Going back in various mythologies is the idea that supernatural beings — such as vampires, ghosts, demons, witches, what have you — cannot enter into a home unless invited to do so. Often such beings will try to gain entrance by tricking a person into believing they are someone else.
This trope is very old although, oddly enough, its application to vampires begins with Bram Stoker— Varney and Lord Ruthven, for example, never had this problem. More often than not the original conceptions of these mythical creatures are identifiable by this trope. Other creatures strongly associated with it are Ghosts, Demons, and The Fair Folk.
Traditionally, this trope applied to mythical creatures in general, as well as vampires. But there's a load of things that are supposed to invite them in, like putting new shoes on the table, or bringing white hawthorn into the house. Now you know.
For any story that examines the trope in detail, expect to see vampires dealing with common buildings where the public is invited, invitations are explicit or implied, and the concept of revocation of invitation to be played with. A particularly common gag involves the implications of putting a "Welcome" mat outside your door.
Related to Sacred Hospitality, which also treats the etiquette of hospitality as Serious Business.
Reiri required an invitation to enter Hime's home, but was free to enter at will once that invitation was given. This trope also came to bite Duke Kinski in the butt, when he seeks to replenish his supply of Royal Blood using Hime's corpse, only to find out that she's alive and well, and denying him entry to her home.
This trope is almost exaggerated later on, when Riza and Hiro enter a long-abandoned shack, and still need to invite Reiri inside.
In Shiki, vampires are subjected to this limitation. Unfortunately, they can Mind Control a victim they have already bitten once.
This showed up in a Generation X Annual, when Dracula gained entry to the school. In fact, each individual room required its own separate invite, as each was the domain of whoever lived in that room. However, it didn't do the Gen Xers much good, since their first response to a knock at the door was to say, "Come in."
Let the Right One In. The title pretty much gives it away. When Oskar finally gets Eli to tell him what happens if she tries to enter a place uninvited, she finally demonstrates by stepping inside. Ten or so seconds later, she begins bleeding from every orifice.
In the 2011 remake, the Brewsters take shelter in their house, thinking this rule will save them, only for Jerry the vampire to rip the gaslines out and ignite them.
Jerry: Don't need an invitation if there's no house.
That's not the only time Jerry abuses a loophole. Apparently simply opening the door for a deliveryman can count as an "invitation" and if a building is abandoned it's fair game.
In the second Poltergeist film, Reverend Kane The Beast continually asks, until he is demanding, to be let in the front door. He tried to mentally manipulate Steven to open the door, but makes no effort to open it himself.
The Lost Boys: This is a plot point, revealing the identity of the real head vampire.
Occurs in Habit, when the protagonist brings his girlfriend back to his apartment for the first time.
The Lair of the White Worm: This rule seemingly works both ways. Lady Marsh also invites people into her home in order to kill them.
In Nosferatu, it's implied that Ellen had to open the window to invite Orlok in for her sacrificial ploy.
In the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, during the final assault on the school dance by the vampire hoard, Buffy tells the students they will be safe because the vampires cannot come in uninvited. Her friend then sheepishly mentions that they were already invited - they had all been seniors at the school, and so had received invitations to the dance.
Stoker gives an example that doesn't involve vampires in which Charlie asks India's permission to stay with the family. The entire film plays out like a vampire film without the vampires, as noted here.
Not made totally obvious in Byzantium. Clara & Eleanor wait for invitations when entering any residence, but there is no discussion as to whether they can enter or not if they don't get one. When Clara tries to kill Frank, she demands to be invited in or that he should come outside. She's stopped from going any further by the phone call hijacked by Savella.
Also Inverted: The Count is apparently forbidden from doing anything that could be construed as forcing Jonathan Harker to enter his castle or forbidding him from leaving, so stays firmly behind the threshold until he chooses to "Enter freely and of your own will," and when Jonathan insists on leaving, Dracula is quite willing to open the gates, but when Jonathan hears the wolves outside, he asks Dracula to close the doors again. Or Dracula could've just been a dick on a power trip.
