels keep the names, nationalities, and details of all guests on file for 12 months. That is what the hotel takes from your passport when you show it on arrival. If they are busy, they may ask to keep it so they can record your details at a less busy time. It’s common practice, but it makes even the most savvy traveller a little wary at times.

However, once you’ve given them the details (or even handed them a copy of it to keep), you are quite within your rights to ask that they return your passport to you.

Various Laws in Europe Regarding Identification

Spanish police, as well as others in Europe, have the right to ask you to produce identification at any time.

Spanish police, as well as others in Europe, have the right to ask you to produce identification at any time.

Spain: Spanish law is similar to Italian, although Spanish police will accept a copy of your passport. (As an aside, I always have a photo of my passport on my phone. Sometimes this suffices.) I suggest also carrying your drivers license as a second form of ID. A TripAdvisor forum post (from 2016, now closed) states that if the Spanish police sense a problem, they will accompany you to your hotel to view the original passport. I suspect, though can’t confirm, that this sentiment applies across Europe.

France: According to Atout France, French police recommend carrying your passport and a copy of your passport separately. It is French law that you carry some form of identification with you at all times; this doesn’t need to be a passport.

German police can stop anyone, any time, and ask for identification. PT-lens / Shutterstock.com

German police can stop anyone, any time, and ask for identification. PT-lens / Shutterstock.com

Germany: According to German law, a foreigner is required to produce a valid form of identification when asked for it. Like the rest of the European countries listed here, unless you have an E.U. citizen card, your U.S. passport is your valid form of identification.

United Kingdom: You must produce a valid form of identification (your passport) in the U.K. when asked for it.

So… If No One Will Ask For It… Do I Still Need to Carry My Passport in Europe?

Legally, yes.

How Do I Keep My Passport Safe?

Use a travel wallet that hangs around your neck to keep money and your passport safe!

Use a travel wallet that hangs around your neck to keep money and your passport safe!

There are a few different ways to keep your passport safe. Plenty of travel and luggage brands make the under shirt wallets. These lay flat on your chest, under your shirt, and hide valuable contents from would-be pickpockets.

If you don’t want something like that (I don’t use them), then place your passport into a travel wallet and put that wallet in a hard-to-get-to-pocket of your bag. Ideally, a pocket that someone behind you can’t zip open.

If you plan to leave your passport in the hotel room, leave it in the hotel's safe, which is much better than leaving it in a drawer or on the desk.

If you plan to leave your passport in the hotel room, leave it in the hotel’s safe, which is much better than leaving it in a drawer or on the desk.

If you do plan to leave your passport at the hotel, place it into the hotel safe. If you think you’ll forget your passport, write yourself a note. Other items I put in the safe include my computer, Nikon, and jewellery. I’ve yet to leave any of them in a hotel!

**

Jonathan, I hope that answered your question about carrying your passport with you while in Europe. Have a great time!

Do you have a burning travel question? Email it to me, Sarah, at sarah@pointmetotheplane.com and look for it in a future post! Questions may be edited for clarity or length.

*

Sarah is a luxury travel advisor and avid traveller. When she isn’t writing for Point Me To The Plane you can find her crafting custom itineraries for clients or exploring the far reaches of our wonderful planet. Read more about her adventures at The Girl With the Map Tattoo.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

22 comments
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22 comments

NB August 1, 2018 - 2:50 pm

This is nonsense as regards the UK. You do not need to carry any ID and the great majority of people don’t. You don’t even need to carry your driving licence when driving but, if stopped, the police can require you to produce your licence at a police station within a few days. The best place for your ID is in the hotel safe, not on your person.

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Sarah August 1, 2018 - 4:14 pm

Hi NB, thanks for your input. I agree, the best place for your passport is not on your person, but as travellers in a foreign country, if the country you’re in won’t accept the drivers license as a form of ID then a passport is it. As I did note, it’s unlikely, but it could happen.

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Gerda September 22, 2018 - 8:23 am

Hi. We always carry our passports with us. But on our current trip we decided to leave it in the hotel safe in Amsterdam. From there we traveled to Paris. They did not ask for our passports. I wish they had, because we forgot to take it out of the safe in Amsterdam. We only realized this when we had to board our flight to Rome after our stay in Paris. We had to travel back to Amsterdam to get our passports. Cost us a lot! We were asked for our passports at all the other hotels except Paris. I know it was our mistake, but had the clerk at reception in Paris hotel asked for our passports we could have contacted the hotel in Amsterdam and had it couriered to us in time for our flight.

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Sarah September 24, 2018 - 2:04 pm

Wow! That’s a cautionary tale if I ever heard one.

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Nick March 11, 2020 - 1:28 am

The UK does NOT require you to carry a valid form of ID at all times. Thatcher fought against this during the early years of the European Commission. She got an exemption from the EU as it’s not Anglo-Saxon tradition to do this. In fact it caused huge problems in 81’ when the then EEC tried to implement it. It’s also why we don’t have this law in the US or Australia or NZ.

