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In many countries (e.g. Czech Republic), the government requires that all tourists are registered with the appropriate authority: either through their accommodation or in person if staying at a friend's place.

What is the point of that rule? Bonus points for explaining the following sub-questions:

  1. If being registered is so important, why do authorities rarely check tourist registrations when the person is leaving the country?
  2. Why do some super-paranoid countries, such as the US, not bother with tourist registration?
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    The countries where I know this to happen are all either Italy or a former part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. I suspect that it is a longstanding habit inherited from the 19th-century bureaucracies of totalitarian states. This of course doesn't address the question of whether the practice continues to have some perceived benefit. I suppose it must, since it continues. – phoog May 23 '16 at 19:32
  • They don't check tourist registrations when you leave because they don't know where you stayed. Some countries only require you to register after three days in any town. If you moved to a new town every two days, you wouldn't have been required to register anywhere. The Czech page you linked to says you need to register only if you've been there longer than 30 days. What if you were in the Czech republic for 2 days and Poland for 29 days? – phoog May 23 '16 at 19:36
  • @phoog it's 30 days for long-term visas, but only 3 days for short-term ones. My question is why the rule is there in the first place if no one seems to enforce it. – JonathanReez May 23 '16 at 19:38
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    Finally, the US Federal government does have a provision for registering and fingerprinting those who are in the country for longer than 30 days: law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/8/1302 – phoog May 23 '16 at 19:38
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    A lot of countries do this without your involvement, as the hotels report their registered guests to the appropriate authorities. You can pretty much assume such is the case whenever you check into a hotel and they ask to see your passport and either write down the number or make a copy of it. Sometimes these rules are local on a provincial or town level, sometimes it is national. – user13044 May 24 '16 at 1:13
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+50

Many countries try to keep track of their citizens and other permanent residents for purposes of taxes, voter rolls, military draft (where applicable), and similar purposes. For example, people can own several houses, but usually they can only vote in one place, and they must file their taxes once. Such a registration would be mandatory within a few days or weeks of moving into a house.

If hotels were not required to register their visitors, that would be an obvious loophole in the system. So it is closed.

1) There is no need to check the paperwork if the tourist is leaving and everything looks fine. If they catch a tourist who works illegally, the records may become an issue.

2) The US has a relatively weak system of tracking their own citizens. Driver's licenses and social security numbers are used for purposes which would be a national ID card in many other countries. Any attempt to track foreigners in the US would affect US citizens as well -- they'd have to show their ID to prove that they don't have to show their ID.

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    The US is considered an open society (ie: no need to show id), so it is not that their tracking system is weak, it is that the system doesn't exist. – user13044 May 24 '16 at 1:18
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    @Tom, how the US like to think of themselves and what they actually are are two different things. What reasonable society would expect people to show their driver's license to show that they're old enough to drink alcohol? – o.m. May 24 '16 at 4:13
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    I am at a loss as to what proving you are old enough to drink and tracking citizens has to do with each other (aside from your apparent distaste for the US). – user13044 May 24 '16 at 4:29
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    In the USA, I found it utterly bizarre that I was asked for a driver's license when I wanted to rent a bicycle. – gerrit May 24 '16 at 8:45
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    @ZachLipton, your comment underlines the widespread assumption that a driver's license is the "default ID" in the US, which was just my point. – o.m. Jun 2 '16 at 4:54
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There are few reasons for doing so :

  • for statistical reasons. At country level, it is important to manage the flows and understand how many people are coming in and where they are staying.
  • asking for the place where you stay is a way to ensure that you aren't coming to stay in the street and that you have an appropriate solution for your accommodation.
  • in the USA, they are asking for the reason of your stay and where you'll be staying. At least, this is what I saw in the ESTA. Isn't it a kind of registration (maybe not as formal as what you have seen elsewhere).
  • when you leave, they scan your passport so they know that you leave. What would be the need for checking registration again since you are leaving? As you leave, I guess the country authority doesn't care about where you stayed.
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    The ESTA only wants to know where you plan to stay your first night. You're free to go anywhere else or change your mind after that. – Zach Lipton May 23 '16 at 19:15
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    And for that matter, the ESTA form only wants to know where you plan to stay the first night of your first trip. People come back on subsequent trips without giving a new address. This is far different from countries with compulsory registration where all hotels are required to transmit your information to the police and foreigners not staying in hotels must register in an office somewhere. – Zach Lipton May 23 '16 at 20:14
  • Irrespective of what you're asked when applying for the ESTA, you have to give location of first stay on the customs form on entry. – Berwyn May 23 '16 at 21:31
  • The statistics argument makes sense, the other do not explain why countries go as far as wanting you to register if staying at a friend's place. – JonathanReez May 24 '16 at 17:14
  • @JonathanReez This is to make sure you have a place to stay and you aren't staying in the street. Also make sure that there isn't someone welcoming hundreds of thousands of foreign people... – Olielo May 25 '16 at 6:24

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