Another possibility is that since it's ambiguous whether Dracula (at this early stage of the book) is genuinely Affably Evil or Faux Affably Evil, his invitation might be some form of courtesy that modern readers don't get; while his famous invitation may stand out a lot nowadays, Jonathan does not seem to think there is anything strange about it.
It's possible that Dracula doesn't realise that humans are not bound by similar rules about invitations; Van Helsing talks at some length about how Dracula is ignorant about the full extent of his own abilities (something which never seems to make it into the films), so maybe Dracula thought Jonathan required an invitation just like he would.
Dracula's invitation to Jonathan is never brought up again, not even in the form of Jonathan lamenting the irony that he willingly entered the castle, so it might not have been intended to be particularly important. As noted in the intro, the idea that The Fair Folk etc. could not exercise their full power over humans without some kind of consent is Older Than Dirt, so maybe Stoker was deliberately trying to invoke this trope. Dracula has certain other traits normally associated with The Fair Folk, and it's apparent between this and other elements of subtext that the Dracula story is in at least some part an allegory of the relationship between empirical England and Ireland.
Dracula adaptations often maintain that Drac can only prey on those who are receptive to him, at least subconsciously, i.e. he can't drink your blood unless you secretly want him to. These adopt the metaphor of vampirism as sex in repressed Victorian Britain (something Stoker's Van Helsing laughed hard at).
Played completely straight in 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King. In fact, the converse is also true: at least one character drives a vampire out of his house by ordering it to leave and stating "I revoke my invitation." (With a brandished cross as backup, of course.)
Explored in the Artemis Fowl series, where the basic rule is that a fairy trying to enter a house uninvited becomes violently ill, and repeat offenders (such as Mulch Diggums) eventually lose their magical powers entirely. However, the inherent fuzziness of the rule (respectively, what exactly constitutes as an invitation), means there are many loopholes and borderline cases, which often leads to quibbling and word-mincing in-story. In fact, the first book mentions that this trope is enforced by bureaucratic ethics boards that review whether or not invitations are actually valid, and that may interpret the rules less or more restrictive depending on circumstances.
In the first book, Artemis tells Root, "None of your race have permission to enter here while I am alive." The fairies take this to mean they can enter when he's dead. Artemis knows this full well and purposely leaves the loophole as the final step in his Evil Plan.
In The Eternity Code, Artemis asks Corrupt Corporate Executive Jon Spiro if he thinks Artemis is going to swoop in with his fairy friends and take back the C Cube. Spiro laughs and says, "Bring all the fairy friends you want." Big mistake...
Later in The Eternity Code, Juliet gets Holly into a building by calling about public tours and asking, "Hey mister, can I bring my invisible friend?"
Holly once used a 'welcome' mat as a loophole.
A cry for help in an emergency counts as an invitation, though this worked only thanks to the ethics board, which was lenient because lives were at stake.
In one short story, Holly is able to enter a tent because, as a non permanent structure, it doesn't count.
The Fetchers from Keys to the Kingdom follow this trope. Though, none of the other denizens do, and apparently one doesn't need to OWN the house to invite a Fetcher inside... Monday's Dawn simply waltzed inside Arthur's house and invited his fetchers.
In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Greg thinks of this trope, and wonders if the same thing works for his weird neighbor kid. (The accompanying illustration of a vampire trying to trick its way into Greg's house by asking to borrow a cup of sugar would be a good page image.)
In Night Watch, this is one of the few traditional beliefs about the vampires that is actually true, most of the other being spread by vampires themselves to give targets a false sense of security. Moreover the invitation can be withdrawn by the host or renounced by the vampire, which is expected from them after a one-time visit unless the host extend it. The rule doesn't help human victims much though, since the vampires can use a sort of "siren song" to hypnotize their target into coming outside.
In The Dresden Files, there are two factors that determine whether supernatural creatures can enter. Buildings have a "Threshold" - the more a dwelling is a home rather than just a house, e.g. a well-loved home that has been part of the family for generations has a much stronger threshold than a second house that is rarely used by the bachelor owner. Thresholds are also temporarily weakened by the intrusion of strangers, even ordinary muggles, or being used as a business-place. The second is how magical the creature is. A wizard can enter any home without damage, but their magical abilities will be weakened while in there. Creatures like demons use bodies of magical ectoplasm to exist in the world and so trying to enter uninvited disrupts their magic, weakening their abilities much more than wizards, and can destroy their bodies entirely. The strength of the threshold determines how severe this effect is.
