What to do with passport when traveling internationally?
May 27, 2015 3:49 PM   Subscribe

For a long time, I have been under the impression that it was the law in (most? all?) countries that a foreign visitor must carry one's passport on or about one's person at all times while in the country. Recently, someone challenged this view, and I am having trouble finding definitive answers on the Internet, and am hoping you all can help nail this down. (I do realize that the letter of the law and actual common practice often differ, but for the purpose of this question, I am interested in the actual law, not in common practice.)
posted by Juffo-Wup to Law & Government (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: To be clear, when I say nail this down, I mean either way: Determine that this is or is not the law in most/all countries.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:49 PM on May 27, 2015

Well when I was traveling in SE Asia, most hotels asked you to keep your passport in their hotel safe so it wouldn't get stolen.

I also emailed myself a pdf of my passport and visas in case something happened to it.
posted by brookeb at 3:56 PM on May 27, 2015

Best answer: My understanding (from working for many years on travel guidebooks) is that in most places you have to carry an international ID, but that a clear photocopy of your passport is usually acceptable (and recommended), as long as your passport can be easily accessed (ie, it's at your home or hotel). The actual rules are usually outlined in the front matter of a travel book, and this is the most standard.
posted by vunder at 3:57 PM on May 27, 2015

Response by poster: Well when I was traveling in SE Asia, most hotels asked you to keep your passport in their hotel safe so it wouldn't get stolen.

No offense intended, and I will end the threadsitting here, but this is exactly the sort of "actual common practice" information that I am *not* looking for in this question. For the purposes of this question, I am interested in what the laws state, not in what people actually do.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:58 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This will definitely vary country to country. Here, for example, is a description of Belgian law
Belgian law requires that everyone carry some form of official identification at all times, which must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. A U.S. passport suffices for these purposes.
So it seems like: official ID must be on one's person, in Belgium, at all times. Likely it's the same in other EU countries? I don't think there is a single Schengen Zone regulation on this much less a regulation covering every other nation on earth...
posted by dis_integration at 4:00 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you in the U.S.? If so, just call the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. Published regulations change at a different pace than do actual, day-to-day rules in each state (including the U.S.). In the U.S., current "actual legal policy" is often determined by policy documents (notices and memoranda and the like) that supersede statutes, regulations, and other legal instruments that are less responsive to revision. If you want a high level of legal scrutiny, the Bureau is where you'll find it.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:03 PM on May 27, 2015

Best answer: Agreed that if you want the real dish, contact the [equivalent of in your country] State Department. Because there are a whole lot of countries in the world and they have varying levels of agreements with [the country on your passport]. What an EU resident is required to carry in Denmark may be different from a Chinese citizen and from an American, and what a Danish police person can legally ask you for may be different from what a Danish border control agent can, and then all of that changes again if you're behind the wheel of a car or suspected of a crime (versus under arrest).

Even the definition of "official ID", what "suffices" and what is "eligible" may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

There is certainly no one Yes or No answer.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:23 PM on May 27, 2015

Best answer: This definitely varies by country. For example, visitors to Canada are not required to carry their passports at all times, while visitors to China certainly are.
posted by ssg at 4:38 PM on May 27, 2015

Best answer: In Gabon and Cameroon, one must carry one's passport at all times. Additionally, one should expect to be asked to present it to the authorities for inspection multiple times a day, especially when travelling between towns as police roadblocks are routine. I suspect that this scenario may be common in many of the world's less-free countries, especially developing ones.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:27 PM on May 27, 2015

Best answer: US Citizens can check with the State Department's website; search for the word "identification" or "passport" and it outlines what ID you're meant to carry with you. For example:

UK: "U.S. citizens should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports. Visitors in the United Kingdom and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences although we do recommend that you carry some form of identification with you."

Netherlands: "You must carry identification at all times in the Netherlands if you are age 14 or older. Accepted forms of identification for U.S. citizens include a U.S. passport or a Dutch residence card issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A copy of a U.S. passport is not sufficient under Dutch law."

China: "Chinese law requires that you carry your valid U.S. passport and Chinese visa or residence permit at all times. If you are visiting China, you should carry your passport with you, out of reach of pickpockets. If you live in China and have a residence permit, you should carry that document and leave your passport in a secure location, except when traveling."

Malaysia: "While in Malaysia, you should carry your passport with you at all times."

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:50 PM on May 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Immigration officials in Germany told me I was required to carry my passport with me at all times, but that usually the police would accept it if I carried a copy (an was willing to go get my passport if necessary).
posted by ipsative at 6:34 PM on May 27, 2015

I thought this was the law as well; I've carried my US passport on my person at all times in the UK, Cyprus*, and even Canada. I have an around-the-neck passport carrier that I'd wear under a shirt so that it's wasn't in places likely to be pick-pocketed. I was never pick-pocketed, but I did get scammed out of L5 by a beggar outside a Tube stop in the UK; I'd intended to give L1.

Passport-carrying was probably not necessary in Canada, but I did not have a place to put it like a hotel safe.

I suggest that you look at the Department of State's foreign travel information website for answers. This seems like it might depend on what country you're traveling to.

*I kept my passport in the safe in my hotel room when I was on hotel grounds -- eating meals at the hotel, swimming or enjoying their beach, or at the conference there where I was presenting a paper. This was not an issue. Whenever I left the hotel grounds, I carried my passport.
posted by tckma at 5:42 AM on May 28, 2015

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