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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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STRIKES

French airline staff threaten strikes over Christmas

Unions representing cabin crew on several airlines have threatened to take strike action over the Christmas holidays in a series of increasingly bitter pay disputes.

French airline staff threaten strikes over Christmas

Cabin crew for Air France have already outlined dates for possible strike days, while unions representing staff at Easyjet and Ryanair are threatening “massive disruption” unless their demands are met.

The SNPNC-FO union, which represents cabin crew working in France, is calling for pay increases for its members working for budget airline Easyjet, warning that if no agreement is reached there will be a “very high risk” of walk-outs over Christmas.

Strikes, prices and services – what you need to know about travel over Christmas 2022

No exact dates have been proposed yet, but the union says that the current pay offer does not cover the rising cost of living, adding “the management will be responsible for the disruptions suffered by our customers”.

Cabin crew at Air France have filed a provisional strike notice from December 22nd to January 2nd, although whether staff actually walk out depends on how the pay negotiations go.

“This notice should serve as a warning to our management,” explains a union leaflet. “If this warning is not heeded, only a strong mobilisation will be able to tip the balance.”

So far the only confirmed strike action is at Air Antilles and Air Guyane – which mostly run flights between France and the Caribbean and French Guyana. Their staff will be walking out between December 17th and December 22nd, unless there is a breakthrough in pay negotiations. 

Ryanair crew working in Belgium have also threatened strike action over Christmas, although so far their French colleagues have not revealed any strike plans. 

Things look better for rail and ferry travel, with no strikes currently planned – although anyone with a trip to the UK planned should be aware of strike days planned by British rail staff over the Christmas and New Year period.

French airport ground staff and air traffic controllers won themselves a pay rise after strike action over the summer holidays. 

You can find all the latest strike information for France on our strikes page HERE.

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