I have found myself in a very frustrating situation, I'm sure a variant of which will have happened to many an experienced traveller. My wife and I live in Germany and planned to visit Spain this weekend, but our passports are held up in an unrelated administrative process with little hope of getting them back before we fly.

I am an EU citizen from the UK. She is a Colombian citizen, with a 5-year EU family member residence permit here in Germany on account of being my spouse. The German residence permit is also held up in the unrelated administrative process.

The flights are both direct Berlin-Madrid, with Iberia on the way and Ryanair return. On previous intra-Schengen flights we have not had passports checked by border guards, although on some occasions they were verified by the airline at the gate.

I am aware that it is explicitly allowed for EU citizens to travel intra-Schengen without a passport. I am not sure if this is the case, officially, for non-EU family members with residence permits.

What do the rules say, and what will the consequences be if we, for example, get to Spain without our passports being checked, and are then refused by the airline on the way back, on account of not having them? Is this something I can clear with the airlines involved in advance?

  • 2
    Other airlines do not necessarily check ID or can sometimes be persuaded to let you through with a driving licence but Ryanair is notorious for checking this above and beyond what's strictly required so it is in any case highly likely to refuse boarding and leave you stranded in Spain. I don't see any other solution than cancelling the trip.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 10, 2017 at 12:38
  • The law in Spain says that everyone must be able to show a national identity card or passport to police or the Guardia Civil, if asked. The Spanish do and the last thing you would want to deal with is that.
    – Giorgio
    Jul 10, 2017 at 12:53
  • The Schengen Borders Code says little if anything about documentary requirements for crossing internal borders. As noted in the other comments, you have to worry about police checks in Spain and getting on the flight, with the latter being more worrisome. Check the airlines' requirements on their websites. Maybe you can do the trip by rebooking the Ryanair portion.
    – phoog
    Jul 10, 2017 at 13:59
  • @Dorothy are the penalties so severe? Would it not be as simple as convincing the police that they're legal Schengen residents (using the residence permit) and possibly paying a small fine?
    – phoog
    Jul 10, 2017 at 14:02
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    "I am aware that it is explicitly allowed for EU citizens to travel intra-Schengen without a passport." - there is no such rule. You must be able to verify your citizenship in some way if asked by government officials, otherwise anyone could just claim they're an EU citizen without proof. The only difference from non-EU citizens is that you may use your national ID card (which is not issued in the UK anyway).
    – JonathanReez
    Jul 15, 2017 at 13:29

2 Answers 2


I think one should not mix up three unrelated topics here:

  1. Within the Schengen area there are usually no border controls for travellers. This is why airports have a so-called Schengen area where you can get from the land- to the airside of the airport and vice versa without passing a border control post. (*)

  2. The airline (even on a domestic flight) reserves the right to check your identity and they alone will decide what they will accept as a proof and what not. This is primarily in order to avoid tickets being re-sold. Again, you may be able to use a document other than your passport, but unless it's a national identity card your milage will vary.

  3. @JonathanReez "You must be able to verify your citizenship in some way if asked by government officials" -> Again, yes, possibly. Interesting enough, the law in Germany says that you are required to possess a national identity card, but that you are not required to carry it with you. But again: You are required to be able to prove your identity (and possibly nationality or permission to be in a country) "in some way", but there are many potential ways. And then again it's up to the person who checks you what he or she is going to accept and what not.

(*) The fine print:


Exceptions to the Schengen rules are possible and are in place currently (mid 2017) in some countries like between Austria and Germany for example when travelling by land. Also when going by train from Germany to France during Euro 2016 you were checked and they have the right to do so.


Even when passing a Schengen border between EU countries (say from Germany to Bulgaria to make an example) you don't need a passport but a national identity card will do. So in cases where your passport is away for any unrelated administrative reasons, you could still travel on our national ID card in many cases. If the UK doesn't issue one… too bad. Driving licenses are not accepted in many cases.

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    (+1) Another occasion where I have had to show my passport before boarding a flight between two Schengen countries is when a plane came from a non-Schengen country before. Many airports are designed to have the same gates function as Schengen or non-Schengen gates depending on the need but sometimes it's not possible and they just ask you to go to the non-Schengen part of the airport just because it's where your plane happens to be. Not a nice surprise as it also meant an additional queue I did not expect…
    – Relaxed
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:34

Having explored all the possibilities on offer in this frustrating situation, let me provide my ultimate conclusion for a bit of perspective & advice from someone who's been there: You are not going. Accept the situation and move on.

You've lost some money for sure. But there's nothing you can do about that. What you can do now is save at least something by rebooking/exchanging as many things as possible, before it's too late to do so.

Don't dither on this thinking you'll discover more options somehow - you are not going - and the later you leave it the less you'll be able to recoup.

The bottom line is this: If you do manage to fly both ways over any EU international border without a passport (or an EU state ID card for those that have them), and get by fine without one in the foreign country, you can safely assume you've done so out of pure luck on a long list of dimensions.

Don't ever count on being lucky when you really need to be, because of course you will not be and will instead find yourself in a quite awful and stressful situation. Is the money you've lost actually worth putting yourself through that? Probably not.

  • Thanks for your contribution! Can you please elaborate what possible consequences you envision? Thanks. Aug 28, 2018 at 16:51

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