Dresden makes a point of asking for an invitation, not because of magical ramifications, but just because it's polite. (Rudolph the rookie cop snorts at that and calls him "Dracula".)
The threshold also oftentimes serves as a makeshift test against possible shapeshifters. In Summer Knight Dresden asked if he can enter Murphy's home and her response was simply, "I don't know, can you?" It works as a test because Murphy never officially invited Dresden in.
Carpe Jugulum: The trope appears as a plot point when Verence, king of Lancre, makes the mistake of sending an Uberwaldean noble family an official invitation to his daughter's christening. note This rule doesn't apply to all vampires on the Discworld.
Played with in Blindsight, along with other elements of vampire mythos. It's not like they are not able to enter the house without invitation — they just get an epileptic fit if they see a right angle, so wouldn't even bother.
In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, Mab warns Miranda and Theo that his magic circles will only keep out uninvited spirits, and so they must not speak at all. (Spirits have been known to take a liberal interpretation of what constitutes an invitation.)
In an early Anita Blake novel, Anita has decided she's had enough of Jean-Claude's manipulative crap, and revokes his invitation. Cue a mystical gust of wind blowing him out of her apartment and slamming the door behind him with all the ire that she would have used herself.
The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries: When Sookie Stackhouse gets ticked and revokes her boyfriend Bill's invitation into her house, it seems to put him under a compulsion to leave, as he "walked out with a sort of helpless look on his face."
Andre Le Brel, from Children of the Night, can enter public buildings freely but cannot enter Diana's apartment building (not just her apartment) until invited to come in. Once the invitation is given, though, he can break in at a later time to take shelter from the sun.
Played straight in Kitty Norville. Commercial buildings and public spaces are fair game, of course, but any place that is a "home", no matter how metaphorical of one it is, can block a vampire from entering. This leads to a rather funny moment when Rick, one of Kitty's friends, tries to walk through the door of the werewolf restaurant/bar, resulting in a "running into a glass door" moment. As he puts it, although the building is a business, the pack has made it a home as well. Kitty teases him by threatening to not let him in, but eventually does. It also applies even when the one who calls the place "home" is dead, it seems, since the fact Flint House is haunted prevents Roman from entering to come after Kitty and the Paradox PI crew.
In Devon Monk's Dead Iron, Mae explicitly refuses permission to enter her home, though the effect appears to be more her spells than the refusal.
Enchanted Glass: The Fair Folk (the book calls them "those who don't use iron") have to abide by this rule. One memorable example was when Andrew hears Stashe asking to be let into his office, and tells her to come in. She enters and says something along the lines of "Thank you. We need to be invited in, you know." It wasn't Stashe. Cue massive Oh Crap.
Referenced in Fledgling: Shori doesn't actually need to be invited inside anywhere, but at one point decides to play along.
Not only are invitations needed for vampires to enter, but if an invitation is rescinded, an invisible force pushes the vampire out. Sometimes, if their fangs are out, they automatically retract, implying their powers are taken away until they're outside. The amount of force used seems to vary—sometimes it's portrayed like an extremely strong wind lifting up and hurling the vampire away, and in one instance, the vampire just sorta looks like he's standing on a skateboard that just got pushed toward the door.
During a confrontation in the second season, Bill glamors a young girl into inviting him into the house when her parents refused.
This is only true for homes owned by non-vampires, as demonstrated by Franklin entering Bill's house despite Jessica's objections. A public place (a non-dwelling) is fair game.
The invitation can also be forced. In a later episode, Sookie and Eric are talking on the porch, when Eric hears something inside with his super-hearing. He nearly slams Sookie into the wall and pretty much forces her to invite him in. This was to protect her, though, as there was a werewolf waiting inside.
Poor Jessica had her invitation rescinded from two different houses in the same night; it didn't seem to matter that she lived in one of them.
Vampires have this limitation. The Buffyverse established an elaborate sense of Magic A Is Magic A with the invite: it must be an actual residence (house, apartment, dormitory) and not merely a "public accommodation" (a motel room), only a resident can give the invitation (when Buffy was sleeping on Dawn and Xander's couch and had no other residence, she still was officially a guest and couldn't invite Spike in), the invitation must be clear (just saying "come in" is enough) and verbal (head nods and hand waves do not count), the invite requirement is voided when the occupant is dead (Angel once watched a man get killed by vampires when the man had invited them in earlier and refused to invite him), the invite is only needed once unless a certain "uninvite" spell is cast (this was done for Angel, Spike and Harmony) and once Cordelia lost a special "Invite Angel into Her New Apartment" moment because long ago she said he could visit while she was apartment-shopping. The Buffyverse treats it as an actual mystical barrier, that acts similar to a wall.
This applies to the 1992 movie as well, leading to this exchange at the senior dance:
Buffy:They can't get in unless they're invited.
Kimberly:I already invited them.
Kimberly:Well, they're seniors!
There's also plenty of discussion on how clever vampires will get around the restriction. In the first Angel episode, "City of," a rich vampire, Russell Winters, would set pretty girls up in apartments he owned. Since technically they were his guests, he could come and go as he wished – and eat them. When Spike showed up later in the first season, the characters tell Cordelia she shouldn't go back to her place, as Spike could just burn it down to get to her.
It should also be noted that this only applies to human residences; vampires and other demons have no such protection. Angel, in the episode "Somnambulist" from the first season, breaks into the apartment of his vampiric ex-protégé Penn with no trouble. This also applies to half-demons such as Connor or Billy Blim, even if ordinary humans also live there.
The Buffyverse vampire invitation rules are also particular about how a building is used. For instance, when Angel briefly stays in the Hyperion Hotel in the 1950s, he can enter any room because the hotel is a public accommodation and no one's home. Half a century later, however, when Fred moves into the long-closed Hyperion with Angel's other friends, she must invite the vampire into her room because the hotel is no longer open to the public.
It was played for comedy in the second-season episode "Untouched" in which, while the human Gunn could enter an apartment and snoop around, Angel was left leaning against the invisible barrier of the doorway. He then fell into the apartment when the owner died in the hospital.
Also when Angelus and Spike are trying to gate-crash the party of their Arch-Nemesis, only they can't get in because they're Not on the List.
It's also played for laughs in a Buffy episode where Harmony and her vampire gang confront the Scoobies at Buffy's house. In reaction to Harmony's taunting, Dawn yells at her, "Why don't you just come in here and-" before she is muffled by Xander. Too late. Also, since Dawn yelled that at her specifically only Harmony can get in. Her lackeys are stuck outside.
Xander uses it against her moments earlier. He, while standing in the doorway, goads Harmony into attacking him, and then laughs when she hits the invitation barrier.
Willow also learns the price of carelessness in the Season 4 episode "The Initiative" while at her college dorm. Spike knocks on the door and, without thinking, Willow replies, "Come in." Fortunately for her, Spike had just had his Restraining Bolt installed.
They even pay careful attention to it in first-season episodes of Buffy before it's revealed that Angel is a vampire. Buffy and Angel are being chased by The Master's goons, and Buffy leads Angel to her home and tells him to "Get in, come on!"
Angelus was always pretty good about slipping or tricking his way around this little inconvenience. In one episode he convinced Holtz's daughter to invite him inside by claiming to be friends, asking for an invitation inside, and making certain she voiced it verbally.
And after he was first made a vampire, he tricked his own baby sister into inviting him in on the pretense that he was an angel taking the form of her beloved dead brother. Cue aversion of Infant Immortality.
Angel did once get into a home despite the invite...Kate didn't want to invite him in when she attempted suicide, but Angel was able to get in the moment her heart stopped and revived her. Either that or the Powers That Be broke the rules to let him save her.
The only time the rule was ever completely broken was in a Halloween Episode, where a boy who had become his vampire costume somehow broke into Buffy's house on his own. No explanation for how he was able to do this is given, though it was probably due to him not being a true vampire.
