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TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: What the EU’s new EES system means for travel to France

From biometric checks to the 90-day rule, cartes de séjour and visas - the European Commission and the French Interior Ministry have explained to The Local what the EU's new EES system means for people travelling in and out of France.

EXPLAINED: What the EU's new EES system means for travel to France
Passport control at the French border is set to change next year due to the EU's EES system. Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

You might have seen some rather dramatic headlines about the EU ‘harvesting biometric data’ – so here’s what the EU’s new Entry and Exit System (EES) – due to come into effect next year – actually means if you are travelling in and out of France.

The system has been in the works since 2013 and is due to come into effect in May 2023 – although it has been postponed several times before.

It has four stated aims – to improve and modernise border systems; to reinforce security and aid the fight against crime and terrorism; to help EU member states deal with increasing traveller numbers without having to increase the numbers of border staff; and to systematically identify over stayers within the Schengen area [ie people who have stayed longer than their visa or 90-day limit allowance].

The system doesn’t actually change any of the EU’s rules about travel, length of stay etc, but it will make enforcing them easier.

Where?

The EES is for EU external borders – so if you are travelling between France and Germany nothing will change but if you are entering France from a non-EU country (including the UK) the new system comes into play.

Who? 

It applies to all non-EU citizens. Dual-nationals are exempt if they are travelling on their EU passport. 

When?

The current start date is May 2023.

What?

Basically the EES changes how passports are checked at the border.

The first change is the addition of biometric data – in addition to the current details in your passport (name, DOB etc) the system will also record facial images and fingerprints of all passengers – so it will be similar to going to the USA, where foreign arrivals already have to provide fingerprints.

The second change is through recording onto the system complete details of entry and exit dates; how much of their 90-day limit (if applicable) people have used and whether they have previously been refused entry (see below for full details on the 90 day rules).

Exactly how this applies varies slightly depending on your circumstances.

Tourists – this is the most straightforward category and the one that will apply to the majority of travellers. For tourists or those coming for a short visit little will change apart from having to give fingerprints when they enter. They will also be told how long they can stay in the Schengen area – for visitors from non-Schengen-visa countries like the UK, USA, Canada and Australia this will be 90 days, easily long enough for most holidaymakers.

Second-home owners and other regular visitors without a visa – if you’re a regular visitor to France from a non-EU country you will already know about the 90-day rule – find a full explanation HERE.

The rule itself doesn’t change, but one of the stated aims of the new system is to catch overstayers, so anyone hoping to ‘slip under the radar’ with regards to the 90-day limit should forget that idea.

Instead of the current and rather inconsistent system of passport-stamping, each entry and exit to the EU is automatically logged on the system, so that border guards can see how long you have spent in the Schengen area in the preceding 180 days, and whether you have overstayed your limit. 

READ ALSO What happens if I overstay my 90-day limit in France?

Residents in France  – if you are a citizen of a non-EU country but have residency in France then you are not constrained by the 90-day rule. Under the current system you show your visa or carte de séjour at the border and the border official should refrain from stamping your passport.

The automated system does away with passport stamping – which has become a headache for residents since it is inconsistently applied in some countries.

However at this stage it appears that there is no way to link a visa or residency card to a passport for automatic scanning.

The European Commission told The Local: “Non-EU nationals holders of residence permits are not in the scope of the Entry/Exit System and ETIAS. When crossing the borders, holders of EU residence permits should be able to present to the border authorities their valid travel documents and residence permits.”

We also asked the French Interior Ministry – who are in charge of operating border controls in France – and they told us: “EES only concerns non-European nationals, without a long-stay visa or residence permit, who are making private or tourist visits for periods of less than 90 days”.

In other words – EES does not concern people who are residents in France or have a long-stay visa.

The Interior Ministry spokesman continued: “People with a titre de séjour residency permit or long-stay visa must present these documents at the border. The control process does not change these categories of travellers.”

What this means in practice is that people with a visa or residency permit cannot use the automated passport gates, and must instead go to a manned booth so that they can show both their passport and residency card/visa. This is likely to mean extra waiting times at busy periods.

Second-home owners and frequent visitors with a visa – some people who make frequent trips to France but do not live here – especially second-home owners – have obtained a visitor visa in order to avoid the constraints of the 90-day rule.

As with residents, anyone who has a visa must show it at the border in order to avoid starting the 90-day clock, and that means that visa holders cannot use the automated passport gates – as outlined above.

The Commison spokesman said: “If you are a non-EU national travelling for a short stay (maximum 90 days in any 180-day period) to a European country using the EES and if you hold a valid visa for your intended purpose of stay then you should present the valid passport and valid visa when crossing the borderYour stay is limited to the number of days authorised by your short stay visa.”

So how will this actually work in practice?

If you’re a tourist or short-stay visitor and you’re travelling by air or the Eurostar you probably won’t notice much difference since many airports already have automated passport gates in place for certain travellers. In fact, the Commission says this system will be faster than the current system in place for non-EU arrivals.

If you are a French resident, you need to remember to avoid the automated passport gates and choose a manned booth so that you can show your residency card or visa along with your passport.

The Commision told us: “Non-EU citizens residing in the EU are not in the scope of the EES and will not be subject to pre-enrollment of data in the EES via self-service systems. The use of automation remains under the responsibility of the Member States and its availability in border crossing points is not mandatory.”

However things are less clear for people travelling by car – by ferry or Eurotunnel – from the UK. At present the system is set up so that groups such as families travelling by car can enter their passport information online before travelling, and then simply hand over passports for stamping while staying in the car.

