How Eurail Passes Work

European Train
European Spring by Train. Courtesy Rail Europe

Cost-effective and efficient, Eurail passes provide train travelers access to up to 33 European countries. Passes are bought for a specific length of time, such as one month, and a specific number of Eurail travel days therein, like three days in one month.

Eurail passes are particularly useful if you're going to be traveling around more than one or two European countries because Eurail passes may save money over single Europe train tickets.

Eurail Passes 101

Only non-European residents can travel around the continent with a Eurail pass. (European residents can use the Interrail Pass instead.) You'll want to purchase your pass online before you depart for Europe, as passes are inconsistently available at train stations in Europe, and can be more expensive.

Eurail passes are convenient, too. Once you're in Europe you can hop on a train anytime to anywhere in Europe that is covered by your pass.

Buying Eurail Passes

You can't buy the same Eurail passes in Europe that you can in the U.S., so booking in advance makes the most sense. Simply head to the Eurail website to buy. 

After you buy your Eurail pass online, it'll be delivered to you by UPS, FedEx, or similar, and you'll be able to track its progress to your house.

Once you've received your pass, take good care of it and treat it like you would your passport. You don't want to forget or lose your pass. 

Choosing The Right Eurail Pass For You

Decide how many European countries you're visiting before you buy a pass, and that will help you narrow down which option is right for you.

  • More than two countries? Buy a single country pass covering both countries. Plenty of those to choose from.
  • Traveling to three-five countries? Buy a Selectpass.
  • Five+ countries? Buy a Global Youthpass covering 18 countries. ​
  • Want flexible travel days on the Global pass? Buy a Global Flexipass.

In 2017, the Eurail pass expanded to include the Eurostar train under the English Channel from London to Paris or Brussels. You'll need a seat reservation, which can be made up to 12 weeks in advance.

If you're aged between 12 and 25, you're in luck, because that means you qualify for a discount on your Eurail pass! These are referred to as student discounts, but you don't need to be a student in order to qualify—you just need to be younger than 26. These discounts work out to savings of several hundred dollars, depending on the pass you choose, so it's definitely worth cashing in on your young age. 

How to Use Your Eurail Pass

Before you start using your pass, it must be validated. A train station attendant will validate it at first use in Europe.

Validating Eurail passes means marking the date on which train travel begins on your pass. Eurail passes are purchased for specific time periods, like one month. So if you buy a one month pass, it's valid for one month from the date you first use it.

If you've never been on a train in Europe before, don't fret—making reservations and buying tickets are generally straightforward and stress-free. If you're traveling outside of the heat of summer, you'll rarely need to buy tickets in advance, and can just turn up at the train station a few hours before the departure time and ask for a seat on the train. 

If you'll be opting for a night train however, you'll want to make a reservation in advance, as getting a flat bed to sleep on rather than sitting upright for the duration of the journey makes all the difference. In that case, you can make your reservation online with your Eurail pass, or buy a ticket from the train station several days in advance. Reservations will usually cost $3. 

Eurail Travel Days and European Night Trains

A day on a pass is usually one 24-hour period. Travel commencing within that 24-hour period uses up one day on your pass, although some night train routes exist. Eurail passes come with the option to choose a number of travel days.

Three days on a pass means three 24-hour travel periods (usually) commencing at midnight, not three train trips, so be sure to read the fine print when buying your ticket.

If you board a train before 7 p.m. that does not stop until after midnight, you're still on one travel day. If you board a train before 7 p.m. for a train trip that may cause you to travel all night, but change trains before midnight even though you will still be traveling after midnight, you will use two of the days on your Eurail pass. Specific "overnight" train routes do exist, though.

Is Train Travel in Europe Safe?

Use the same common sense on a European train that you do while traveling anywhere, which is to say the same safety precautions you take at home, and you won't run into problems.

​Remember to never, ever leave your backpack on the train while you're out of the car, especially if a stranger is gesturing for or asks you to come outside (it's probably a scam.) And try to keep your backpack within sight at all times while you're on the train. Thefts are rare, but it's better to be safe than sorry. 

This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff