The European sero-epidemiology network (ESEN2) aims to standardise serological surveillance of varicella zoster virus (VZV) in 11 participant countries. In each country, serum banks were collected between 1996 and 2003 and tested for VZV antibodies. Assay results were standardised so that international comparisons could be made. Age-specific forces of infection were calculated for three age groups (<5, 5-9 and >or=10 years of age) and used to estimate the base reproduction number (R(0)) and the herd immunity threshold (H). Most VZV infection occurred in childhood, but there was a wide variation in transmissibility, with R(0) ranging from 16.9 in the Netherlands to 3.3 in Italy. Herd immunity thresholds varied from 70% in Italy to 94% in the Netherlands. There are substantial differences in VZV sero-epidemiology within the European region, which will need to be taken into account in designing national policies regarding VZV vaccination.