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Passport Safety

so......we are going to France/Switzerland for 3 weeks with our children. I am wondering, do we carry our passports at all times? we have a few hotels and a few apartment rentals along the way. are these items safe to leave in the hotel/apartment - I am thinking not - but wondering if it is also smart to always have them on our person?

appreciate your insight and advice.

Posted by
1131 posts

Personally I do not. I keep it either in the hotel safe or in my suitcase at an apartment rental. I do carry my driver's license as a form of ID incase I am asked for an ID or need it to rent an audio system at a museum. Sometimes the museums ask to hold onto an ID to ensure you return the device. I have been to France, UK, Germany, Austria, CR, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and parts of the Middle East and have never, as of today, been asked for or had to present my passport while I was out and about.

Posted by
21875 posts

The fact that you have not been asked to show the passport means nothing. In 20 years we have had to produce the passport twice for spot checks - once in France and once in Turkey. I have no idea if the heavily armed solider with a black face mask would have been happy if I showed him my driver's license or copy of my passport. He didn't seem to have a lot of patience at that moment.

This is always the question - is it better to have your passport and not need it or to need it and not have it. I prefer to error on having it. Personally, for us, it is not a big deal to constantly carry the passport. It is the only acceptable form of ID for a tourist and proves that I am legally in the country. But make your own choice.

This is a frequently discussed subject along with white tennis shoes. Here are 47 responses to the same question last week ---- (and there are hundreds more - just use the search box) -----

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tourist-scams/travel-with-passport-or-leave-in-hotel

Posted by
56 posts

thank you for the responses and the link to a similar discussion. I should have searched this topic before posting. apologies for the repetition. many thanks.

Posted by
21875 posts

No apology necessary. It is just that many of the same questions get asked over and over. And we try to answer them over and over.

Posted by
6734 posts

You choose your risk. I carried our passports in a money belt in Russia because I thought the consequences of not having it were potentially nervous making. IN western Europe I keep it in the hotel safe or apartment and carry other picture ID as well as a copy. I have traveled in Europe since 1960 and have never been asked for 'my papers' ever except at obviously predictable spots like banks, phone companies and borders. Even VAT at the shop is easily done with a copy, all they need is the number. I have had business at the American Embassy in Paris and been surrounded by semi-hysterical people who have missed flights or have had their trips disrupted because their passport was lost or stolen. That to me is a bigger risk than not having it on me. If I were a black young man, I might calculate the risks differently than as a white old lady. If you do decide to carry it around everywhere you go, then I would recommend a money belt worn under your clothing and not putting it in a purse or pocket.

Posted by
518 posts

If you do decide to carry it on you at all times, make sure it's in a very secure place and hidden from sight, like a money belt or neck wallet.

Posted by
11450 posts

frank.. you have brought up your experience before about being asked for passports.. but you haven't filled us in with details.. I have never seen heavily armed masked soliders wandering around main parts of any tourist popular city in western Europe yet.. I have seen police, I have seen them armed.. but you seem to be describing something quite a bit different..

We never carry it around all day.. and I have hundreds of visiting days under my belt. I do carry it if we are out of town on a daytrip, just in case for some bizarre reason we need to stay a night somewhere.
We leave them in hotel safes.. or when we rent an apartment we just leave them there.. we don't even hide them usually.. maybe just tuck them in a bedside drawer. We do stay in places that seem to have very good security.. often 2 doors with codes before you even get to door of apartment. If I felt I was staying in a sketchy area I would just bring it along then , but haven't had that experience yet.

If you do bring them.. I would tuck them into a moneybelt worn under clothes. I do not access my moneybelt in public.. ever.

Posted by
56 posts

...a side question....do most money belts hold more than one passport.....I have four that I need to carry around or my husband and I each need to carry two.....

Posted by
518 posts

Well, it depends, four passports would definitely fit in one money belt, but you'll have a tough time getting your pants around it, unless you wear really loose pants. Two would be a better fit.

Posted by
21329 posts

Sizes vary. I think mine is an old Eagle Creek, and it is pretty much full with my passport (which has the extra pages, so bulky), my laminated driver's license and a couple of credit cards. It's not uncomfortable, but adding much extra would definitely increase the likelihood of telltale bulges under my clothes.

Posted by
3659 posts

Frank's second paragraph says it as well as anyone can say it. To paraphrase, it is better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. It is not a big deal to carry it. In many countries one is required carry it and it may be the only acceptable form of ID to prove one is in the country legally. For us, carrying it is just what one does.

