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If I have already entered the Schengen area, when am I required by law to carry my passport?

Basically do I need it when I

  • Travel within the same city
  • Change cities
  • Board a flight or a train
  • Cross borders

When I was in Europe I had two completely different incidents with me and I wonder which was legal and which strictly was not?

  1. I was asked for my passport on the Metz, France train station while leaving for Luxembourg. Note: This was NOT ON the train but simply on the station because I was clearly a foreigner.

  2. I was able to travel to Italy from Metz without my passport when I had accidentally forgotten it and had already boarded the train towards Italy. I was also able to come back and my passport was never asked for. I was traveling on a EuRail Pass.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

For EU citizens it might not be strictly necessary to carry an ID when traveling around the Schengen area but you have to make several distinctions here. The fact that the police can and does check ID does not mean it's mandatory for everybody to have one on them. Conversely, the fact that there should be no systematic check at the border does not mean that it cannot be mandatory to carry ID (it's the case in the Netherlands for example and yet actual checks seem rare in my experience). Rules can also be different for locals, EU citizens and third-country nationals.

For example, regarding the first incident, French citizens are not even required to hold a national ID card at all but it's still perfectly legal for the police to do ID checks under certain conditions, even far away from the border (more details here or on service-public.fr). I think that even for third-country nationals (and certainly for French citizens), not having any means to prove your identity on you is not per se a punishable offense. The police might keep you for a few hours to ascertain who you are by other means or be generally unpleasant but you cannot be charged with anything just because you left your passport at home.

Furthermore it should be pointed out that racial profiling has long been a problem in France. I have no way to independently assess how widespread it really is but I heard many anecdotes and some organizations regularly complain about it. There are even a few official reports that acknowledged the problem and, back when he was still running for office, the current president promised a number of specific measures to deal with it. The details are complex but this gives you some idea of the context.

Now, under the Schengen agreement, France committed herself not to perform systematic checks at her borders. But anything else still depends on national law. For example, being part of the Schengen area does not mean that nobody can ever be asked for ID on French territory. Nor does it provide you with any practical recourse if you are victim of racial profiling or if you suspect French police is bending the rules. If France really is in breach of the Schengen agreement, this is something other EU member states and especially the EU Commission might deal with in several ways (potentially escalating to an infringement procedure in front of the EU court of justice) but that does not immediately help you in practice.

In fact, French law even specifically allows the police to ask people for ID at all times in border areas, on international trains and in a number of train stations including Metz. In 2011, the Commission looked at what France was doing and issued a critical-sounding press-release but did not go further or challenge the law itself. This guy has been writing extensively about checks at the France-Italy border and elsewhere so it seems to be a relatively common occurrence.

All this also means that there are no EU or Schengen-wide rule that would definitively answer your question. It's certainly not mandatory to always carry ID everywhere but since police checks do happen, carrying your passport seems like a good idea in practice, especially as a non-EU citizen.

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By law most EU nations require all people to carry photo ID at all times and present it to police when requested.
There's usually a hefty fine for failure to be able to do so. And possibly a trip to a police station for fingerprinting and other means of trying to find out who you are.

While it's not common for police to be around, even when you need them, and even less common for them to ask for your ID (unless maybe you get caught up in a riot or major search operation, things like that), you can be asked at any time so best be prepared.
Mind that that doesn't have to be a passport, a European identity card or driver's license is usually enough (but might not be for non-EU citizens).

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The police does not have the right to ask someone to identify him just for no reason. There has to be some reason, and they should be able to explain why your are asked to identify yourself. –  Bernhard Apr 4 at 9:18
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@Bernhard it depends, generally inside EU the police has the right to ask a valid ID (national ID, driving licence, passport) without explain the reason. Especially inside train stations are routine checks (I'm Italian and italian police asked me to identify myself 2 or 3 times while I was waiting a train) –  Guido Preite Apr 4 at 9:49
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@jwenting: There is no general EU directive giving the police the right to check a persons id card and neither any general rules obliging foreigners to carry an id or passport at all times. Some EU countries though, have such regulations in national law. –  Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Apr 4 at 11:40
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@Max: French citizens are not even obligated to possess identification documents. How can they be obligated to carry one? –  Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Apr 4 at 14:19
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@Max As Tor-Einar Jarnbjo explained, it's not actually true for France (many believe so, perhaps because the police has greater latitude than elsewhere to check ID but see the link in my answer for more details on how it works exactly). I would also venture that the UK (no national ID card available at all) and the Netherlands (carrying ID mandatory at all times) are further away on each end of the spectrum than either France or Germany ;-) –  Relaxed Apr 4 at 16:55

I was asked for my passport on the Metz, France train station while leaving for Luxembourg. Note: This was NOT ON the train but simply on the station because I was clearly a foreigner.

This was an anomaly, I would believe. I have moved around quite a bit in Europe. Always carry my passport with me, but not for this specific reason, and have never been asked to take it out in the past 5 years even when I have crossed borders within the Schengen region. Don't play the foreigner card(alibi). I am also a foreigner, and I have visited places where it is next to impossible to find a coloured person for miles in either direction.

Anyway when you applied for a Schengen visa, there should have been a printed note returned with your passport which says you have to carry your passport, proof of funds etc around always. Didn't you get one ?

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I did get one I think. I remember being told but I don't understand why my EuRail pass was constantly checked (obviously because I was on a train) why wasn't my passport because how can the EuRail pass be validated without an ID proof? Especially when there's a high probability of me not being an EU citizen. –  Aditya Somani Apr 4 at 9:44
    
Also, I find it impractical to carry my passport and proof of funds and all that hefty stuff with me when all I want to do is get some lunch in Barcelona. :/ Wouldn't another ID work as well? –  Aditya Somani Apr 4 at 9:47
    
That is their country and their rules. Either you abide by it or don't go there. Sounds illogical, but not all of us are Gandhi, who will not rest until they change the system. For EUrail, they willn't mind as they have a traveller who does have a ticket. Whether stolen or not they don't care. In Switzerland I had the pass and put down my passport number as ID, but was never asked even once to furnish my passport. –  DumbCoder Apr 4 at 9:59
    
The same happened to me as well. I guess you're correct. It is what it is. :/ –  Aditya Somani Apr 4 at 10:17

The requirements of a non-EU citizen may depend on local country law, but you should assume that only a passport will be accepted.

For Germany, I unfortunately must tell you that only a passport is acceptable and that airports and train stations are used extensively for “racial profiling”. That means essentially that police looks for someone looking foreign and asking for papers. So white people will do not notice it.

Many “foreign looking” Germans are really annoyed about this practice, but both police and right-wing politicians are defending the practice (illegal immigration, possible criminals etc.) even if the success rate is 4 in 1000.

One of the high courts in Germany, the Oberverwaltungsgericht, in Cologne even explicitly said that it violates the antidiscrimination law. But police practice unfortunately persists.

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