As a UK citizen I recently found myself vacationing in Germany close to the Austrian border with a group of friends who are all EU nationals. While out on a day cycle without my passport, one of my group suggested crossing the border to have lunch on the Austrian side (this was an unplanned idea). I decided against it because I was uncomfortable crossing an international border without my passport.

This caused a bit of tension in the group as there was disagreement on whether this is in fact unlawful or not. Did I spoil the idea for no good reason?

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    Check out this question. Schengen does not remove the requirements for proper documentation when crossing internal borders, it only removes the requirement to have systematic checks at those borders. As a third country national you always need to have your passport within the schengen area. You did the right thing. travel.stackexchange.com/questions/139316/…
    – Ozzy
    Jul 12, 2023 at 6:18
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    It depends on the border.
    – phoog
    Jul 12, 2023 at 8:38
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    @firtydank if there is an exemption when you actually have your passport at your place of residence where you plan to go back to the same day It depends on the country, what you describe is roughly how it works in Germany. In France, even that is not required (you need to be present legally and a residence permit is the easiest way to prove that and avoid a lot of grief but there is no requirement to hold a passport). And in the Netherlands, you can be fined for not having your passport with you.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 12, 2023 at 13:50
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    "Did I spoil the idea for no good reason?" yes. Ok, it was a "good reason" - legally you were totally correct - but there's always some leeway with these things. The circumstances change things a lot: if you were asked to show ID while having lunch near the border with a group of German friends, and you didn't have it, then you'd probably get told to bring it with you the next time. However if you were by yourself, in a place far from the border, with no passport, then things would be different.
    – Aaron F
    Jul 12, 2023 at 16:23
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    @AaronF The chances for being asked for an id while having lunch in Austria is close to 0. That is not the issue here. Spot checks by the German Federal Police on the German/Austrian border are however currently relatively frequent and German law requires you to carry a travel document when crossing the border. Persons crossing the German border without carrying an id are usually fined. German police is not known for and is actually not allowed to use any leeway in such situations, but required to sanction known violations. Jul 13, 2023 at 8:54

3 Answers 3


This caused a bit of tension in the group as there was disagreement on whether this is in fact unlawful or not.

You were right, they were wrong.

Both Germans and non-Germans are required to carry a valid travel document with them when crossing the german border.

Since 1957, many national ID cards are considered equal to passports as far as the conditions of §13 AufenthG and §1 PaßG are concerned.

Did I spoil the idea for no good reason?

People have short memories and they tend to forget that even in the early 1970's one could spend hours at both the Austrian and Italian borders when crossing by car (the same for Belgium).

Just because there is no mandatory checks at the border doesn't mean that the requirement no longer exists to carry a valid travel document with you.

§13 - Border crossing - (AufenthG)
(1) Entry into and exit from the federal territory is permitted only at the approved border crossing points and within the stipulated traffic hours, unless exceptions are permitted on the basis of other statutory provisions or intergovernmental agreements. When entering or leaving the federal territory, foreigners are required to carry a recognised and valid passport or passport substitute as referred to in section 3 (1) and to submit to the police control of cross-border traffic.

§1 - Passport requirement - (PaßG)
(1) Germans within the meaning of Article 116 (1) of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany leaving or entering the geographical area in which this law applies are required to carry a valid passport to identify themselves. Presenting a passport of the Federal Republic of Germany within the meaning of (2) shall fulfil this requirement.

§15. Voraussetzung für die rechtmäßige Einreise in das Bundesgebiet - Fremdenpolizeigesetz 2005 (1) Fremde brauchen, soweit durch Bundesgesetz oder durch zwischenstaatliche Vereinbarung nicht anderes bestimmt ist oder nicht anderes internationalen Gepflogenheiten entspricht, zur rechtmäßigen Einreise in das Bundesgebiet ein gültiges Reisedokument (Passpflicht).

Requirement for lawful entry into the federal territory
(1) Foreigners need a valid travel document (passport obligation) to lawfully enter the federal territory, unless otherwise stipulated by federal law or an international agreement or in accordance with international practice.

