A theoretical question I am curious about.

Many times I have crossed Schengen land borders. I've had the good fortune to never be fully stopped and searched whilst doing this but I always had my passport with me just in case. There have been occasions where I've momentarily forgotten it and nearly missed trains due to having to run back to wherever I am based to get it.

I am curious however, in a worst case situation, what would happen to a UK citizen who gets stopped by the border police when crossing between Germany and France (or elsewhere in Schengen)?

Would a driving license be enough (this counts as ID for the purpose of legally being required to carry an ID within most European countries, though it is not a valid travel document)?

What if you are also missing this?

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    OK. Joke removed. Random checks do happen and they do seem to happen to non-'native' looking people more often than white guys. An East Asian friend of mine had a crazy time on the Italian-Swiss border once even despite all his parperwork being in order. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 9:20
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    It always used to be the case that only a passport or id card was enough to prove EU nationality, and thus the fact that there was no need to show them. EU style driving licences only show place of birth, not nationality. europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/entry-exit/eu-citizen/… I'd make this an answer, but it's possible things have changed.
    – origimbo
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 9:45
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    I'm also kind of curious about this. I'm also an EU-but-not-schengen citizen and canceled a ferry trip to another schengen country. I was under the impression that even if they don't check we're supposed to have our passports and I didn't have it.
    – user59310
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 13:59
  • How on earth do you plan to return to the UK without your passport?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 17:07
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    @MadHatter presumably by "running back to wherever I am based to get it" before returning to the UK.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 17:15

1 Answer 1


The whole point of the Schengen agreement was to abolish systematic border checks between the participating state -- not by applying any particular "white privilege" to certain travelers, but simply by having the border crossings be unstaffed yet open by default. So the fact that you're not inspected when crossing between France and Germany is how the system is supposed to work.

In recent years several of the member states have "temporarily" introduced extraordinary checks at some (but not all) of their internal border crossings. But even so, the relevant question is not, "are you allowed to cross this border?", but "are you allowed to be present in France?" (or wherever the check is physically conducted). Your rights and duties are exactly the same whether police stops you 20 meters from the border to Germany or on the street in Paris.

What actually happens if you don't have your passport depends on national law and is not regulated at the EU/Schengen level. So only a few general things can be said:

  • You may be detained while the police attempts to find out your identity.

  • If the stop happens right next to the border, the police might informally offer to lose interest in your identity (so you avoid detention) if they see go back to Germany.

  • In countries that require of their own citizens to carry ID at all times, you may be subject to the same penalties as forgetful citizens are. Note that a driver's license is usually not sufficient for satisfying such a requirement.

  • Otherwise the hassle of being detained while your identity is ascertained should be the worst outcome. As long as you can claim to be a Union citizen, the freedom-of-movement rules oblige countries to give you "every reasonable opportunity" to get hold of documentation or have someone bring it to you, before they conclude you're illegally present and remove you from their territory.

  • For non-EU/EEA citizens (which may become relevant after Brexit) this protection would not apply, and a country could, according to its national law, levy fines that don't apply to its own citizens, or decide that not having documentation with you constitutes sufficient proof of illegal presence to eject you forcefully.

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    abolish SYSTEMATIC border checks. Random checks are still routinely performed at many border crossings.The Swiss in particular do this a lot due to not being in the customs union. It is a question of are you allowed to cross the border and what happens if you are unlucky enough to be checked whilst trying to do so without a travel document. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 11:10

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