It does depend on what country you are planning on visiting. But a copy of your passport or your passport itself is recommended across Europe. Some form of identification is a legal requirement.
Are you curious about a specific European country? I go into several individual countries below. This is a good question, let’s dig into it a little deeper.
What I do
If you do not feel comfortable carrying your actual passport around with you while you are out and about, a copy of your passport may suffice as identification, depending on the country you are in.
Passports and other valuables should always be kept in a hotel safe, according to the US State Department. That is what I do. Take a picture of it and keep that handy on my phone, but leave my passport in the hotel safe.
Remember that carrying your passport with you also increases the risk of it being stolen or lost.
But do I need to keep my passport on me?
If you are stopped by the authorities, you could be asked for both your passport or some form of ID that states your nation of origin. They can detain you if they would like while they review your paperwork and situation. The police are unlikely to require you to identify yourself unless you’re involved in a serious incident like a drug bust, terror raid or a fight though.
Some other times you will need your passport in Europe, are checking into your hotel, flying between countries, renting a car. When you rent a car, you will also need to show your driver’s license.
You don’t need to show it when crossing the border into most western European countries. Some exceptions include crossing into Croatia and Switzerland by boat or on land… Also flying into the UK or Ireland.
Otherwise don’t worry too much about keeping your passport on you. Even when you go out for the night. European bars don’t typically ask to see an ID. If they do, A US driver’s license will typically work just fine. So you should be good without your passport for the night.
Tips for traveling with your passport
These things are important for keeping your passport safe and keeping track of it while you are on the road.
Keep a color copy of your passport with you.
I have a friend who was in Cancun for a break from the winter weather in Minnesota. One day, she went to breakfast with friends and she left her passport on the table at the restaurant. She realized she had left it just a few minutes after leaving and ran back but it was too late: her passport had been stolen.
Leave it in a safe in your hotel
If you’re planning something, like swimming or a scuba dive where you feel like you won’t have a safe place to lock up your passport or keep it on you, you might want to leave it back at the hotel. I would.
Lock it up in the safe in your room. They are typically very safe and secure. Yes, I know they can be broken into if someone is really trying, but they typically are quite safe and unless you have someone who is really out to get you, or you have done something to make the hotel staff really grumpy, you will be fine.
Typically, people who try to tell you that hotel safes aren’t secure, are trying to sell you something… or are paranoid. Yes, even if it is a legit website or a close friend.
It boils down to personal preference and how much risk you’re willing to take on for yourself and those traveling with you during your trip abroad.
So You Know – You might get hassled by your insurance company if you don’t lock up your ID or passport in the hotel safe.
Carry a color copy of my passport and/or your driver’s license
You could carry another form of ID as well. If you were to lose your passport it could be hard to re-enter the US. It’s doable, but a bit of a hassle. Consider carrying a color copy of the Bio/identity page and the latest entry stamp if you do this.
Keep a digital copy on your phone
This could come in handy as well, especially in combination with the paper one.
If you need to, for any reason, be quickly admitted to the Embassy of your country, then carrying something that can prove your citizenship can be very beneficial for you.
Don’t just leave it in your luggage!
It is more likely to get stolen there. Either by hotel staff, airport staff or pickpockets.
Be careful if someone starts talking to you in the middle of a busy touristy spot.
It might be fine, but it might not. It could be a distraction ploy by a pickpocket. They work in teams where one distracts, the other steals.
Be careful if a vendor requires you to leave your passport
They might do it legitimately, with no ill-intent, as security to rent a car boat or scooter. Feel the situation out and see if you can leave them your paper copy.
I just did that in Mexico to rent a scooter but they looked pretty legit, and I knew we weren’t going to be rally-driving the scooter so I felt the risk was pretty low. It turned out fine.
Though they could have scammed us by claiming that we damaged their vehicle… or kept it if we legitimately damaged the vehicle.
If it gets stolen, notify the authorities asap
If you do get your passport stolen, it’s important to notify the nearest authority and file a police report with as much information as possible:
The date, time, location (street address if possible), what color was the vehicle, license plate number, details of how you had your belongings (wallet or bag) open, etc.
Photocopy your passport two times
Make sure one of them is kept with someone who can email, text or fax it to you in an emergency, and the other you could keep with you at all times.
Do the opposite of what I have suggested
Or carry the original passport and leave a copy in the hotel and pic of it on your phone in case you need to replace a lost original.
To avoid losing any of these documents while traveling, I store copies of all documents, as well as a list of credit card numbers and phone numbers online.
Note – Having a copy of your passport is of use if the original document is lost or stolen and you need the actual document in your given situation. Although a copy might make things easier for the embassy staff and yourself if you need to get a replacement, it does not have any ability to replace or work in the place of the original ID (passport or driver’s license, etc.)
Make sure someone at home has a copy of your passport in case of an emergency
If you have any issues or if there is some unforeseen emergency, having someone who isn’t on the trip but is highly responsive and responsible keep a copy of your passport, digital or hardcopy, can be helpful.
It certainly isn’t necessary, but for the same reasons that organizations ask for emergency contact on their applications and waivers, it could be good to have someone available to help with proof of your identity back home.
Put an emergency contact person’s information inside your passport
And on that note, it would be good to paperclip in the back cover of your passport an emergency contact that has critical information about you and backups of your important documents.
Here are some articles with specific advice based on the laws of these European locations.
Do I have to carry my passport in Europe?
It depends on your personal preference and how much risk you’re willing to take on for yourself and those traveling with you during your trip abroad. A valid form of identification is required in Europe and identification guidelines vary by country.
I have linked to several of the most popular European locations up above for you to go more in-depth into each of them.
In most countries in the European Union the law requires it, but people don’t carry their passports with them typically. Typically when people are stopped and asked for their passport they show them their driver’s license and a copy of their bio page from their passport… or call back to the hotel or resort and get things sorted out pretty quickly.
Do you need a passport to travel around Europe?
You do need a passport to travel between countries around Europe. It doesn’t just apply when you cross the border for example, at an airport. When you are staying in a European country, you may also need to show an ID or a passport. Visas are also required in some countries.
Do you need a passport to travel by train in Europe?
You don’t need a passport to board a train in Europe, you will need to have a ticket or pass that allows you to ride. But they won’t ask for ID.
Do they check passports on trains in Europe?
They don’t check passports on trains that are traveling within a country in Europe. If the train crosses into any other country they will check passports.
Do you need a passport on high-speed trains in Europe?
You don’t need a passport to get on the train. You have a train ticket. Reservations are required to board and ride high-speed trains.
Can you travel without a passport in Europe?
No, you cannot travel through Europe without a valid U.S. passport or enter any of its 44 countries. In some parts of Europe, you can travel from one country to another without one, but to get to Europe you will need one and when leaving to go back to your country of origin, you’ll need a passport.
Hope you have found this post helpful!