§2. Ausreise und Einreise - Passgesetz 1992
(1) Österreichische Staatsbürger (Staatsbürger) bedürfen zur Ausreise aus dem Bundesgebiet und zur Einreise in dieses eines gültigen Reisedokumentes (Reisepaß oder Paßersatz), soweit nicht etwas anderes durch zwischenstaatliche Vereinbarungen bestimmt wird oder internationalen Gepflogenheiten entspricht. ...

(1) Austrian citizens (citizens) require a valid travel document (passport or passport substitute) to leave and enter the federal territory, unless otherwise determined by intergovernmental agreements or international customs. ...

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    – Willeke
    Jul 13, 2023 at 18:48

In theory, you did the right thing as you're theoretically meant to hold a travel document to cross the internal border.

In reality, you were WAY overthinking it. Anywhere you can cycle over the border, enforcement will be all but non-existent. While Austria theoretically requires foreign nationals to be able to identify themselves to the authorities, again, back in reality this would only become relevant if, for instance, checking in at a hotel or involved in an accident/crime

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    – Willeke
    Jul 12, 2023 at 15:15

Schengen rules kind of dance around this issue. The Schengen acquis does not create or remove any specific requirement to hold documents to cross internal borders. It also explicitly outlaws border control (with a few nuances and caveats) so if holding a specific document was required, that requirement could not legally be enforced, at least not systematically.

In fact, I suspect that historically in many places, what's illegal is crossing outside of an official border check point. And if you cannot identify yourself at an official border checkpoint, you would typically be turned away, making the question moot. In these circumstances, even where there is an administrative requirement to hold some specific document, it's not necessarily a separate criminal offence to cross without it but rather something that was meant to be checked by border guards.

At the same time, many Schengen countries (including, it seems, Austria) have strict ID and registration requirements even while residing in the country. The Schengen Borders Code explicitly allows that in article 23(c) and 23(d). This makes the question rather irrelevant in another way: If you come to the attention of the police and they really want to create trouble for you, you are just as likely to be held, fined, or prosecuted under these laws than punished specifically for having crossed the border.

By contrast, in a country where there is no such requirement (e.g. France), you would not be committing a specific offence by crossing the border without your passport and I don't see anything illegal about it. Finally, note that proximity to a border can be legitimate grounds for checks that would otherwise be technically illegal (it's explicitly the case in France and I think in Germany too). So actually crossing the border might not even be required to give the police cover to ask you to identify yourself and ultimately book you for not having your passport on your person (where required) or even a completely unrelated offence stemming from that check.

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    "historically in many places, what's illegal is crossing outside of an official border check point": but no longer (outside the mentioned nuances and caveats): article 22 states quite plainly "Internal borders may be crossed at any point without a border check on persons, irrespective of their nationality, being carried out" -- I am fairly certain that "at any point" was included to end requirements concerning designated crossing points.
    – phoog
    Jul 12, 2023 at 11:49
  • @phoog Yes, I think so too but that's precisely what creates this situation where you may find yourself crossing a border without any formality or document, something that didn't even need to be explicitly forbidden before that.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 12, 2023 at 13:40
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    Yes, I see your point. Not only is it easy to cross these days "without any formality or document" but one can also cross without awareness. I followed the Art en campagne walk last weekend between Ornex, France, and Collex-Bossy, Switzerland, and if I hadn't pointed it out, most of the people I was with wouldn't have noticed when we crossed the border. Even on smaller roads it's easy to miss the small signs addressing customs restrictions.
    – phoog
    Jul 12, 2023 at 16:23
  • Rereading that comment I realize that it implies that my friends wouldn't have noticed our crossing the border because we were on a smaller road. In fact, we were on a footpath. One of the crossing points had signs in both directions but the sign for those entering France was almost completely painted over by vandals, apparently many years ago, so one could easily overlook it. (The Swiss sign prohibits commercial vehicles and taxis, puzzling on a footpath.) I don't remember seeing a sign at the other crossing, but I might have overlooked it because one of the works of art was installed there.
    – phoog
    Jul 13, 2023 at 7:12
  • I think one should make a difference between "illegal" and "likely to cause inconvenience if something goes wrong". You cited France. In France, it is legal not to carry identification on oneself. However, should you get stopped and asked for identification by law enforcement (and there are many reasons why they can do so legally), not having identification could mean four hours at the police station while they try to check your identity. Jul 15, 2023 at 8:40

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