Know Before You Go

Germany, Austria, Switzerland: A Travel Guide for North Americans

Before you leave the familiar shores of the US or Canada for Europe, there are some things you need to know about and prepare for. You probably have a passport already, but do you need a visa? If you’re taking a pet dog or cat to Germany or any EU country, what are the rabies vaccination requirements? How much alcohol can you take to Europe, or bring back? And when you return, what can you legally bring back without having to pay duties?

Austrian Airlines 767

An Austrian Airlines Boeing 767 at Vienna International Airport.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Here is a summary of some of the key things you need to take care of prior to departure. If you need more detailed information, you’ll find useful links to various government sites realted to travel overseas.

Passport Required
For travel to Europe, you need a valid US or Canadian passport, but no visa is required for stays of 90 days or less. If you will be staying longer, you can apply for a visa (residence/work permit) after you arrive. (See our residence visa page for details.) In any case, your passport’s expiration date should be at least six weeks past the date you plan to return home. No special vaccinations or shots are required, but it is wise to have your DTP booster shots updated.

Customs and Security Requirement
Before you pack your suitcases, make sure you know the latest security requirements and what you can have in your carry-on bag or not. It is also wise to know what US or Canadian Customs advises travelers.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provide brochures and online information about customs duites, pet vaccinations, money limits, alcohol limits and other matters. If you will be living abroad for an extended period, the US State Department has a helpful website for students abroad with tips on residing in a foreign country. Our site will tell you what you need to know about residing in a German-speaking country, but sometimes you need other, additional information.

Taking Pets into the EU
Pet dogs, cats and ferrets must be identified with an approved microchip. Microchip implantation must occur prior to rabies vaccination. See Taking Dogs and Cats to Germany for more.

Flying to Europe
Americans and Canadians can reach Europe by air in 6 to 11 hours, depending on where they’re flying from. We have a helpful guide on how to cope with jet lag and other rigors of air travel. There are direct flights to Europe and all of the German-speaking countries from most major airports in North America.

Flights to Germany
Most flights from North America to Germany land in Frankfurt am Main, but some direct flights are also available from US and Canadian cities to Berlin, Munich, or Düsseldorf. In any case, Frankfurt and Munich are major air hubs from which you can fly to many destinations in Germany or other parts of Europe.

More about flying to or from Germany, Austria or Switzerland: Air Travel

Once You’re There
Once in Europe, it is easy to travel around Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other European lands by air, train, or rental car. Tour groups often use modern, comfortable buses. River and Baltic cruises are also available for independent travelers or groups. Germany, Austria and Switzerland all feature a wonderful variety of landscapes and scenery ranging from sandy coasts to Alpine mountains. Wherever you go, there is history, architecture, and local culture to delight any traveler. Almost every town or city in Germany features interesting castles, palaces, churches, museums, and other historic attractions.

Germany also offers many culinary delights. You can enjoy good food and wine, as well as a full range of famous German beers in all regions of Germany. Germans also enjoy an excellent selection of coffees and teas. Whether you prefer a Black Forest cherry cake (Kirschtorte) or some Bavarian Apfelstrudel, Germany’s deserts can please any palate.

Obviously, when traveling to Germany, Austria or German Switzerland, it helps to know at least a little German. But many Germans, especially in tourist areas, speak English.

Accommodations in Germany range from luxury hotels to modest pensions or B&Bs — often at rates that are far better than in many other European countries. You can learn more on our Hotels and B&Bs page.

Coming Back
Before you return to North America, you need to know what you are allowed to bring back and what is prohibited. On your flight back to the US or Canada, you’ll need to fill out a form listing the goods and items you are bringing with you. If you know the rules, you can avoid paying customs duties.

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