The EES system would require all passengers to get out of the car and have their passports and faces scanned, and scan fingerprints, which would obviously take longer. UK Channel ports have already seen long queues at peak times since Brexit, and a more complicated system would make these bottlenecks even worse.

The bosses of both the Port of Dover and the Eurostar have raised the alarm about an increase in waiting times.

The EES affects only the French passport control sites, not the British border checks, and there are three French passport control sites in the UK – at the ports of Dover and Folkestone and at St Pancras station for the Eurostar.

The French Interior Ministry told us that it is “voluntary, not mandatory” for the French to install EES infrastructure at these three places, and discussions are currently ongoing between the British and the French on how to handle this.

The Commission confirmed that decisions on installing new automated systems at the border is a decision for each Member State – so France will have the final say on new arrangements at its border with the UK.

READ ALSO Fears of ‘massive disruption’ of travel between France and the UK in 2023

Further details on EES can be found here.

Anything else I need to know about?

Yes, EES is different to ETIAS, which is due to come into effect later in 2023. That won’t affect residents, but will require tourists and those on a short visit to pay €7 for a holiday visa – full details on that HERE.

Member comments

  1. What happens with “open jaw” tavel? For example I fly to Paris, France and scan my passport for entry to France. I then hire a car and travel to Venice, Italy – There is no passport control on the border between France and Italy. I then leave the car in Venice and fly back to UK, scanning my passport on exit. Do the French and Italian systems talk to each other to show that I have left the Schengen area with the 90 day limit?

  2. how realistic is this going to be for smaller airports who only deal with a couple of planes per day or just for the summer season – like La Rochelle and Poitier – in fact there is probably not enough room to install kiosks in the passenger area
    it is probably more than likely it will only be installed at the bigger airports like the Paris airports, bordeaux, Nice.

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For members

STRIKES

UK border strikes threaten Christmas travel chaos to and from France

Planned industrial action by British border force staff is threatening to disrupt Christmas travel plans for people going between France and the UK - with a warning of 10-hour waits at airports. It comes on top of planned strikes on the Eurostar.

UK border strikes threaten Christmas travel chaos to and from France

Travellers arriving at the UK’s biggest airports over the Christmas period could face severe delays and even risk having their flights cancelled as a result of strike action by British border force staff.

A senior UK Border Force official told the i newspaper that “travellers can expect long queues at the airports affected by the strikes. We’re looking at similar waits as when we had all the Covid protocol issues in summer 2021 when queues of 10 to 12 hours were not unusual.”

“Passengers should also expect flight cancellations due to staff shortages,” they added, “so should keep in touch with their airlines before travel.”

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has voted for strike action over pay and conditions from December 23rd until the end of the year, with the exception of December 27th, that will affect all major UK airports.

Those with travel between France and the UK planned already have to contend with possible disruption on the Eurostar, where UK-based security staff have threatened walkouts in their own pay dispute.

There are also several days of strikes planned on UK railways, and a provisional strike notice filed by French rail unions for the Christmas and New Year weekends. 

READ ALSO What you need to know about Christmas travel between France and the UK

British media outlets estimate that as many as two million passengers have booked to fly in and out the UK over the Christmas period on at least 10,000 flights scheduled to arrive at the affected airports.

Where are the walkouts?

Around 1,000 Border Force staff are set to walk out from all of the UK’s busiest airports, including Heathrow (Terminals 2,3,4 and 5), Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, and also the port of Newhaven.

The strikes will fundamentally affect passport checks for arrivals into Britain, as 75 percent of passport control staff are PCS union members.

Christmas is already one of the busiest travel times of the year, and walkouts from border staff are likely to cause severe delays and cancellations. Some British media outlets are even reporting that passengers could be left to wait on their planes on the runway, something that would then have a knock-on effect on other incoming flights.

Though passports aren’t usually checked on outbound flights, arriving aircraft often turn around and set off on their next outbound journey within an hour or two. If queues for arrivals become so bad that passengers are kept on the runway, outbound flights will be delayed and departures could be cancelled.

A Home Office spokesperson said in a statement that “passengers should be prepared for potential disruption.”

Various affected airports have made preemptive statements expecting major delays and cancellations.

“We expect it will be necessary for airlines to cancel some services on the days impacted by strike action to ensure the number of arriving passengers aligns with lower UK Border Force resources,” a spokesman from Manchester airport said in a statement. “Arriving passengers should also be prepared for much longer immigration queues on strike days, owing to reduced Border Force staffing levels.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The Home Office advises that immigration and customs checks may take longer during peak times on strike days… Passengers are advised to check their flight status with their airline before travelling.” they added.

The British Transport Minister, Baroness Vere, has said that “the government does have mitigations in place,” which is thought to include army personnel and volunteers filling in for the striking staff.

What if I have flights booked?

As the strike action has just been announced, normal cancellation rules still apply (for now) so don’t cancel your flight just yet. If your flight is cancelled by the airline, however, as is expected for many carriers in the coming weeks, your regular rights will apply, including the possibility of being flown via another route, even on another airline if necessary, and hotels should be provided if you are kept overnight.

However, it is worth noting that as Christmas is a peak travel period anyway, finding extra seats as flights are cancelled may be difficult.

READ ALSO: What are your rights in France if a flight is delayed or cancelled?

It remains to be seen if, when, and how many flights will be cancelled. Cancellations are expected by all major airports, who have advised that passengers check the status of their flights before travelling.

For those who are set on travelling, expect severe delays at passport control, and keep an eye on the status of your flight in the coming weeks. 

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