Posted by
518 posts

Agreed, if you keep it in your money belt (and you actually wear your money belt on you), it's "near" impossible for you to lose it or have it pick-pocketed. Plus, it doesn't cost you anything to carry it in your money belt so the cost to benefit ratio is in your favor. I have yet to hear any stories of someone being mugged out on the streets and being specifically asked to hand over their money belt or having their money belt targeted and forcibly removed by a mugger. If this has actually happened to someone, I'd rally like to know. I'll just started wearing an ankle wallet and put it there.

Posted by
21875 posts

Pat, we were in large plaza in France filled with tourists, locals, baby strollers, dogs, etc, maybe a couple of hundred. We had just enter from one side intending to cross to the other side when we became aware of a large amount of noise, confusion, shrill whistles, and heavily armed, soldiers with black face masks running toward us. There was a half dozen military transports in the street with soldiers jumping out of the back of the last two or three. Look liked a flying wedge of troops down the middle separated the people into two groups and forcing them back against the buildings surrounding the plaza. In a matter of a couple of minutes they had two large of people surrounded and pinned about the store fronts. They were shouting something in French but we noticed that people were pulling out passports, showing them to about every four or fifth soldier on the perimeter and they were then being allowed to pass through the line. We did the same, he looked at the passport picture, then at us, and then said, I think, sorti, sorti. We got the hell out of there. Don't know what was going on, but everyone else was in hurry to leave and we just followed - quickly. And never looked back.

The other time was more recently in Turkey, on a private tour in a small van with six people, tour guide, and driver. We were on rural road with we ran into a road block. It was unexpected and the tour guide seem a little concerned and surprised. The tour guide spoke with one of the officers, came back to the van, and announced that we should exit as they wanted to see our passports. We exited, handed them our passport one by one, they checked the passport and the required visa stamp for Turkey and we left. Later the tour guide said it was just a random road block.

Just remember a third time a couple of years ago. We were on the DBahn bus to Prague from Nuremberg. We were still in Germany when a squad car with flashing lights directed the bus into a rest area off of the express way. A second van with more police officers followed the bus off the road. It was announced that this was a routine passport check. Two officers came on the lower level checking the first class passengers and a couple went upstairs for the second class. They removed an individual from the upper level and we left after about 20 minutes delay.

The point is - it is possible to be checked. Maybe your driver license or color copy of your passport will work for you but I like having my passport handy.

Posted by
4698 posts

I have lived in Europe for 10 years. Traveled just about everywhere. I have never had to show a passport to an authority, ever. I always leave my passport at the hotel/apartment.

Posted by
13026 posts

Better to have it on you nowadays. Last June when crossing from Austria to Germany en route to Munich, the DB controller got on, announced in English "tickets, passports, visa." The Chinese kid behind me sitting with his girl friend exclaimed, "visa?" Obviously, they had theirs since they were speaking Mandarin before that. After them I was next to be checked. Seeing the outside of my US passport, the controller just waved to indicate that I didn't need to open it.

Posted by
4698 posts

But Fred, obviously when you are traveling to another city with all of your things, you will have your passport on you anyway, right? I think the OP is asking about leaving passports in a hotel vs. in a belly pouch during the day.

Posted by
11450 posts

I find my moneybelt super annoying when I have to go to the bathroom.. I always worry the clip will give way and my passport may drop.

PS.. cant remember who.. but someone mentioned an ankle wallet.. do be aware that there is a trick where a fuss is made.. someone falls to the ground.. and then they pick your ankle wallet, I remember reading about it happening on a crowded metro in Paris to a man.

Posted by
518 posts

Hmmm, for someone to:

  1. lift up my pant leg
  2. pull my sock down
  3. pull up the velcro flap on my ankle wallet and then unzip it, while holding up my pant leg and holding down my sock

I would hope that I can both see and feel something like this happening. I don't care how good of a thief the person is, that just simply isn't going to be a successful pick-pocketing. Plus, they'd have to know that I have an ankle wallet on to begin with, which, unlike a money belt or neck wallet, it really is literally impossible to tell. Although, having used money belts, ankle wallets, and neck wallets, I've finally decided that the neck wallet works best for me.

Posted by
518 posts

"They are annoying, they make you sweat, they are bulky, cause rashes or scratches, often damage or bend your passport and are generally useless since they are difficult to access."

