Travelers to Europe have long enjoyed the ease of crossing from one European nation to another without having to pass through border controls. You could board a train in Vienna and arrive in Paris without standing in any immigration lines, or drive yourself on a winery tour and not have to pull out your passport in between your tastings of French champagne and German Riesling. This is now changing, due to increased concerns about terrorism and refugees. If you plan to travel around Europe in 2016, keep your passport handy – you are likely to need it when you cross borders within Europe.
France was the first country to re-introduce passport checks at its borders. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Paris on November 13, 2015, the French government tightened border security. As of Monday, January 4, 2016, Sweden and Denmark have followed suit, beginning with passport checks of rail passengers. Austria, Germany, and Norway have also announced plans to reintroduce passport control at their borders, and it is expected that other nations will also begin to check passports in the coming months.
It’s estimated that every year, more than one and a half million people transit between European nations by land without showing their passports. This number includes both European citizens and international visitors touring Europe. Effectively, this means that once someone gains entry to mainland Europe, they can travel freely and relatively anonymously. With enhanced fears of terrorism after the Paris attacks, this is now a security concern.
The current refugee crisis in Europe has also been a prompt for nations to beef up border security. More than a million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe via land and sea in 2015, many of them fleeing the civil war in Syria. The majority of refugees have landed in Greece and Italy, and many have then been able to travel north to settle in countries like Germany and Sweden. Enhanced passport controls will allow national governments to monitor and control the influx of refugees.
What does this mean for US citizens traveling to Europe?
If you’re planning a trip to Europe in 2016, these changes are likely to be no more than a minor inconvenience. You will already need to have your valid US Passport Book with you to board your flight to Europe, so you will have all the documentation you need to cross between nations. We recommend that you allow yourself a bit more time to board international trains, as you may need to cross through passport control at the train station. If you will drive between countries, keep your passport handy so you can easily access it if your route includes a border checkpoint. You will also need to ensure that you have several blank passport pages for entry stamps. But this is also a silver lining… if you like to collect stamps in your passport to remind you of your travels, you may come home from Europe with a few free souvenirs!