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

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

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).

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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”

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