Required Travel Documents for Your First Trip to Europe
Revised April 2019
You need your passport to leave the US.
If you don't have a passport, the process begins with finding your birth certificate, the key document to getting your passport. You can get your birth certificate through the health department in the state, province, or county where you were born or online through companies that charge an additional fee.
Start the process of getting your passport by visiting the appropriate website with explanations of the things you need for a passport. US travelers can get the details at the US State Department website. Canadian travellers can find travel restrictions from the Canadian government's passport website. If you are a Mexican citizen, your passport and visa requirements are explained at the Mexican Consultate's website.
If You Already Have a Passport
Verify that it is still valid and will be valid throughout the length of your trip to Europe and for an additional 90 days. Unless you know for certain that the passport is valid, don't book a non-refundable ticket until you have double-checked the expiration date of your passport. There are plenty of travelers who can tell you they booked their tickets because they had a passport but couldn't find it when they went looking for it, or found it only to realize it had or was about to expire.
There are a number of companies that will expedite the passport application process for you if you need one quickly but they charge for the service and you could save those dollars for your trip if you start the planning process early.
Once you have an idea where you are going, you should investigate whether you need a visa for the trip as well. Again, a summary of this material is available through the national department that issues passports. US travelers can get the details at the US State Department website. Canadian travellers can find visa information from the Canadian government's website and Mexican citizens will find visa requirements at the Mexican Consultate's website.
You are most likely to need a visa, which is permission issued by the country you are visiting for you to stay in their country, if you are going to that country to work, or study, or to stay for more than 90 days. It is the way a country keeps track of who is visiting their country and critical, if you are traveling on a visa, that you follow the steps and limitations they place on you in the visa. If you work without an authorizing visa or stay for longer than 90 day out of 180, you are likely to be deported and may lose the right to visit Europe again.
To find the most up to date information about the need for visas on a trip to Europe, you should get the information directly from the government of the country you are seeking to enter, or in the case of many western European countries, you can get the information from the European Union. Here are links to the most frequently visited countries in Europe.
The rules for working abroad are fairly strict. In some nations, if you work without the correct documentation, you will be denied the right to work legally. So be certain to follow the steps to get a valid work visa before you start collecting wages.
Documents for Children
It is important to note that there are specific rules for passports and visas for children. The essense of the rules are to prevent parents from taking children abroad during a custody dispute and generally require consent from both parents. Both passport issuing nations and countries of entry tend to have those requirements.
The U.S. State Department provides general information about the type of passport on a State Department Link for Children's Passports