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Crossing the EU borders

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU, you will need to prove your identity and present official papers to border guards/authorities when you enter the EU for the first time.

These official papers can be different, depending on where you come from, your nationality , the reason you are visiting, how long you plan to stay and the border control rules in the EU country you are going to.

On these pages you will find details about what to expect at the first EU border you come to when you arrive from a non-EU country, whether by air, sea or land. You must remember that you should always come to the EU via a legal border where checks take place.

You will also find links to information on the risks of coming to the EU without these proper documents, and therefore illegally, on how to avoid these risks, and on the protection that is available in the EU in case you are a victim of human trafficking.
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How to enter the EU legally

You will enter the EU via an external border when you come from a non-EU country to an EU country. You can enter the EU by air, land or sea.

You can only cross the EU's external borders at designated border crossing-points and during formal opening times.

What entry conditions and border controls can I expect when crossing the EU's external borders?

To enter the EU, you must present the necessary papers to the border authorities.
What do I need?
These could include:
  • A valid travel document, usually a passport;
  • A short-stay visa (if you intend to stay in an EU country for up to three months);
  • A long-stay visa (if you intend to stay in an EU country for more than three months);
  • Documents to show the purpose of your stay;
  • Documents to show that you have enough money for your stay and return.
If you want to stay in an EU country for more than three months, you may also be required to have a work permit (if you intend to work) and/or a residence permit. More on long stays in an EU country.

In general, border control officials will check your identity on the basis of your travel documents. They will also examine your papers to see that you meet all entry conditions.

If you meet the entry conditions, you will be allowed to enter the EU country.

If you have entered one EU country and want to travel to other EU countries, different border rules will apply. More on moving between EU countries .
How do I know whether I need a visa? And where do I get one?

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU, you may need a visa to travel to an EU country for periods of up to one year.

A visa is a sticker affixed in your travel document issued by an EU country which allows you to enter and remain in that country for a certain period of time. It may also let you travel to other European countries.

Generally you must apply in advance for a visa. You need to do this at the embassy or consulate of the EU country you wish to visit. If this country does not have an office in your country, you can apply at an office of another EU country in your country.

Your visa application must normally include a photograph and a valid travel document such as a passport. As supporting documents you should add proof of income, accommodation and/or sponsorship. Proof of sponsorship is a form signed by the person inviting you, in which this person takes responsibility for you, including the provision of accommodation and the coverage of other expenses.

More on how to get a visa

Countries whose citizens do not need visas for short stays in most EU countries

Information on permits to study or work in an EU country
Can I be refused to enter an EU country?

Yes, that can happen if:
  • You do not have the right documents;
  • You pose a threat to public policy or security.
You may also be refused to enter an EU country if you are flagged with a security alert in the EU's border control database.
Once I have entered an EU country, can my documents be checked again?

Yes. Your travel and residence documents may be examined during routine identity checks while you travel within the EU.
Once I am legally in one EU country, can I travel to other EU countries?

That depends. There are different rules based on your nationality, the country you are travelling to and the type of visa and/or permit you hold. Find more information on moving legally between EU countries.
Risks of entering an EU Country illegally

People enter and stay in an EU country without authorisation despite their best intentions, and sometimes against their will.

What will happen if I enter an EU country illegally?

If you enter an EU country without permission, for example by evading border controls or by using fake documents, you could risk being sent back to your country.

If you enter the EU as a victim of human trafficking, which is the illegal trade in human beings, you could be subject to forced labour, sexual exploitation or forced to engage in criminal activities.
More on the risks of entering an EU country without authorisation

More on avoiding the risks

More on being sent back to your own country

More on protecting the victims of human trafficking
EU Border Controls

What controls apply?Most EU countries apply the same border control rules to non EU-citizens coming to the EU. Common rules make it easier for people coming to the EU. They are also important for the EU's border-free travel zone throughout which authorised travellers can move freely without passport controls between EU countries. Find more information on the EU's internal border-free travel zone, the Schengen area.

