What are de facto travel documents?

De facto travel documents are documents which are adequate to cross borders lawfully as well as to reside in a country, but which have no legal status as a travel document. This is often the case in free movement areas. In order to prove their citizenship, citizens of countries which are part of a free movement area must show some form of identification. In this case a driving license is often used as a de facto travel document. Here are some concrete examples:



The Nordic Passport Union is the first regional passport union. The Protocol regarding the elimination of passports for travel between Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway of 1952 gave rise to a common labor market and free movement for Nordic countries’ citizens. This was further achieved in 1954 with the Protocol about the exemption of nationals of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden from the obligation to have a passport or residence permit while residing in a Nordic country other than their own. Citizens of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden can enter a Nordic Union country without a passport or other travel documentation and do not need any residency permit if they want to stay. Currently, the Nordic Passport Union is disrupted by temporary border controls introduced in 2015 due to the “migrant crisis”. These controls are scheduled to end by May 2019. Identity checks have been put in place in Norway in ports with ferry connections to Denmark and Sweden and in Sweden in ferry harbors and at the land border with Denmark. However, a Nordic driver’s license is still accepted instead on a passport.


Similarly, citizens from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) which includes Saint Lucia but also Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines can travel to another OECS country and stay there using only a driver’s license, a voter registration card or a social security card. In addition, a CARICOM passport has been created and is being issued to all Member States of the Caribbean Community as a travel document valid for travels in the whole Community but also internationally.


In 1982, within the framework of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) a Protocol of Free Movement of people and rights to residence and establishment was signed. Article 2 of the Protocol allows all citizens from the ECOWAS countries to enter and stay in another ECOWAS country which has led to significant mobility within the region. According to the Protocol, citizens from the sub region do not need an entry visa but must submit a request for a residency permit if they decide to remain in the country. Indeed, the Protocol does not provide for a right to permanent residence, which is regulated by national law. Additional Protocol A/SP.1/7/86 on the second phase (right of residence) of the Protocol of Free Movement has not been ratified by all ECOWAS Member States which have also not all adopted the ECOWAS travel certificate, the ECOWAS passport nor have they harmonized the immigration and emigration form for the ECOWAS Member States. The ECOWAS travel certificate is a travel document issued to ECOWAS citizens valid to travel only within the region and it can replace a national passport. The ECOWAS travel certificate can also be used as an identity document. Similarly, the ECOWAS passport is a recognized travel document for inter-regional travels.


Author: Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser

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