What to Expect At European Borders


One of the least pleasant parts of going on holiday, is having to handle all the various documents and paperwork, and particularly having to check in at airports and cross borders into other countries. This can be nerve wracking as there’s always an outside chance that something will go wrong and that you’ll end up stuck outside your country, and it can also be a lengthy process sometimes requiring you to queue for hours before getting to start your holiday.

What can put your mind at rest though while at the same time helping you to get through quicker, is to make sure that you know what to expect when you get to the border. Here we will look at what you need when crossing into European borders/crossing between them, to help you prepare and to make the experience that much less nerve wracking/slow.

Do You Always Have to Show Things At the European Borders?

The first thing to understand is that you are almost always going to need to show documents when crossing between European borders. There is a belief among many people, that when crossing between European countries – between France and England say – you won’t need your passport or travel documents. Unfortunately though this is not generally the case anymore as most EU countries have tightened their border controls and become stricter again. If you’re very lucky then you may n not have to do anything at the border – but you should never risk it. And if you are travelling into Europe from outside then you will always need to show your documents without exception.

What Happens At the Border

Normally when you get to the European border you will be at the airport. As soon as you land, you will have to queue up at border control before you can even collect your luggage. When you do this you will usually find that there are two separate queues – one for EU residents and one for non-EU residents.

Once it’s your turn to go through border control, you will need to show documents and in most cases this will simply mean your passport. While some borders can ask for other documents such as proof of your intentions in the country, you will normally find that a passport alone is enough. They will use this information to check out your records though and look for anything worrying so it can take a few minutes before you get through.

Note that when showing your passport to European border officials, they will often seem a little unfriendly and cold. This isn’t the case everywhere in Europe (they’re often friendly in England), in some countries they seem to be under instruction to make visitors feel a little uncomfortable. They might also ask you what you are doing in the country and other questions. Just smile, tell them what they want to hear – they’re only doing their job and being awkward isn’t going to help anyone.

Depending on the country you’re in and the country you’re visiting from, you may also find that you have to have your hand luggage ex-rayed again, even though it was probably already looked at on your side before you left.

Finally, if you have a chip in your passport, you might be able to use the automated services to pass through the borders. This is marginally quicker and can help to avoid queuing for their part. You will have to stand in front of a camera, so make sure that you aren’t wearing any glasses and that your hair isn’t getting in your face.

Travelling on Coaches and Boats

If you travel between European countries on a boat or a coach, then you won’t be passing through an airport in order to go through customs. In this case though you will still need to carry your passport and travel documents with you, as you will probably be asked to get out of the coach/off the boat as soon as you pass through the European borders. If this doesn’t happen, you may find that passport officials actually come onto your boat or coach. In this case they will come around and collect your passport and other travel documents and return them to you later. This method is a little quicker, but it’s just luck which one you’ll get.

Long Stays

Most borders in Europe don’t require you to show a visa if you’re just going to visit – though it is always worth researching this before you attempt to gain entry into the country. However, if you are heading to the European country and plan to stay there longer – anywhere up to three months– then you will need a short-stay visa. If you are intending on staying longer than three months however then you will need a long-stay visa and may well also need a work and/or residency permit. Make sure that you have all these documents with you before you get to the borders in Europe or you will most likely be turned away and probably cost yourself a lot more time and money in the long run.

Essentially, European borders are nothing to be afraid of – they normally involve a slight queue before you have to show your passport to a grumpy official. In some circumstances things can get marginally more complicated, but as long as you do your research, prepare in advance and come organised you should find it’s actually pretty straightforward.