The border controls that you can expect when entering the EU are set out above under the question'What entry conditions and border controls can I expect when crossing the EU's external borders?'

Shared border controls are in place in 25 EU countries. They do not apply in two EU countries, Ireland and the United Kingdom. For information on the rules in those countries, select the country from this map.
How do EU countries cooperate to manage their external borders?

All EU countries control and monitor their own border crossing-points via land, sea or air.

These national efforts are complimented by the work of the EU border control agency Frontex. Frontex trains national border guards and coordinates activities by EU countries to ensure the security of the EU's external borders.

A proposed European System of Border Surveillance (EUROSUR) will help EU countries to develop their surveillance capabilities. The aim is to help prevent illegal border crossings and reduce irregular migration, which often has tragic consequences. It will also help to improve the EU's internal security by preventing cross-border crimes.
Do EU countries share information about travellers who are non-EU citizens?

Yes, as the EU has common external borders, the countries share information about non-EU citizens who travel to and from the Union. They include: The information held in these systems can only be used by authorised people for specific purposes. Strict data protection rules apply.
The Schengen Information System (SIS)

The SIS is a shared database of information on individuals and objects of interest to EU countries. Its purpose is to support police and judicial co-operation, manage external border controls and maintain public security. All EU countries can create entries on the database, called "alerts," on missing people, people wanted for extradition or arrest, and people who are needed in relation to criminal cases or public security threats. They can also create alerts on property for seizure or use in criminal proceedings.

EU countries, excluding Ireland and the United Kingdom, can create alerts for people who are not authorised to enter or stay in the EU.

When you cross an external border into an EU country (excluding Ireland and the United Kingdom), the immigration authorities will automatically check to see if you are the subject of a SIS alert.
What kind of information is held about people with SIS alerts?

The personal information that can be held in the SIS is limited. It can include a person's name, sex, nationality, date and place of birth, fingerprints and distinguishing physical features. It can also include information about whether the person is armed, violent or on the run.

Details about people's ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, health status or sexual orientation are not allowed to be stored in the SIS.
What happens if an alert shows up for me on the SIS?

Depending on what the alert looks like, you may be refused entry to the country, arrested, moved to a safe place or checked.

For example, if you do not have permission to enter or stay in the EU, you will not be able to cross an EU external border into an EU country. If you are sought for extradition or are the subject of a European Arrest Warrant, you could be arrested. If you are a missing person, you may be brought to a safe place while the authorities in your home country are contacted.

All SIS alerts are processed through a network of national offices in each EU country. These so called SIRENE offices are contact points between officials in the EU country which has created a SIS alert and those in the EU country where the people or objects in question are found
The Visa Information System (VIS)

The VIS is a shared database with information on all people who have applied for short-stay visas to visit or pass through Europe's border-free travel zone, the Schengen area. The VIS allows EU countries to exchange data on short-stay visa requests and decisions on refusal, extension, annulment or withdrawal of visas. When you present your short-stay visa to the border authorities of the first Schengen area country you enter, your details will automatically be cross-checked in this shared database.

The VIS started operations on 11 October 2011 in North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morroco and Tunisia). After North Africa, the VIS will be deployed in the Near East and then in the Gulf region. The VIS will be gradually rolled-out region by region until all Schengen States' consulates worldwide are connected. The United Kingdom and Ireland will not take part in this process.

If you have illegally entered an EU country and are arrested by immigration authorities, a record of your fingerprints will be stored in the EURODAC database for two years.

If you get a residence permit, obtain citizenship of an EU country, or leave the EU country or the EU entirely, the data will be immediately erased.
Further information

More on crossing the EU's external borders

More on short stays in the Schengen area

More on moving between EU countries

More on legal stays in EU countries


More on the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the Visa Information System (VIS)


Schengen Borders Code

Schengen Visa Code