Actually, I've worn them many times and never ever had discomfort issues, or any other negative issues. I think the comfort issue varies with everyone, depending on many factors, including choice of clothing, physical build, etc. As a friend I once traveled with said, he didn't like it because he said his belly kept overlapping the money belt and that made it uncomfortable.

Posted by
13026 posts

I can see that they can be annoying, discomforting, (not for me though) ie, a nuisance, but what would you rather have,,,,to be there when it's needed or be caught without it by the authorities. Then I can expect to be chewed out with or without the civilities and not in English.

Posted by
6734 posts

Fred, I have traveled in Europe since 1960 and in recent years for 3 mos at a time and yet never once have I needed to show these scary 'authorities' my papers on some sort of random search. Not going to worry about it. I figure if I am being braced for my papers, the least of my worries is that it is in the hotel safe.

I always wear the money belt in back below the waist which is easy to do with a skirt and with most pants especially in cooler weather. A loose shirt worn like a jacket or a jacket hides any possible bump although unless unusually stuffed it doesn't show under these clothes. If wearing low slung jeans and a t shirt -- it wouldn't be so easy. While not agonizing to wear, I don't want to have it on every day for a couple of months. The ones worn in front are ugly and uncomfortable IMHO. And I don't want a bag hanging around my neck; those are visible and vulnerable as well as uncomfortable.

Posted by
13731 posts

Neither my husband nor myself have been able to tolerate moneybelts. We tried: they didn't even make it out of the house. A small amount of cash goes into our pockets, and a CC card and some extra $$ go into small cloth pouches pinned to the inside of our waistbands: invisible, comfortable and no fuss to discretely get to if we need to.

The passports/bulk cash/extra cards stay in the hotel safe, and go into a pacsafe bag when we transfer cities/countries.

Posted by
518 posts

Speaking of ID, we all know that here in the States you don't leave the house without some form of ID and around here, that's usually your drivers license (unless you really don't drive then you'd just have the state issued ID card). In other words, you know you always need to have some ID on you. I would imagine that while traveling the same holds true, if not more so. If you choose to leave your passport at the hotel (for all of the reasons mentioned here and beyond), what form of ID would you carry instead, your drivers license? Is your drivers license suitable ID while abroad?

Posted by
2931 posts

The passport card is an option for US citizens who want to have nationally-issued ID on them without carrying around a passport. Though it will not prove immigration status (no entry stamp), it is nationally-issued government ID and proves the holder’s identity and citizenship.

Posted by
4624 posts

I wear my passport all of the time, along with an ATM card and larger bills, in my money belt. I only carry a small cross-body purse about half the time, if I need to have access to a metro ticket or camera, etc. Otherwise, I like to be hands free. Years of wearing a money belt in Europe gives me the security that my money and ID are safe, and I can really relax and enjoy the trip. To answer one of your follow-on questions, my husband and I have put both of our passports together in one RS money belt.

Posted by
317 posts

An interesting discussion… and chance to see different people's levels of comfort. We use the hotel safe regularly, and carry copies of the passports with us.

A note for families sending students on study abroad experiences: When I went with my daughter's school on Italy trip, all students were given a nylon money belt as one of the perks of the tour package. I used one too, as it was lightweight. Imagine my horror to go into a restroom stall to retrieve something, and realize that the passport had cut its way through the bottom of the pouch! A few more steps and I likely would have lost everything out of the bottom of the pouch. Since I was wearing a skirt, and preferred to have that money belt at my back rather than in front, this was a near disaster! I am very glad I didn't leave a trail of my belongings in Florence! We made sure to tell all the kids to check if their money pouch was holding up to the rigors of our trip!

Now I'm a fan of a sturdier money belt for travel until we get to the hotel, and then I'm happy to surrender that bulk ( along with our passports ) to the hotel safe and switch to other ways to carry things safely and easily.

Laurie

Posted by
351 posts

I did carry the passports for my children, but I also always made sure that they were carrying emergency information with my name and phone number, another emergency contact and where we were staying (in fact, they had the full itinerary of our trip with dates and each place we were staying on them for the entire trip, as well as a photocopy of their passport.) It was never needed, but seems like a good idea. You can judge for yourself from reading these posts whether you want to carry your passport every day. I generally have mine on me unless I am doing something like swimming. The passports will be safe in the hotel unless you hide them somewhere and forget them when you check out - know someone who did this and even they eventually got it back, at some expense and inconvenience.