Getting Your Documents Together for a European Trip

Couple holding United States passports
For US and Canadian citizens, a passport is the only document needed to travel in most of Europe.
By Rick Steves

Your trip won't get off the ground if you don't think ahead, well before your departure date, about your passport and other documentation you'll need for your trip. Give yourself plenty of lead time.


In much of Europe, the only travel document a US or Canadian citizen needs is a passport. (The US Passport Card works only for those driving or cruising to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.) And for most American travelers, that passport gets the most scrutiny from a customs official…as you reenter the United States. Soon, however — likely by mid-2025 — travelers will also need to register online for travel authorization to most European countries (explained below).

Canadian citizens can refer to the government of Canada's travel site for passport information.

Getting or Renewing Your Passport

A US passport, good for 10 years, costs $130, plus a $35 acceptance fee (to renew a passport costs $130, no extra fee). The fee for minors under 16 (including infants) is $100, plus the $35 acceptance fee, for a passport good for five years — kids under 16 must apply in person with at least one parent and the other parent's notarized permission.

You can apply at some courthouses, libraries, and post offices, as well as municipal buildings, such as your city hall. The State Department has an online tool for looking up your nearest passport-acceptance facility (you can also call 877 487 2778). Allow ample time to receive your passport. Processing time varies; the current wait is posted on the State Department website. During busier periods, waits of 12 weeks or more are common. After you apply, you can check online for the status of your application and your passport's estimated arrival date.

If you need your passport faster than current processing times allow, make an appointment to go in person to the nearest US Passport Agency. You'll pay an additional $60 expediting fee, plus overnight shipping both ways, which shaves off several weeks from the turnaround — check online for estimated waits. In a last-minute emergency, call the above number and speak to a customer-service representative. If you can prove that you must travel within two weeks (by showing evidence of a purchased airline ticket or a letter from work requiring you to go overseas on short notice), you may be able to receive a passport in 24 to 72 hours.

Keep an eye on your passport's expiration date. Many European countries require that your passport be valid for at least six months after your ticketed date of return to the United States. This means that even if your passport doesn't expire for a few months, you may be denied entry to a country. Check your destination country's requirements (while keeping an eye out for additional requirements, such as at least one blank passport page), and, if necessary, get your passport renewed well before you go.

Traveling with Your Passport in Europe

Guard your passport carefully. Keep it in your money belt, and if you're asked to show it, put it back in your money belt right away.

You'll need to show your passport at your first point of entry into Europe, again when you exit Europe, and to reenter the US. But you'll encounter virtually no border checks between most European countries, thanks to a series of treaties known as the Schengen Agreement. The most notable exception: travel between the British Isles and the Continent, as neither the Republic of Ireland nor the UK are within the Schengen zone.

When traveling between Schengen-zone countries, you usually won't have to stop or show a passport: You'll blow past abandoned border posts on the superhighway or high-speed train. Non-Schengen countries still have border checks — but the border crossing is generally just a quick wave-through for US and Canadian citizens.

Free movement within the Schengen area can be affected by events that cause countries to increase security; if this happens, you may encounter internal border checks in some countries (such as at an airport, train station, or highway border crossing).

Replacing Your Passport Mid-Trip

If you need to replace a lost or stolen passport while traveling, it's much easier if you have a copy of it and a couple of passport photos already printed.

Visas and Travel Authorizations

A travel visa is a stamp placed in your passport by a foreign government allowing you to enter that country. Visas are not required for Americans or Canadians traveling to the European countries covered by the Schengen Agreement, nor for those going to the Republic of Ireland, UK, or Turkey.

But most European countries will soon require travelers to register with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) — see below.

For information on visas and other documentation required for travel beyond this zone, ask your travel agent or check with the US State Department.

No Visa Required

When you enter a country without a visa, you're officially on "short-stay visitor" status. Within the Schengen area, that means you can stay up to 90 days within a 180-day period; most non-Schengen countries in Europe also have a 90-day limit (one big exception is the UK, which allows you to stay up to six months within a 12-month period). If your trip will extend beyond the three-month mark, you'll need to get creative with your travel plans (for example, spend the requisite amount of time outside the Schengen area before reentering) or look into a long-stay visa.

ETIAS Registration

By mid-2025, US and Canadian citizens will be required to apply online for entry authorization into most European countries (though not including the UK or Republic of Ireland). The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) application process is expected to be cheap (about $8) and fast (most people should have their authorization "wihin minutes"). Authorization is valid for three years (unless your passport expires before then). For more, see our ETIAS explainer; for the latest details, see the EU's official ETIAS page.


As of 2024, travelers with a regular American or Canadian passport no longer need a visa to visit Turkey for up to 90 days. (US and Canadian citizens with an "official" military or diplomatic passport do still need a visa.) As is the case for many countries in Europe, you can be refused entry if your passport isn't valid for at least 6 months following your date of entry to Turkey; you must also have enough space in your passport for regular entry and exit stamps. The US Embassy in Turkey and Turkey's Foreign Affairs Ministry have all the details.

Covid-19 Vaccination Records

While most countries no longer require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for entry, some tour companies may still have vaccination requirements. Even if it's not required for your itinerary, it's smart to pack a copy of your vaccine record and/or store a scan or photo of your Covid-19 vaccine card on your phone.

Student Cards

Students in high school or college can save money by carrying their school ID cards when traveling. And in general, people under age 26 are eligible for many discounts in Europe: Show your ID at ticket counters, museums, and bus and train stations, and you may be surprised at the number of discounts you'll receive. Be aware that some discounts apply only to EU residents.

Some young travelers like to carry the International Student Identity Card (ISIC), an internationally recognized student ID card that provides discounts on transportation and sightseeing worldwide. Virtual cards, available on the ISIC website, cost $20 ($5 more for a physical card) and are good for one year from the date of issue (you must be a full-time student).

Driver Documents

If you'll be renting a car, be aware that an International Driving Permit is required in Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain, and may be required by individual car-rental companies in other countries ($20 plus tax; get it at AAA before your departure). Even if you aren't renting a car in Europe, bring along your driver's license — it can come in handy if you need to leave a piece of ID to rent a bike or audioguide and you don't want to part with your passport.

Back Up Key Documents

Before your trip, scan, make photocopies, and/or take photos of your documents (front and back). I like to both pack along a hard copy and have a digital version available on my phone (or uploaded to an easily accessible location in the cloud, such as Dropbox). It can also be smart to leave a physical copy with someone at home in case of an emergency. Make backups of the following:

  • Passport and any visa information
  • Car-rental voucher
  • Prescriptions for eyewear and medicine

Don't copy a debit or credit card — instead, keep just the number in a retrievable place. Consider bringing a couple of extra passport-type pictures, which can expedite the replacement process for a lost or stolen passport. If you're traveling with a companion, carry copies of each other's passports and other important documents. Guard your physical copies as carefully as you would the originals. I hide mine in a pouch clipped into the bottom of my luggage (don't tell anyone).

It's also smart to have a backup physical or digital copy of your itinerary, including hotel and car-rental confirmations and sight reservations. An itinerary-storage website, such as Tripit, is handy. And printed copies of key reservations come in handy if technology isn't cooperating when you need it.