Can Britons use fast EU passport lanes in 2021?

The new EU Entry-Exit system may speed things up in 2022 but in the meantime it is likely that Britons will have to get used to longer queues once Brexit applies fully

27 October 2020
By Liv Rowland

Will we still be able to use the fast EU passport control lanes at EU airports, including France, on arriving from the UK from January 2021?

One of the advantages of EU or EEA membership is the right to enter France via the faster EU/EEA/Switzerland lanes as opposed to the tous passeports (all passports) lanes.

The latter often involve longer queues because officials may take longer examining documents and asking questions of ‘third country’ (non-EU) citizens whereas EU citizens are generally quickly waved through. Furthermore, some airports (also Eurostar terminals) in EU countries such as France offer fast automated lanes for people entering with a biometric EU passport.

The UK government has clarified that it intends to continue to allow EU/EEA/Swiss citizens to enter via automated 'e-gates' where available, if they have biometric (chipped) passports.

A Home Office spokeswoman said however that not all UK airports are equipped with these, and where they are not available it is expected that there will simply be two lanes – UK passports and other passports.

She added that EU citizens entering for short visits would only have to show their passports, not further supporting documents. Note that the UK and EU have already agreed reciprocally that short-term visitor visas will not be required by either side. EU citizens will no longer be able to enter simply with a national identity card, as of October 2021.

On the EU side however, the biometric lanes, where they exist, are at present for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens with biometric passports only, and ‘third country’ citizens must pass through the ‘other passport’ lanes and have passports checked manually. .

Some UK media have recently quoted ‘EU diplomats’ as stating that the UK government has asked for reciprocal use of EU automated gates, but that the EU has refused.

A number 10 Downing Street spokesman said this morning it is unlikely they will be able to comment on this, however we will update this article if we receive further information.

A European Commission spokesman said: "We’ve been clear for a long time now that all third country citizens have to go through passport lanes for third country citizens."

He added that in a recent seminar with member states the commission had confirmed there are no plans to change this, and that e-gates for entry to EU countries will remain for the use of EU/EEA/Swiss citizens.

The problem is likely to be that it would be difficult for the EU to make a single exception to its rule for British passport holders, which gives a privilege that no other ‘third country’ passport holders have.

Furthermore for entry to the Schengen Area, third country citizens who do not need full visitor visas are subject to the rule of staying no more than 90 days in any 180, and this is checked by means of a stamp in passports, which the automated gates are not equipped to do.

Note however that Britons who live in an EU country such as France and are returning home are not subject to this and will instead have to show a document such as a residency card or an attestation of having applied for one. The European Commission states that those who previously obtained EU citizen residency cards could also show these if necessary.

Entry-Exit system may help at a later stage

A new ‘EU Entry-Exit’ system is meant to be rolled out that may help with this situation, but it has been delayed and is currently only expected in the first half of 2022.

This will be an electronic system which will collect and store information including name, type of travel document (eg. passport), fingerprint image and facial image, and date and place of entry and exit. It will replace passport stamps.

The European Commission states it will “help third country citizens travel more easily” and will enable “wider use of automated border control checks and self-service systems”. However it is at present unclear if in this case special new automated lanes will be set up at EU airports or whether third country citizens will in future be able to pass through the same automated gates as EU citizens.

When it is in place, even where e-gates are available for the use of third country citizens they will still have to be seen by a border official at least on the first occasion of using the new system, to make sure all their details are entered correctly into it. 

Further complicating the issue at present, is the fact under current EU and national rules, Schengen states may ask third country citizen visitors for a range of supporting documents, which the French government lists at this link under Documents to be presented on arrival in France

They can include a return ticket, proof of medical insurance for the trip, proof of where you will be staying in France, etc.

We have asked the border police to comment on whether this could be necessary for Britons next year, however Americans living in France have previously told The Connexion that their visitors are not asked for these supporting documents.

Previous stories on border controls

Brexit: What changes at the French border in 2021? 

‘New’ UK campaign recaps 2021 changes for visiting EU 

Brexit: When do I have to renew my EU passport? 

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