The Vatican City is one of Italy’s most famous tourist attractions, visited by over 4 million people every year. You may not believe that it’s not even part of Italy at all. As the smallest independent state in the world, the Vatican City is home to the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and a world-renowned collection of art. You may be wondering, do you need a passport to go to Vatican City? In this guide, we will give you the full scoop.
Vatican City Facts
- How big is Vatican City? 109 acres (less than a square mile)
- How old is Vatican City? About 1,700 years
- Vatican City population: 1,000 people
What is the Vatican City?
The Vatican City is the smallest independently recognized state in the world. It covers just 44 hectares of land. Vatican City has a population of around 1,000, mainly people who are associated with the church in some capacity.
In many ways, it runs just like any other country; it has its own telephone system (and country code), radio station, a banking system, and even an astronomical observatory. In fact, the Vatican post office is recognized as one of the world’s best postal services, with many Romans choosing to post their letters there instead of using the arguably less reliable Poste Italiane.
Why is the Vatican Considered its Own Country?
The Vatican area of Rome has been a special site for the Church since a basilica was constructed on what was thought to be St. Peter’s grave in the 4th century. The Vatican walls were originally built in the 8th century, with modifications being made up until the 1600s. Up until 1870, popes also owned various regional territories across Italy including most of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Romagna.
When Italy became a unified state, these lands were seized, apart from those within the Vatican City walls. After a 60-year standoff between the Italian government and the pope, during which time Pope Pius IX refused to leave the city walls, the Lateran Pacts were signed by Benito Mussolini in February 1929. This agreement gave the Vatican the right to exist as its own sovereign state and offered the church $92 million for the land that was seized.
Is the Vatican City an Absolute Monarchy?
The Vatican City is an absolute monarchy, with the pope as its sovereign head. The pope has absolute power over all processes, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government. These function in the same way as many others across the world, but lack one fairly important power: taxation. For this reason, the state’s money largely comes from the Vatican Museums’ admission fees and stamp and souvenir sales.
The Vatican mints its own coins, with Vatican euros being legal tender in the Vatican, Italy and throughout the Eurozone, so keep an eye out for any coins with the pope’s face on. The Vatican even has its own army, the Swiss Guard, who have been protecting the pope for the last 510 years. Requirements to join the Swiss Guard are pretty strict: you must be a single Catholic male with Swiss citizenship!
So, do you need a passport to go to Vatican City?
In short, no. The Vatican City has no airport and no sea borders, so the only way to enter is from Italy. The Vatican has an open-border policy with Italy (quite literally – it’s almost impossible to tell exactly where one ends and the other begins!) meaning that if you have a visa or the right to enter Italy, you can enter the Vatican City too.
This means that getting in is easy; just walk into St. Peter’s Square and you will have left Italy and entered the Vatican. Similarly, getting inside the walls to see the Vatican Museums is really no different than visiting any other attraction. Unless you book a tour or a skip the line ticket, the wait might be considerably longer.
Citizens of Vatican City
Although no one is actually born inside the Vatican City because there are no hospitals, there are Vatican citizens and passport holders. Citizenship of the Vatican City is given on the grounds of appointment to work in a certain capacity in the service of the Holy See, and is usually taken away if employment ends. Citizenship is also extended to the immediate family of the citizen if they live under the same roof.
Does Anyone Hold a Vatican City Passport?
The term “Vatican passport” can mean either a passport issued by the Holy See or one issued by Vatican City State, and there are roughly 1,000 of these. The Holy See is the universal government of the Catholic Church, and the Vatican as the state is distinct from this, although it remains under the Holy See’s “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction.” For this reason, the Vatican City issues normal passports for its citizens, and the Holy See issues personal, diplomatic and service passports. So, now you know, if you really don’t want to leave after your trip to Italy, you can always get a job with the church and become a Vatican citizen!
Hey, we sell tours too!
While the information we provide for you is free, we also sell tours at very reasonable prices. If you’re reading this blog, you’re clearly dreaming of a trip to Vatican City. Check out our skip the line Vatican tours to make the most of your experience.
I Want More Italy!
- Check out our YouTube video and step-by-step guide about how to visit the Vatican. If you’d rather let us guide you, check out our Vatican tours.
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