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Passport stamps: What British residents in the EU need to know when crossing borders

British nationals resident in the EU have become concerned in recent months as their passports have been stamped when returning home from abroad. Here's the latest on what we know and a message of reassurance for those travelling.

Passport stamps: What British residents in the EU need to know when crossing borders
Photo by Sem van der Wal / ANP / AFP

Since the end of the Brexit transition period, Brits crossing EU borders have been divided into two groups; those with the right of residency or long-stay visas and visitors.

For visitors, the 90-day rule comes into play, meaning that they can no longer spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen zone.

READ ALSO How the 90-day rule works

And border guards can keep track of how long people have spent inside the Bloc by means of scanning passports and stamping them establishes a record of exactly when the person entered the Schengen zone and when they left. 

But for Brits who have the right of residency in an EU country – either through a visa or a residency card – things are different.

If you are a resident in, for example, France any time that you spend there does not count to your 90 day limit (although if you were to enter Spain, Sweden or Italy the 90-day clock would begin ticking).

British residents should therefore not have their passport stamped when they are entering the EU country they live in.

What should you do?

When approaching passport control going either in or out of the country where you live, you should present both your passport and proof of residency – whether this is your visa, residency card or (in some countries) proof that you have applied for residency.

Don’t wait to be asked for this, because at busy borders officers will just presume that anyone presenting only a passport is a tourist.

You might think you only need to present proof of residency when entering the country, but in fact you should show it when leaving as well, as passports are regularly stamped on both exit and entry.

If you are travelling within the Schengen zone it is a lot less likely that documents will be required when crossing the border, but if asked, you should present both your passport and residency document.

What if the official wants to stamp your passport?

Since the end of the Brexit transition period, The Local has received multiple reports of the passports of residents being stamped in error, even after they have pointed out to border staff that this is not necessary.

“I just returned to my residence in Italy today from the UK.  Unfortunately my passport was stamped. I gave my Italian ID card to them but it didn’t make any difference,” one reader told us in an email that echoed the stories of many.

Another said: “My British passport was stamped on returning to Berlin despite me being a resident and asking the border police (in German) not to do so and why.”

The problem of wrongly stamped passports seems to have been most common in January and February 2020, immediately after the transition period, so could have been put down to people getting to grips with the new system.

However, this does seem to be still happening in some cases, although the unusually low levels of travel during the pandemic make getting an accurate picture difficult.

Lyn Thompson, who lives in Charente-Maritime in France, said: “I have travelled three times between France (where I live) and the UK since April 2021, due to family illness.

“The biggest issue each time has been persuading French Border Force officials NOT to stamp my passport, despite the fact I have a Titre de Sejour (residency permit) which I have shown alongside my passport.

“I was unable to prevent this the first time I returned (via Eurostar) despite arguing with the official, so my passport has a stamp which effectively says I have only 90 days from April to stay in Europe. The most recent time I travelled (by air) I had yet another argument with French Border Force who told me that the rules were that every British passport should be stamped.

“I pointed out that the stamp allowed me to stay for only 90 days whereas my Titre de Sejour meant that I was resident in France and therefore didn’t need to/shouldn’t have my passport stamped, and our discussion went on for some time.

“He only eventually let me through without a stamp because a massive queue was building up and he obviously wanted to get rid of this difficult woman. While the Titre de sejour should trump the passport stamp (at least I hope so) I really don’t want to find myself arguing about my right to return to France when the first 90 days is up – after all, if the Border Force are ignoring the Titre de Sejour and stamping anyway, they are just as likely to ignore it again and refuse entry.

“So this is adding further worry and hassle to what is already a stressful journey, given the circumstances.”

France resident Gillian Price added: “The French border control insisted they stamped our passports even though we showed them our new carte de séjour residency cards, EDF bill and bank statements with our French address.

“We now have a 90 day visa stamp. The border control insisted every UK passport holder need to be stamped even though we are resident in France!”

We fully appreciate that having an argument with a border guard in another language can be a daunting task – especially as you feel the waves of frustration from everyone behind you in the queue – but if you see an error being made it is important that you point this out.

What happens if your passport is stamped in error?

This is of course the key point, but it is also where things get hazy.