JRG August 1, 2018 - 2:51 pm

I never leave my passport anywhere and always carry it. Can’t imagine being without it

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Sarah August 1, 2018 - 4:14 pm

I’m with you … my one concern is taking it if I go out at night … who knows where it might end up!

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JRG August 1, 2018 - 4:36 pm

IF you are worried about going out, in a foreign country, and misbehaving, then you already are taking a bigger risk than you should. If the police stop you, how will you identify yourself? I think Americans have this naive false sense of superiority and security, no matter where they are. My passport is always with me in a zippered pocket.

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Sarah August 1, 2018 - 4:43 pm

Not misbehaving – as ID to get into a bar. In New Zealand, bouncers/bartenders don’t accept overseas licenses. I had to carry my passport out with me until I got a NZ drivers license. Most of my friends did the same. I’ve had bouncers not accept my USDL for bars in Europe… less so now but when I was a student there were bouncers that wouldn’t take our USDL, others would. I think it’s more of who you end up dealing with at a given time.

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playalaguna August 1, 2018 - 4:02 pm

What about carrying the US passport card along with a photocopy of your passport? While the passport card is not valid for travel outside of USA land borders, it is an official document and easier to carry.

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Sarah August 1, 2018 - 4:19 pm

I don’t have a passport card, so personal experience can’t apply here BUT I was with a friend in New Zealand (I know not Europe) and he wanted to buy beer… they would not accept his passport card as an ID for that. The staff member told us that they didn’t because it wasn’t a form of ID in NZ – it had to be a NZDL or passport. My guess would be that Europe also doesn’t recognise it as official there. Again, just a guess. I’ll do some digging.

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Sarah August 1, 2018 - 4:25 pm

Travellers in 2017 said it worked as a form of ID in Paris, but what it doesn’t do is prove you’re in the country legally as there’s not a visa stamp. Suppose they could call in and verify if it was a huge deal, or follow you to the hotel to get it. So, yes, you can use it for collateral for audio guides/buying alcohol/etc.

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Thom Bissett August 1, 2018 - 4:14 pm

Good article, but you say nothing nothing about the Passport Card that every US Traveler should request when renewing their Passport. A great piece of Real ID that fits in your wallet.

I always lock the Passport in the safe and use the Card for basic ID.
Has worked for VAT in the EU and even Mainland China for free foreigner entrance to all museums.

Only place I have needed the Passport after arrival is in Japan… for them to staple the receipts into it so you get your Local Taxes back when departing, really annoying practice.

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Sarah August 1, 2018 - 4:27 pm

Yes, playalaguna asked about the card, I have no personal experience with it so thank you for chiming in. Looks like it will work for basic ID purposes!

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Boraxo August 2, 2018 - 12:54 am

100% good advice unlike the original blog post. There is no good reason to carry your passport anywhere as it leaves you extremely vulnerable to theft which would cause great inconvenience. Over the past 3 decades I have visited 47 countries (many multiple times) on 6 continents and not once have I ever been asked for my passport except when exchanging currency at a bank.
The smarter safer option is to leave your passport in the hotel safe as soon as you checkin. If you really feel you need something beyond a drivers license (unlikely) then simply carry a passport card or a copy (as suggested above).

Reply
Sarah August 2, 2018 - 8:58 am

Thanks for your input, Boraxo. The blog post discusses the law, which is that a passport is your only valid form of ID in Europe. In practice, yes you’re unlikely to need it.

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JLB August 1, 2018 - 4:20 pm

You are wrong about Italy, I have been there 4 or 5 times a year for the last 20 years and I have always used my US drivers license, never was asked for an international one.

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Sarah August 1, 2018 - 4:29 pm

Have you ever been stopped by the police in Italy? My understanding of it is that car rental companies don’t generally ask to see your IDP but if you get stopped, you could be in big trouble if you don’t have one.

https://it.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/transportation-driving/
https://www.tripsavvy.com/drivers-permit-italy-468470

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marc May 10, 2019 - 8:05 pm

Italian police not antagonistic towards US and UK travellers who are not doing anything seriously wrong. They are not likely to deliberately give you a hard time the way a US cop might press a foreigner. Generally a kind and honest response showing that you are genuine will result in them working with you. Ill also just mention too that Italians drive very fast and so the only thing you might encounter traffic police for would be an accident or DUI. Speeding, if ever handled, is usually done with cameras and fines. Ive been driving in Italy for 20 years with my US license.

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Michael August 3, 2018 - 1:24 am

Switzerland is also part of the Schengen-Zone

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Sarah August 4, 2018 - 7:07 am

Nice catch! Yes, it’s in the Schengen Zone but you still need to show your passport when crossing into Switzerland as it’s not EU and therefore has regular border control.

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E. Carl August 24, 2019 - 1:12 pm

A little different take on passports(control). Question:I have dual citizenship (Ireland) and planned on using my Irish passport to clear customs in a more expedited way upon arrival in France from the U.S. Unfortunately, my wife only has a U.S. Passport. Would she be able to accompany me through the expedited passport control as my spouse? Do not wish for her to deal with French customs on her own. Thanks

Reply

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