In Season 5, Buffy tolerates Spike's Stalker with a Crush behavior until she discovers he's fallen in love with her (and realizes he's getting too close to her family). She then gets Willow to bar Spike from the house. Then Spike shows himself willing to give his life to protect Dawn, so in the season finale Buffy invites him back into her home in a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
Being Human: This limitation appears. In one episode, George and Annie save a friend from a vampire attacker by simply closing the front door, leaving him screaming "Invite me in! Invite me in!"
Cutler in the series 4 finale breaks into Honolulu Heights without an invitation. Although only small bits of him actually burst into flames, such as his fingers when they cross the threshold, when he enters he starts to basically get cooked. He eventually suffers third degree burns all over his body and terrible pain, but we don't find out if he would have eventually died.
In Series 3, this lead to a Mass "Oh, Crap!" from everyone when Wyndham casually walks into the house and is completely unharmed! Followed by a further Oh Crap moment when he implies that many of the Old Ones no longer suffer this particular limitation.
Wyndham: You don't live to be a thousand years old without learning a few tricks...
In the American version, a vampire can enter a house uninvited, but he starts burning and very quickly dies. On one occasion Bishop breaks into the trio's house and attacks them, and flees before suffering permanent harm.
This only applies if the location belongs to a living human (werewolves count). If the owner or resident of a location changes, the invitation lapses. On one occasion, someone arranges for a house to be legally sold while a whole bunch of vampires are trapped inside; the vampires no longer have a valid invitation to the house, and are all destroyed.
In Season 4, Kenny is able to enter the groups' home without an invitation because this is where he was "born", giving him apparently free access.
In a Fridge Logic moment, one man who became a vampire suddenly found himself barred from his own home. Since he lived alone, there was nobody who could invite him inside, and apparently the rules don't regard a vampire as a rightful owner. Gets especially odd when it is confirmed that a vampire can enter a house whose sole inhabitant is dead. The general fan assumption is simply that someone else owns the house.
The vampires themselves have taken advantage of this, by living with a severely compulsed human in order to create a threshold to keep out unfriendly vampires.
The opposite is a problem for Damon: He killed the only human in his house, so now hostile vampires can come and go whenever they please. He doesn't even bother locking the door anymore.
In the second season Elijah is killed, his body is moved into a house he hadn't been invited into, and comes back to life. In apparent pain he mutters "I can't be here" and runs outside.
In the 18th episode of season 2 Elena legally gets ownership of the Salvatore house. The brothers even have to stand outside while the paperwork is filed.
In the second to last episode of season 3 Klaus wants to get into the Gilbert Residence to take Elena (who is actually not there at the time). He is told he will not be getting an invitation, so then he super throws a soccer ball and a few fence posts. Last he is seen with a container of gasoline and lite piece of wood.
In the Supernatural episode "Everybody Loves A Clown," the Rakshasa is shown to have this limitation. It gets around it by dressing up as a clown and tricking children into letting it in.
An episode of The Dresden Files has this about a dragon. When Harry remembers this fact, he also recalls that the only person who asked his permission to enter was Connie Murphy, revealing her to be the dragon. The others just barged in. At the end of the episode, the real Connie asks his permission to enter. He is hesitant to answer, at which point she brushes him off and enters anyway, much to his relief.
Completely averted in Moonlight. Vamps can come and go wherever they please. Kinda hard to be a private investigator when you have to ask someone's permission to enter a crime scene when you're trying not to attract attention.
Also averted with Forever Knight for the same reason. Kinda inconvenient if a cop can't enter a perp's place without an invite.
In another series with a vampire played by Geraint Wyn Davies, Dracula: the Series, this is played straight. Dracula, though knowing where Gustav von Helsing lives, can't go there without an invitation. On one occasion, Gustav's nephew Max puts out an ad in the newspaper looking for anyone with information on the whereabouts of his uncle; Chris and Sophie point out that the Big Bad would know, and the ad could count as an invitation, which would let him walk right into their house. Dracula saw the ad, but doesn't take them up on it.
There was an Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode that dealt with this limitation. The brother-and-sister protagonists believed their new neighbors were vampires and made sure not to invite them in. After seeing the mother and father walk in sunlight, however, they realize they are just being superstitious of their oddities. The mother innocently asks if her under-the-weather son can come over to play video games, and the kids agree. the son is the vampire.
