In 2008, the European Association for the study of the liver (EASL) defined occult hepatitis B virus infection (OBI) as the "presence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA in the liver (with detectable or undetectable HBV DNA in the serum) of individuals testing hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) negative by currently available assays". Several aspects of occult HBV infection are still poorly understood, including the definition itself and a standardized approach for laboratory-based detection, which is the purpose of this review. The clinical significance of OBI has not yet been established; however, in terms of public health, the clinical importance arises from the risk of HBV transmission. Consequently, it is important to detect high-risk groups for occult HBV infection to prevent transmission. The main issue is, perhaps, to identify the target population for screening OBI. Viremia is very low or undetectable in occult HBV infection, even when the most sensitive methods are used, and the detection of the viral DNA reservoir in hepatocytes would provide the best evaluation of occult HBV prevalence in a defined set of patients. However, this diagnostic approach is obviously unsuitable: blood detection of occult hepatitis B requires assays of the highest sensitivity and specificity with a lower limit of detection < 10 IU/mL for HBV DNA and < 0.1 ng/mL for HBsAg.