Do You Need a Passport to Travel in Europe?

Updated April 17, 2017

If you are thinking about vacation ideas as you gaze across the Atlantic Ocean toward Europe, there are a few things to consider and understand as you are planning for your trip abroad. One of the first things you need to plan for, well in advance of a trip, is a passport. A passport is not something you can apply for and receive, typically, in a short period of time.


When you arrive at any European airport on an international flight, you will be required to pass through customs. At this time your passport will be required.
Travelling on land between countries used to be more of a random check process. For the most part, travel between European Union countries is mainly void of the previous border check points. However, at any time, for heightened security or other policies, you may be asked to produce your passport while within the EU. Travelling by rail is not only popular, economical and efficient, it also carries a breath of romantic air. Again, while travelling within the EU you may not be asked to produce your passport at any check points. However, it is always prudent to have it with you in case of any change in policies, a random check or security issue.
While a passport is necessary, a visa may not be. Check online for the visa requirements of the countries you plan to visit. Most important of all, your passport is mandatory to gain entry back into your home country, i.e. the U.S., after landing at the airport from your European destination.


Used by travellers in Europe, as far back as the Middle Ages, personal identification documents have been issued by local authorities. These documents were to ease the passage of travel through cities and towns where gates, or towers, with local security agents, where built. Passports, or personal identification documents, weren't mandatory at all border crossings or ports in Europe. Coverage of the borders and difficulty in enforcement proved overwhelming until the start of World War I. Europe was in the middle of a crisis happening mainly on European soil. It was then that borders began to close, border crossings and check points were implemented and the modern passport, with photograph, began. However, the passport system was still openly interpreted by the countries involved in issuing them. It wasn't until 1980 that the standardised passport, in the format that is universally prescribed and adopted, came into existence.


Applying for a passport is straightforward. Check your country's guidelines and instructions on your national government's website or search for the name of your country to find the applicable site. Be sure to check on the site for your actual government. There are many companies that will do the legwork for you, which means that you still produce the application but have a third party deal with an intermediary with any questions or concerns that arise. A passport is issued by your local government to certify your identity and your nationality. When travelling internationally, it is indispensable for ease of moving through the customs maze.


Passports come in many types. The standardisation of passports in 1980 makes this list universal internationally.

A tourist passport: issued to most citizens. Official or Service passport: issued to government employees for work-related travel. Diplomatic passport: issued to consuls or diplomats, and their immediate families, for work-related travel. Temporary or emergency passport: issued in the event of a lost or stolen passport while outside of your home country. Collective passport: issued to a travelling group of people that can be identified together, i.e. a Scout troop or school class. Family passport: issued to the main traveller with children listed on it. Note: Many countries have moved or are moving away from this.


Before you leave home take a couple photocopies of the inside (photo) page of your passport. Carry one copy with you but never store it in the same place as your passport, and leave another copy with a family member that you feel you can reach easily from overseas. You want to have these photocopies in the event that your passport is lost or stolen. You will not be able to board a plane in Europe without your passport nor re-enter your country of origin without your passport. If the unthinkable happens, and you and your passport part company, contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate Office of your home country right away.

Before leaving home go online and print out the addresses of the Embassies or Consulate Offices in the areas where you will be travelling. If you will be travelling to the area for a long time it's always advisable that you check in with those offices upon your arrival. But most important, if you are suddenly without your passport, you will want to be able to find the building that is basically your home country's "home" away from home, as this is where you will submit your paperwork to receive your new passport. Having your photocopy or a faxed copy from your family/friend back home will be invaluable in expediting the replacement of your passport or issuance of a temporary passport that will be in effect until you return home and you can apply for a new one. Most people do not take this precaution, or even write down their passport number, so if they have to replace it while on vacation it is a much more stressful experience.

Passports are not considered the property of the individual but, in fact, are the property of the individual's government. As such, governments reserve the right to limit or revoke any individual's passport at any time, based on specific criteria being met. More information on this will be specific to each issuing country and should be researched on the government's website.

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