I hold a Swedish passport and I plan to travel to the UK this month and then to Canada within the next three months.

I have a type of personality preferring old clothing and high-time not shaving beard (mostly it comes from wanting a life soaking up mathematics and not caring for anything, makes peace of mind ... see e.g. G. Perelman, THE greatest mathematician alive and how is his appearance).

On the other hand, I am born Iranian so I have got a middle-eastern face and having a beard may cause negative thoughts for Islamophobic people (even though I'm 100% atheist).

In theory I should have no problem traveling to the UK and/or Canada, but is there any possibility that I be questioned by border officers?

  • This looks intriguing, considering reports that Perelman moved to Sweden :) – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 9 at 13:15
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    When I was a youngster I was a musician travelling with a concert band and choir, returning to the US from Turkey. I dressed (as instructed) in blue blazer, grey slacks, white shirt and necktie, and good shoes. I got barely a glance at customs, my passport was stamped, and the nice man called "Next!". "Next" was my room-mate who wore a loud, flowered shirt, white bell-bottom trousers, a rope belt, and sandals. His luggage was opened, emptied, everything inspected, suitcase linings checked, he was patted down, etc, for 15 minutes. Moral of the story: dress the way you want to be treated. – Bob Jarvis Nov 9 at 17:00
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    fwiw I think appearance always matters, in every context. People will judge you based on appearance, period. That's just how the world works. – only_pro Nov 9 at 22:04
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    @Carl, I didn't said "I think so". I asked "is it important?" at the border. What I believe is that shabby clothes is fine but torn/ragged clothes is absolutely distasteful. Looking homeless but having clean clothes/body should not be less respected than well-dressed. – 72D Nov 10 at 2:44
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    @72D everybody looks homeless when I'm around. But seriously, I'm on your side here. I grow a beard before I get on a plane specifically because I don't think beards should qualify for profiling. – Carl Nov 10 at 15:15
  • There may be problems if your identity documents show no beard and you arrive with one. Immigration might believe that you are using the beard to disguise a stolen or forged passport. This problem should cause only delays if the biometrics check out.
  • There may be problems whenever the immigration officer has discretion if a scruffy appearance is at odds with your stated purpose and financial situation. They are trained to look for inconsistencies and to question them. (For the UK, the immigration officer is not concerned with the purpose of your visit, only with your identity as an EU citizen. At least until Brexit.)
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    Indeed technically you're supposed to renew your passport photo if your appearance changes, which means hair length and beard. Though in practice I've personally never had an issue with this. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 9 at 10:32
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit At least for the UK and US, hair modifications explicitly don't count as a significantly changed appearance (and nor does regular aging). I suspect the same is true of Canada. – origimbo Nov 9 at 13:18
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    @origimbo Huh, looked into it more after your comment and you're right. Have always overestimated that requirement then! – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 9 at 13:32
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit, a different appearance, even of the permitted kind, might lead to more intensive screening. Not least to establish the identity clearly enough. – o.m. Nov 9 at 17:19
  • ...identity documents show no beard and you arrive with one. This isn't true for US. Five years after I got my passport, I grew a beard and no immigration commented on difference of appearance in the 3 foreign trips I took. – Farhan Nov 9 at 19:10

It shouldn't, but at least sometimes it does. Tony Saint worked in UK immigration for ten years, then wrote a novel based on his experiences. He called it Refusal Shoes, the title reflecting the propensity of some of his ex-colleagues for making admit/refuse decisions based solely on the applicant's footwear.

That said, as greatone notes, the UK (currently) has a treaty obligation to admit you unless it has a good reason not to, and "he was scruffy" is unlikely to fly as adequate.

Edit (in response to a comment): I'm fairly sure that EEA nationals have a right to enter unless any of several tightly-defined criteria are satisfied. Section 11 para 1 of the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2006 says

An EEA national must be admitted to the United Kingdom if he produces on arrival a valid national identity card or passport issued by an EEA State.

So it's possible that the border officer may start asking questions - it's a free country, after all - but your admissibility doesn't depend on the answers to anything like the same degree they do for non-EEA nationals. The exceptions (ie, grounds for inadmissibility) are listed in s19 of the same regulations, if you're curious.

Disclaimer: I have no connection with Tony Saint or his book. I just own a copy, is all.

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    Unfortunately this answer may be just wrong, MH. "the UK (currently) has a treaty obligation to admit you unless it has a good reason not to" Sure - but the way they investigate those showing up at the gate, to determine if they should not admit them, includes "questions", certainly "general appearance", "supporting paperwork" and so on. Note that, of course OP won't be refused "because of" long hair. (He could prove to be a rich rock star, with long hair.) The question is whether it will cause a big kerfuffle of questions. – Fattie Nov 9 at 7:28
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    Just TBC, everything you say in the answer is totally correct!! But, I believe the OP understands that (of course) he will be admitted, he is totally valid: he is just asking "Will I ("first") be questioned / hassled due to my long hair... (even though I ultimately get in)". I think! – Fattie Nov 9 at 8:24
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    Interesting that the clause doesn't say the card or passport has to be the traveller's! – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 9 at 10:33
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    @MichaelHampton How do you explain this passport from 1871? iabsi.com/gen/public/images/… – Vladimir F Nov 9 at 20:42
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    @VladimirF Passports have existed in some form or another for centuries. But they weren't routinely used as travel documents until World War I. Most of the passports issued before then were mostly what is today considered a diplomatic passport, issued to people traveling on government business. Indeed, the site you got that picture from has several other examples of such passports. – Michael Hampton Nov 9 at 20:45

