Before leaving your front door for the airport, train station, or final travel destination, it’s essential that you take inventory of your belongings, especially your travel documents.
Travel documents are an essential part of a traveler’s checklist. Considering how hectic and confusing international travel to Europe is, possessing a clear grasp of travel documents, what they do, and your checklist will make your journey less stressful.
What Are the Travel Documents You Need To Travel to Europe?
Travel documents can refer to a wide range of information that comes with international travel. Generally, travel documents refer to:
- Photo IDs
Valid passports are the most common type of travel document used for international travel. Passports are essential to international travel; they are the best way to establish a traveler’s identity. Most countries worldwide will not let travelers into their country without a passport.
The traveler’s home country issues passports. A valid travel document corroborates that the traveler is a citizen of their country, including a person’s name, date of birth, gender, and information about physical appearances like eye and hair color.
For example, the U.S. government issues U.S. passports, usually from the U.S. Department of State, and proves U.S. citizenship to foreign nationals in your destination country. You nearly always need a passport for international travel authorization.
Remember: Passports are the most credible travel documents a traveler can possess, making them an integral part of your traveler’s checklist.
How Do You Get a Passport?
Passports can be obtained through your local government agencies.
Generally, the issuance of a passport comes with a few anywhere between 50 and 100 dollars. To receive a passport, you must submit a photograph to the government agency issuing the document that abides by their photograph standards.
These documents are integral to getting travelers inside and traveling within the European community. Your documentation informs several functions that are key to effective international travel.
Photo IDs are a general term for government-issued identification documents. They contain basic personal information like your name, date of birth, address, and photograph. The most common type of photo ID is a driver’s license, though permanent resident and passport cards are also photo IDs.
While some photo identity cards are sufficient for local travel, more strict international protocols require more intensive photo IDs like passports or visas to travel abroad.
Nevertheless, bringing a photo ID like a driver’s license along on an international trip may assist with localized travel within a country's borders or even across the open borders of EU-participating nations, for example.
Visas are a vital travel document for people on extended stays in a country where they do not possess citizenship.
Whereas a citizen’s home country issues passports, travelers are issued visas by the government that is the destination of their journey. This document allows a traveler to visit, occupy, or leave the country from whom the visa is issued.
Types of Visas
There are many different types of visas, including:
- Student visas for travelers studying abroad
- Tourist visas for travelers on vacation in another country
- Work visas for travelers who move to another country for occupational reasons
- Transit visas for travelers who must pass through a country as part of their journey.
How To Get A Visa?
Travelers must apply to a country’s foreign office to obtain a visa. Visas can range in the duration of use; some visas allow a single visit while others are re-entry permits.
The visa approval requirements vary by country. Research the protocol for your visa before you start planning travel arrangements.
The Importance of Travel Documents
Your travel documents help you:
- Verify your information
- Makes travel easier
- It opens doors for opportunity
Verify Your Information
The world has never been more connected than it is today. While travel is far easier to do than before, the ease of international travel to Europe hinges on checks and balances that ensure communities remain safe.
Traveling with proper documentation like a passport or visa helps the nation you’re visiting monitor the influx of travelers going in and out of the country. Keeping your documents in order enables you to verify your information to meet all the requirements that maintain safe, effective international travel.
Makes Travel Easier
Your documents help you establish your credibility across borders. Carrying the proper documentation makes travel easier as you have the legal claim to navigate effectively between countries.
Your passports, visas, and tickets are issued by state and business authorities, making it easier for you to travel to your final destination and establishing credibility for the future.
Opens Doors for Opportunity
Acquiring the proper documentation required for international European travel opens up opportunities.
Passports and visas allow for extended stays in certain travel zones in the European community. Non-European citizens can gain access to the opportunity to embark on extended vacations or even gain the opportunity to work in Europe.
European Travel Zones
Europe’s travel zones differ in a few crucial ways. Let’s break down the continent in a travel context in three different ways to understand better how international travel works in Europe,
- The European continent
- The Schengen Area
- The European Union
What Is the European Continent?
Europe describes all the countries that have borders on the European continent. The European continent categorizes nations from Iceland to Turkey and Russia geographically.
Some European countries do not play a role in the two primary travel blocs that play key roles in international travel to Europe: the Schengen Zone and the European Union.
While Albania may be a geographically European country, it does not participate in any international agreements within the European community that facilitate international travel.
Travel Documents Need To Travel the European Continent
Because the European continent is not a political entity, the documents required to travel between certain countries can differ significantly. In most countries, foreign travelers must possess a passport; some require more strict travel documentation like visa requirements.
What Is the Schengen Area?
In 1985, the Schengen Agreement was signed by 26 European countries in Schengen, Luxembourg.
This agreement began a new area of travel between the 26 participants of the agreement, establishing the Schengen Area.
The Schengen Area is a travel zone that allows for eased travel restrictions between participant nations. Travelers can travel from Portugal to Latvia as if it were one country. Before the Schengen Agreement, the border restrictions between European nations were more strict.
With the proper travel documents, travel between Schengen Area countries is seamless.
Here are the countries that participate in the Schengen Agreement:
- Czech Republic
What Travel Documents Are Needed for Travel in the Schengen Area?
For Schengen Area members, travel documents needed for travel between participant countries are virtually non-existent. The Schengen Area promotes free movement between the countries in the agreement, allowing for faster, more effective travel.
For international travelers, travel between Schengen Area countries is relatively similar. A traveler from a non-Schengen country could drive from Portugal to France without passing through border checkpoints.
However, travelers from non-Schengen Area countries need a passport or a visa to enter the Schengen Area countries in the first place. Most countries also require proof of vaccination in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Is the European Union?
The European Union is a political confederation of European nations that abide by uniform standards in currency, commerce, citizenship, and travel.
The close ties between E.U. member states mean that travel between them is virtually limitless. The European Union has 27 members.
Overlap between E.U. member states and Schengen Area participants means many free movements allotted by these organizations in the European community.
These are the 27 members of the European Union:
What Travel Documents Are Needed for Travel in the EU?
Like the Schengen Area, travel between EU member-states is generally unrestricted for EU citizens.
There may be increased requirements for crossing into the EU countries for non-EU members, such as U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Foreign travelers are generally required to have a passport, though travel between EU member-states may not need a passport; photo IDs may be an acceptable form of identification.
Certain travelers may require a visa to travel into the European Union depending on their nation of origin or the duration or reasons for their stay.
Learn more about the differences between Schengen travel visas and EU visas.
Check Off Your Traveler’s Checklist with Help from ETIAS
Starting in 2024, the EU will implement the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. ETIAS forms the basis for travel protocol within the EU member-states in the Schengen region for improved security within the EU.
The changes implemented by ETIAS provide opportunities for travelers without visas to pre-screen their security checks for safer, faster travel within the EU.
To learn more about how ETIAS affects your traveler’s checklist, consult our FAQ page.
Country Profiles | European Union
European Travel Information and Authorisation System | European Commission