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I'm an Italian citizen, and I possess a driving license in the standard European format:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Can I use it for identification purposes, i.e. boarding a plane, when in Europe?

I understand from Wikipedia that there are exceptions, but what is the general rule? Am I safe if I carry it instead of my ID card?

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    For identification or immigration purposes? Only EU Driving Licenses say nothing about your nationality, so while it may prove who you are, it doesn't prove where you're allowed to enter... – Gagravarr Mar 31 '14 at 15:56
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It entirely depends on the purpose and the country. For example, in the Netherlands, a European driver's license is a completely valid ID and can be used, e.g., to vote. In France, there is no exhaustive list of what counts as ID so there is no reason a driver's license shouldn't be accepted by the police (see this question on expatriates.SE for a long-winded discussion of this specific case). Elsewhere, it might not be considered a valid ID and private organizations everywhere (e.g. banks) might also have other requirements.

The problem is that to travel internationally, you need more than ID, you need something to establish your citizenship and prove your right to enter the destination country. A driver's license is not enough for that. Similarly, if you want to make use of your right to free movement as an EU citizen, you need something that establishes that you are indeed an EU citizen and that something is typically a passport or national ID card. If you travel by land, you might get away with not having one on you but boarding a plane is often more difficult.

I was once allowed to take an internal Schengen flight with only a driver's license and a few other documents like a health insurance card from my country of destination (after losing my ID) but I think it was just the person at the desk bending the rules and counting on the fact that there would be no check at the other end (we went to the desk as soon as we noticed the ID was missing, we did not intend to just show a driver's license when boarding).

Finally, EU countries recognize each other's national ID cards so unless you are a citizen from one of the countries that do not issue those at all (Denmark, the UK), you don't need anything else and that's true EU-wide (not only in the Schengen area, also in the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus, the EEA or Switzerland but not necessarily elsewhere in Europe).

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    Your example for the Netherlands is not completely true. In the Netherlands a Dutch license of EU format for a Dutch citizen/resident (here I am not sure which apply's) is a valid form of ID. Simply because the authorities have the means to check additional info. For other EU licenses you need additional id proof. Even if you are a Dutch Citizen with a license from another EU country – user141 Apr 1 '14 at 12:40
  • @andra What makes you think that? The “stempas” I got for the recent municipal elections explicitly said that all EU driver's licenses, not only Dutch ones, were valid ID for this purpose (I didn't actually try it, had other ID with me). Obviously, I am a resident, otherwise I wouldn't have the right to vote as a non-citizen in the first place but that's a distinct question. I also used my Dutch license as a non-citizen for other purposes (bank, post office). – Relaxed Apr 1 '14 at 13:38
  • Well I guess when you get a "stempas", it means you status has already been cleared. I have used my Belgian license on many occasions as proof of ID, even for getting from the UK to France. However my license has also been denied as ID on many other occasions as well. On the frequent border controls by the Dutch military police, both your license and ID are required. – user141 Apr 1 '14 at 13:58
  • @andra I think we basically agree but I would put it slightly differently. As I explained in my second paragraph, the problem there is not so much that your license was refused as ID. Rather, it's that to cross a border, you need more than an ID, you need to establish your right to stay in or enter the country. Note that the license does not even prove you are a resident, you could get one and then keep it until it expires while living in another EU country. – Relaxed Apr 1 '14 at 14:05
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    @Annoyed the main purpose of the ID check with elections is to check the name of the person presenting the voting card to a photograph. Thus a driver's license will do as well as a passport. If the combination is valid, it's simply assumed the voting card is valid. Which has led to trouble with false voting cards in the hands of people who're not allowed to vote, or in the hands of people who fabricated them as being permitted by family members to vote for them. During the last election cycle there were more votes cast than cards sent out in at least 35 cities. – jwenting Apr 2 '14 at 8:59
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According to the Dutch (link in Dutch) authorities it is has some value as a form of identification. However since a drivers license does not contain information about your citizenship nor you visa/resident permit status, it is in general not accepted as an official form of documentation.

Having said that I have crossed borders with a license only (e.g. UK-France), but I always had other forms of identification with me. I would not risk traveling with a license only.

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Freedom of movement is guaranteed; while longer stays explicitly mentions a valid ID card or passport, shorter stays which are less than three months only require:

For stays of less than three months, the only requirement on Union citizens is that they possess a valid identity document or passport

EDIT: As other pointed out, an EU license, is not usable because it does not mention your country of origin, contrary to my former opinion presented here. I simply screwed up on this one.

  • A driving license provides no information on citizenship, and thus fails to provide proof of eligibility to use the Freedom Of Movement rights. I think what that site probably means by identity documents is National ID cards (where issued) – Gagravarr Mar 31 '14 at 23:37
  • @Gagravarr Nice correction, it is late. The problem is that I subconciously have only registered "driving license" and my own driving license is German and mentions the country. Sorry, I oversaw that it is an EU license and that you already mentioned it. – Thorsten S. Mar 31 '14 at 23:43
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    @ThorstenS. That's not the point, standard EU-format driver's licenses in all EU countries (including Germany) mention both the country that issued the license and (through the codes) the country where you originally passed the exam but neither need be a country where you are a citizen. It's perfectly legit to use a license from another country, either because you learned to drive there or because you needed to renew your license (not all licenses were valid for life as the German license was and even in Germany this is going to end). Many non-Germans also have German licenses, old and new. – Relaxed Apr 1 '14 at 10:54
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    @Annoyed: I have a German driving license and am neither a German citizen nor did I pass the original tests in Germany (the German license was simply issued based on my original foreign license). The German license does not mention citizenship and does also not indicate that it was issued as a replacement for a foreign license. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Apr 1 '14 at 11:54
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo Regarding license exchange, I learned recently that the codes under the table on the back (item 12) can be used to find out. It's certainly the case on my Dutch license (and like yourself I am not a citizen and I learned to drive elsewhere). I haven't actually checked a German license but I assume recent ones should follow the same format. See for example code 70 in the Wikipedia article about this topic. – Relaxed Apr 1 '14 at 14:17
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Even in Italy they are "tolerated" as identification document. The fact is that it's just a driving license, demonstrating that you are entitled to drive a car or a truck.

They are not accepted abroad as id document. But there could be exceptions.

As italian I always have with me my ID card when I travel in Europe.

  • Inside Italy, driving licenses are more than tolerated: they are legally equivalent to an ID card. See e.g. it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documento_di_riconoscimento_in_Italia (in Italian). The Italian law is actually quite loose on the requirements - any document with a picture, issued by a (not necessarily Italian) public office, and "which allows the personal identification of its owner" is fine. – Federico Poloni Sep 29 '15 at 10:35
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It is sometimes "tolerated" but in general, no, it is not a replacement for an ID card or a passport which are considered "equal in strength" as identification documents.

In Croatia, no. Carry your ID or passport.

protected by Community Sep 29 '15 at 8:31

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