The Local has so far not received any reports of travellers who have run into later problems after an incorrect stamp – although we are keen to hear of any. That said, it’s only nine months since the transition period ended and many people have not been travelling because of the pandemic and travel restrictions, so it may be that problems are yet to reveal themselves.

The British Embassy in Germany told us: “UK nationals who were legally resident in Germany prior to the end of the transition period on December 31st 2020, and are therefore subject to the Withdrawal Agreement should not have their passports stamped when re-entering Germany.

“However, a stamp in your passport does not alter your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement, such as your right to reside here and to receive a new residence document.”

The Embassy spokesman added: “We have raised this issue with the German authorities and they have provided the following advice for those UK nationals affected:

“Stamping a passport at the border does not mean that a decision on residence status has been taken. The stamp merely documents that the passport holder was checked in the place stated on the stamp, whether this check had been performed in the course of an entry or exit, and which means of transport was used.

“The stamp entails neither the loss of rights under the Withdrawal Agreement nor in any other way a change of legal status. Consequently, a stamp on entry does not need to be annulled and may be retained unaltered in the passport as a souvenir.

“If however someone exits the Schengen area more than 90 days after their passport was stamped, then they should also carry with them a document demonstrating their current residence status, for example as a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

The British Embassies in France and Spain have provided similar advice – namely that the stamp does not alter your rights of residency and incorrect stamps do not need to be annulled.

However, while a stamp may not alter your rights of residency, does having one in your passport mean you may run into problems at the border? Your residency status should be easy to prove, but it might involve delays, extra checks or even interrogations while travelling.

The advice from all official bodies is to carry with you at all times the documentation that proves your right of residency in the EU.

If you have experienced any problems with passport stamping, please let us know at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. One issue for me is I have lots of Spanish entry/exit stamps as I had been travelling between the UK and Italy via Spain. I’m not sure if it will cause issues in the future. The main reason was because direct flights between the UK and Bologna have been cancelled for most of the year which I solved by flying via Madrid.

    When I have flown direct I’ve had some at passport control stamp the passport even when presented with the residence card, on the other hand the first time I left Italy I didn’t get my passport stamped, the officer asked why I had no entry stamp, I said I was resident and this was my first time I left Italy since Brexit and he didn’t ask for further proof.

    Yesterday was the first time I left the schengen zone by land. On the border between Slovenia and Croatia they didn’t even bother opening the passport (in the car everyone else was Italian, so it was my UK passport and 3 UK ID cards). Whether they just assumed it was an Italian passport among the ID cards I don’t know. Would they stamp my passport if travelling alone or with other British citizens.

  2. Thank you for shining a light on this issue, which has been an ongoing problem for Brits living in Denmark this year. Although some stamping has been taking place in Denmark, it seems that the problems mainly occur when travelling via another EU country and Schiphol has been a stamping hot spot, which our sister group British in The Netherlands have been working hard on over the past few months.

    A few points I just want to mention for clarity:
    • Recipients of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (WA) shouldn’t be stamped. If you aren’t a recipient of the WA (are a visitor or took up residence after the end of 2020) then your passport should be stamped.
    • Recipients of the WA should not be stamped at any Schengen border, not just when entering or leaving our country of residence
    • You say: “The problem of wrongly stamped passports seems to have been most common in January and February 2020, immediately after the transition period, so could have been put down to people getting to grips with the new system.” I think you meant January and February 2021.

    Paula from British in Denmark – https://www.facebook.com/groups/britishindenmark

  3. One potential problem with exit stamps is that it might indicate you have been out of the country longer than you have. As I understand it , the 5-year carte de sejour issued under the WA doesn’t allow you to leave the country for more than 10 months if you want to change it for permanent residency when it expires. Not really just a ‘souvenir’ then is it ? The simplest answer would be to train the border staff to do a not particularly difficult job, properly.

  4. The “training” issue goes on – passport duly stamped at CDG last night entering from the UK despite presenting my “Titre de sejour”. The reply in French to my request in French not to do this was “Since Brexit we stamp all English (sic) passports”. My plea about being Scottish (I know, no more of a passport nationality than English) didn’t work 🙁

    1. I also got stamped at GDG on the 31st August – even though I showed my Carte de Sejour and politely explained I was a French resident and that I shouldn’t be stamped, I was told ‘all foreign passports must be stamped’. Since Brexit I was ‘foreign’ even though I live in France… At least he didn’t refer to me as ‘English’ – perhaps understanding where Edinburgh is! Further education seems to be required for the Border Force(s) as they still aren’t listening or understanding and this could cause real problems for people making frequent journeys in/out of Schengen.

