To inform current and future vaccination strategies, we describe the seroepidemiology of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in ten representative European countries using standardized serology that allowed international comparisons. Between 1996 and 2003, national serum banks were compiled by collecting residual sera or by community sampling; sera were then tested by each country using its preferred enzyme immunoassays and testing algorithm, and assay results were standardized. Information on current and past HBV vaccination programmes in each country was also collected. Of the ten countries, six reported low levels (<3%) of antibodies against HBV core antigen (anti-HBc). Of the eight countries testing for HBV surface antigen (HBsAg), the highest prevalence was reported in Romania (5·6%) and in the remaining seven countries prevalence was <1%. Universal HBV vaccination programmes had been established in seven countries as recommended by the World Health Organization, but the seroprevalence of antibodies against HBsAg (anti-HBs) was lower than the reported vaccine coverage in three countries. Regular serological surveys to ascertain HBV status within a population, such as reported here, provide important data to assess the need for and to evaluate universal HBV vaccination programmes.