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Returning to my own country

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU you may not stay in an EU country without authorisation. There are EU-wide rules that set out minimum standards and procedures for the return of irregular migrants to their home countries, or in some cases to other non-EU countries. These rules apply in 25 EU countries, excluding Ireland and the United Kingdom.

On these pages you will find out what to expect if you are found to be staying in one of these 25 EU countries without permission.

Information on laws in a particular EU country may be found by consulting relevant organisations and authorities that are listed in the Directory.
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Staying in an EU Country without permission

Under what conditions would my stay in an EU country be considered irregular?

If you do not fulfil, or no longer fulfil the conditions for entering or staying in an EU country, you do not have the permission to be there.What risks might I face?

This could be the case if you do not have a proper visa or residence permit, or if you stay in the country after your visa or permit has expired.

More on how to legally enter and stay in an EU country

What happens if I am found to be staying illegally in an EU country?

If you are found to be staying illegally in the EU you will get a “return decision.”

A return decision, from a court or another authority, will state that your stay is illegal and will oblige you to leave the country.

While you will normally be expected to return to your own country, you may in some cases be expected to go back to another non-EU country which you passed through on your way to the EU.

More on your home country’s obligations

If you already have a right to stay in another EU country, you will have to go to that country. If you do not go immediately, or if you represent a threat to public policy or security, you may have to leave the entire territory of the EU.

I have been issued with a return decision. What happens next?

You will be asked to leave voluntarily, normally within one to four weeks, unless:
  • You represent a risk to public order, public security or national security;
  • Your application to stay in the country was based on false information;
  • Your application to stay in the country was dismissed as being unfounded;
  • There is a risk you will escape.
In such circumstances, the period of time for voluntary departure might be less than seven days or you may have to leave immediately.

If you do not voluntarily leave the country within the time period allowed under the return decision, or if you become a risk to public or national security you will be returned to your own country or to another non-EU country.

Could I be placed in detention while awaiting departure?

In general, you will not be held in detention while awaiting departure. However, if, for example, there is a risk that you will flee, avoid or obstruct your return, you may be placed in temporary detention while preparations are made for your journey.

Where possible, the authorities must use means other than temporary detention.

A person who has received a return decision can always ask to have this reviewed by a court.

What detention conditions could I expect?
  • The conditions of detention must be in full respect of fundamental rights and meet national and international standards;
  • You must be placed in a specialised detention centre. Where this is not possible, you might be in a prison but separated from ordinary prisoners;
  • You must be able to contact your legal representatives, family members and consular authorities;
  • Your detention shall be regularly reviewed by the relevant national authorities. In cases of prolonged detention, any such review will be supervised by the courts.
For how long can I be detained?

The detention period will be as short as possible and is generally limited to a maximum period of six months. In exceptional cases, detention will be allowed for a maximum of 18 months.

The rights of migrants waiting to be sent back home

What kind of treatment am I entitled to while awaiting my departure?

You benefit from a number of legal guarantees during the period before your return. These can include the right to:What are my rights?
  • Contest a return decision;
  • Seek legal advice;
  • Language assistance, such as interpretation or translation, where necessary;
  • Have the unity of your family respected. Efforts will be made to house you together with your family members and to return you together;
  • Emergency health care and essential treatment of illnesses;
  • In the case of children, access to education for the duration of their stay.
In addition, the special needs of vulnerable people should be taken into account.

In some cases you may be able to get legal advice and/or representation free of charge.

Will I be able to come back to an EU country that issued a return decision against me?

Yes, unless your return decision was accompanied by an entry ban issued by national authorities or a court. An entry ban prevents you from entering and staying in an EU country for a certain period of time. The duration of entry bans are decided on a case-by-case basis, but they generally do not last longer than five years, unless you pose a threat to public order, public security or national security.

Each EU country can decide under what circumstances it will issue an entry ban. You will automatically receive an entry ban if you do not voluntarily return home, when asked to, or if you were not given the option of returning voluntarily.

I have been issued with an entry ban from one EU country. Can I legally go to another EU country?

If a second EU country considers letting you move there while an entry ban is still in force, it must consult with the country that issued the ban in the first place.

Your Home Country’s Obligations

In general, your own country must accept you back if you are returned from an EU country.

Some non-EU countries have signed readmission agreements with the EU, as well as with individual EU countries, to make the return of their citizens easier. In some cases, non-EU countries will also receive citizens from other non-EU countries who passed through on their way to an EU country.

The EU has concluded readmission agreements with: Further Information

More on how to enter the EU

More on how to work in an EU country

More on protecting the victims of trafficking

EU laws on return

EU laws on sharing return flights

EU laws on mutual recognition of expulsion decisions

Readmission agreements signed between the EU and non-EU countries