Mephistopheles: Three times you must say it, then.
The 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons vampire had this restriction. Public buildings counted as an automatic invitation, and using hypnosis on the inhabitants was an easy way around it.
It should be noted that Van Richten's Guide to the Vampire points out that a vampire who is a feudal lord (Say... Strahd Von Zarovich) technically owns ANY home in his domain, meaning that he can come and go as he pleases. Also, they make the (somewhat logical) restriction that a vampire cannot enter another person's tomb. This being their final "home", and them not being able to grant an invite. Provided the inhabitant was formally "given" the grave via burial rites — unhallowed mass graves and suchlike aren't prohibited. As with a home and charm, this doesn't prevent a vampire able to animate the inferred remnants from doing so.
Wu Jen and (in 3.5) Warlock classes are required to have "taboos", this is suggested as a possibility.
Vampire: The Requiem: The Zelani, a Daeva bloodline, have the weakness of being unable to enter a dwelling uninvited. If they try to, they take aggravated damage (equivalent to plunging your hand into fire or being exposed to sunlight). This isn't so much based on ancient tradition, as the fact that the bloodline's founder was horribly brutalized and tormented by a vampiric home invader.
In Vampire: The Masquerade older members of Clan Tzimisce, who all suffer from extreme territoriality, believe in Sacred Hospitality and obey this trope as a matter of tradition. But a tradition is all it is, so don't press your luck. It's also a possible Flaw a player can choose for his character to have.
A Vampyre Story: Mona discovers this restriction applies when she tries to enter the house of a man who mistreats his wife. How does she get in? By tricking the wife into inviting her. Mona gets it double-hard; the home in question doubles as a shop for the seamstress wife, which should theoretically at least give Mona a little leeway (for example, with the sign saying, "We're open, please come in!") but she still needs to fool the lady of the house into giving her a verbal invitation.
One Sim in My Sims, while he may or may not be a vampire, certainly makes reference to vampire tropes, including this one.
Came up in Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name; Conrad smacked into the air when he tried to enter Ples's house with the rest of the crew, since technically all of them were trespassing.
Sam in Sluggy Freelance has this restriction, but not every vampire in the Sluggyverse does. On one occasion, Sam tracks down Dr. Schlock, who is decked out with every anti-vampire trick possible. He then points out Sam can't even enter his motel room without an invitation. In a rare moment of intelligence, Sam pulls out a gun, shoots Dr. Schlock in the leg, and asks, "Can I come in?"
Discussed in This Is the Worst Idea You've Ever Had!. Cynthia and Nicole argue about whether or not a vampire could get into their car without being invited. Later, we see a vampire trapped outside of Nicole's house by some sort of forcefield while another is able to enter freely because Nicole invited him in.
In Deep Fried, a kid who's afraid of clowns tries to pull this on Beepo. Beepo's response? "Our evil is too strong." Of course, Beepo is just being a Jerk Ass.
One of the demons released into the mortal world loses his tail. Jackie Chan and company manages to catch the tail, and takes it back to Uncle's shop. Knowing that the demon would want to come back for the tail, Uncle puts a Protective Charm on the shop which will keep all demons out unless invited inside. The demon tricks Jade into inviting him inside by pretending to be a boy at her school and pretending to be her friend.
Also played in reverse in another episode where the group is exploring an ancient temple, and stuck in this temple is a girl cursed to become a monster in order to keep out intruders. After the girl explains this, Jade reasons that they can't be intruding if the girl invites them in, allowing them to explore without triggering the curse.
Scary Godmother: In the animated Halloween special, the eponymous Scary Godmother is throwing a Halloween party. A family of vampires arrive and is confused that they continue to stand outside. She forgot that vampires can't enter into someone's home without being invited inside. And they have to be invited in every time. In the second special, they try to enter and hit a magical barrier.
This appears in Archie's Weird Mysteries, when Riverdale is under attack by a vampire. The gang are all warned about how vampires can't enter a house unless they're invited, so they figure that they're all safe at Veronica's Halloween costume party. Unfortunately, Smithers wasn't clued in on this in time.