  5. My guess is that since EU citizens living in the UK only have digital evidence of their residency, their passports are stamped by UK immigration, and consequently the Continentals feel obliged to do the same. Remember, you’re dealing with children.

  6. Good article, but it should more clearly distinguish EU and Schengen.

    For example, in this sentence…

    “For visitors, the 90-day rule comes into play, meaning that they can no longer spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in the EU and Schengen zone.”

    …the reference should be to Schengen, not EU.

  7. Does anyone have any experience of travelling between Italy and the U.K. by car? This obviously involves a transit through France and as I understand the rules, our Italian residency does not exempt us from the 90/180 day rule when entering France.

    1. Holders of a long-stay visa or residence permit issued by a Schengen state or Monaco may also travel to other Schengen states, without an additional visa, for a stay of up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
      (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_the_Schengen_Area).
      This affects people travelling overland between UK and Spain, Italy etc as their “transit” time in France
      is subject to the 90/180 rule.
      Question is: “How is time in Schengen apart from home state assessed?”
      There is no facility for recording entry/exit of home state given lack of border control.
      Using example of London/Rome traveller.
      Passport is stamped with entry at Calais.
      Traveller arrives Rome a couple of days later and and stays at home for eight months.
      Then decides to take another trip to UK.
      At Calais is identified as potential “over-stayer” as entered France and “never left”.
      Proof of Italian residence does not prove that “overstay” period was spent there.
      HOW would an Italian resident refute prima facie case of being an over-stayer?
      Undoubtedly traveller would be allowed to continue to London – but what happens
      on getting back to Calais and being identified as a previous “offender”??
      Would this traveller be excluded from Schengen zone and thus have her/his rights
      under Withdrawal Agreement disrespected? Would only way back home be by air?
      The law is clear – but the logistics of practical determination are not.
      How can this issue be resolved without massive detriment to individuals involved?

  8. I returned to Denmark last weekend. I presented my residency card and they still stamped my passport. I really hope it does not cause me problems when I travel elsewhere in the Schengen area.

  9. I was the very last person in the passport queue arriving at Nantes, France, so the official was not under any pressure with queues. I presented both my passport and my ‘titre de séjour’ card for 10 years. He asked if I lived in the UK or France and I told him (in French) that I live in France. At first, he was going to just return my passport, but NOT my ‘titre de séjour’ card. When I insisted I had given him my residency card, he checked the desk, found it, gave it to me, but then stamped my passport – what a fiasco. I told him that he shouldn’t have stamped my passport because I’d told him I lived in France and given him my card as proof but, of course, it was too late by then. When I checked the stamp(s) when I got home, I saw a stamp for leaving on 22/8/2021 and one returning on 12/9/2021, but no indication of the 90 day limit.

  10. Most unpleasant border control lady at Arlanda tried to stamp my passport on exit to London two weeks ago. Had presented my Uppehållstillstånd card at the outset but she was determined to stamp the passport.I had to object very strongly to her and I called on her to check with her colleague in the next booth who immediately corrected her. She then had the temerity to ‘warn me’ to present my card always (which I had done, DOH!). To top it off she then said…”well its your own fault, you wanted Brexit so that’s the problem here”. I think that tells you all you need to know about Swedish authorities attitude to British nationals nowadays.

  11. Interesting article, but it would be useful to cover what should happen when travelling from an EU country that’s not your place of residence. I have German residency, went on holiday to Spain then visited family in the UK before heading back to Germany. I got an exit stamp from Spain, which I understand may be correct as the no stamp rule I believe may only apply when travelling to/from your EU country of residence. Clarity would be helpful on this. It’s likely that people will end up with a selection of non sequential entry and exit stamps which could cause issues as time goes on.

  12. I have heard of many Italian residents (Brits) coming back from the UK who have had their passport stamped and if they challanged the official about it they got very rude responses. One was even asked if he wanted a “stamp on the nose”

  13. I’ve always said, “please do not stamp my passport as I’m an Italian resident” They usually shrug and wave me through. Today I was asked if I’m an Italian resident and when I said I am, my passport was stamped anyway!

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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