Traveling to the EU with special passports or other documents

The ordinary passport is a valid travel document that allows travelers from other countries who are not members of the EU to cross an external border. A visa might be required, depending on the country of origin and the length of stay. An ordinary passport is the most common type issued to individual citizens.

European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS)

By the end of 2022, travelers from visa-exempt countries will need to apply for European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) to enter the Schengen area. The purpose of this system is to gather information from international travelers. The data gathered will be used by immigration services to stop potential threats to the EU countries. It will give the traveler a better and secure travel experience in the Schengen area.

Types of passports and travel documents that can be used to enter Europe

Diplomatic Passport

A diplomatic passport is a special passport issued to diplomats of a country and their immediate family for official international travel that allows them certain privileges and to travel to Europe for official purposes only. There is no singular EU policy on diplomatic passports so it is always best to check with the embassy or consulate of the country one wishes to enter.

Diplomatic passport holders who are not required to obtain a visa for Europe will not need to apply for ETIAS when entering the Schengen area to conduct official duties. However, diplomats visiting Europe for tourism and non-official purposes should apply for ETIAS using an ordinary passport.

Seafarer’s Identity Document

The Seafarer’s Identity Document also known as a Seaman’s Book or Seaman’s card is a special document issued to sea crew members. Sea crew on vessels out at sea for many months rely on shore leave to access port facilities and receive medical treatment. Seafarers may also need to go ashore to leave and join ships.

The seaman’s book allows sea crew to enter many countries without a visa when on duty.  However, there is no uniform policy for the Schengen visa requirement and sea crew must confirm with EU country they will be calling at.

International law requires that sea crew are subject to limited entry requirements. Nations must facilitate maritime traffic, which includes the fast transfer of personnel. Therefore, it is likely that sea crew will be exempt from ETIAS.

Emergency passports

An emergency passport is issued to individuals whose passport has been lost, stolen, or damaged while abroad and do not have enough time to apply for a new passport before their flight home. It is a temporary passport and usually valid for less than three months as it is intended only for the holder to be able to return to his home country. It is therefore not valid for travel or tourism to the EU that requires at least three months from the date of departure from EU or for visa-free travel in Europe.

Emergency passports do not have the electronic chip and therefore does not qualify as a biometric passport which is required to apply for ETIAS.

Other accepted documents to travel to Europe that allow the holder to cross an external EU border and be issued a visa.

  1. Special Administrative Region (SAR) Passports

A special administrative region (SAR) is a territory that falls under the jurisdiction of one country but with separate judicial, legal, administrative systems from the rest of the country. Hongkong and Macau fall under this category.

  1. Travel documents for stateless persons

  2. Travel documents for refugees and asylum seekers

  3. Laissez-passer

Laissez-passer is a permit and valid travel document.  These are usually issued to officials of the United Nations or related entity or of a Specialized Agency.

  1. Crew member passports

  2. Military passports

  3. Collective passports

A collective or group passport is a way for an organized group of young people to make a trip to certain European countries.

There is no singular EU policy regarding these documents so it is always best to check with the embassy or consulate of the country one wishes to enter.

Travel documents that are not accepted by the European Union

Expired passports cannot be used to travel to Europe. A passport valid for at least six months is required by most countries.

Fantasy passports are documents issued by minorities, sects, and population groups, or ID provided by private organizations. Some examples of fantasy passports are:

  • ‘Cornish passport’
  • ‘Dukedom of New Sealand’
  • ‘Free State of California’
  • ‘Parliamentary passport’
  • ‘World Passport/World Service Authority Passport’

Camouflage passports are passports of old states that no longer exist. Some examples of camouflage passports are:

  • Burma/Birma (now Myanmar)
  • Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
  • Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia)
  • Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
  • Spanish Guiana (now Equatorial Guinea)

There are three territories that are not recognized internationally and therefore travel documents will not be accepted to cross the EU border:

  • Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
  • Saharwei, Arab Democratic Republic
  • Temporary Government of Serbia at Kosovo

The European Commission provides a full list of all the kinds of travel documents that are not accepted by the EU that travelers can consult.