Your appearance should be consistent with your reason for coming. If you are here to "sightsee" but you look like a homeless person, wearing filthy clothes that don't fit well, carrying a broken piece of luggage tied up with rope, shoes with holes, etc, the officer is likely to think:

This person looks too poor and desperate to afford this vacation. Perhaps someone bought them a ticket in exchange for carrying something. Or perhaps they intend to take advantage of public services here and never leave. I'd better check a little more carefully.

If you are here to "sightsee" but you are wearing a 3 piece business suit, carrying a large briefcase, and wearing "slippery city shoes", the officer is likely to think:

This person might be here for a job interview or perhaps has a job already arranged. They could be planning to work without a permit or even to move here without the right paperwork. I'd better check a little more carefully.

If you are here to "visit a cousin" but you are wearing work boots, overalls, and a workshirt, the officer might think you don't own any non-work clothes, again leading to wondering how you can afford the trip and what's really the purpose of it, or they might think you intend to work.

Grooming issues, like how recently you shaved, factor into this a little: the person who is ungroomed to the point of society disapproving may trigger the "too poor to really be traveling" thoughts in an officer who should know better. And yes, there may be some officers who see a beard, especially on a middle eastern face, as a little threatening, and who subconsciously decide to check a little more carefully.

Now, in theory, this "check a little more carefully" shouldn't matter if all your papers are in order. You can look homeless, but if you can show you're gainfully employed and can easily afford the trip, the fact your shoes have holes in them shouldn't keep you out. You can look like an IT consultant headed to a client, but if you can show your itinerary and plans to tour the country by train and see this, this, and that museum, castle, lighthouse and lookout, then your business-like demeanor shouldn't keep you out. The same goes for looking somewhat threatening. In theory. Reality is not always like that, so some people work extra hard to make sure they don't trigger any extra checking or suspicion. It's your choice.

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    I love the idea of someone migrating for work and literally arriving at the airport dressed for the job :-) – davnicwil Nov 9 at 17:05
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    @davnicwil a basic rule of packing, wear the bulkiest stuff. I tend to wear loafers and sneakers but also have ankle high steel toe work boots. They take the same space in my bags as 4 pairs of other shoes. For domestic travel, not wearing them means I must sacrifice bag capacity. – Harper Nov 9 at 17:50
  • Ah interesting. I'm just amused by the idea of it though, for the absurd quality, not saying it doesn't happen for practical reasons :-) – davnicwil Nov 9 at 17:58
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    As a note, though, job interviews are explicitly permissible for ordinary UK visitor visas. – chrylis Nov 9 at 18:33
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    All reasonable advice but note that for the UK part of the trip, the officers are not supposed to evaluate the purpose of the trip. They also shouldn't deny entry because the person might intend to work or stay longer than three months. – Relaxed Nov 9 at 23:46

The UK is unlikely to ask anything except where you're flying from and possibly the purpose and duration of your stay. In general, they can only subject you to hassle if they suspect your passport is fake and you aren't really an EEA national.

Canada is a different beast. While not as "difficult" as the US, be prepared to convince them that you are a bona fide visitor and will return home. Appearance certainly helps, as it may be a telltale about your lifestyle in the eyes of officers. Furthermore they check more carefully that the passenger is the person on the passport.

As such, when going to Canada, if your beard makes you look nothing like your passport photo, shave it. Likewise, if anything categorically makes you look like something other than a regular visitor, adjust accordingly.

I cannot speak for Canada but if you arrive in the UK as an EU citizen with a biometric passport at one of the major airports you will be directed to the automatic gates. Unless the system which monitors the gates has some reason to reject you then you will never meet anyone from the Border Agency so your specific question about immigration officials answers itself. Of course you may be questioned by customs if they think you may have prohibited substances but that is not what you asked.

Of course your appearance makes a difference.

Note:
As seeing from the comments people do misunderstand what I try to say: You can not change your ethnicity, you can dress to make it more or less obvious, but the OP seems not to dress up to it now. So I leave ethnicity/race out of it, as it is a given. My answer is about how to give the best impression within the bound of ethnicity/race and chosen style of dress.

Immigration officers are human and all humans are influenced by how other humans look. They are less likely to be suspicious if you look like you combed your hair, washed your face and put on a fresh shirt.

That is not about what ethnicity you have (or look like you have) or whether your beard is suspicious in itself.
You can not change your ethnicity, so you should make sure you give the best impression you can.
The basic, 'person took time to clean up' against the 'same person looks like he slept in his clothes for weeks on end'. There is no need to travel in a business suit if you do not need a business suit where you go, just clean versions of your normal clothing should make the difference.

So take that few minutes and make sure you keep one clean shirt (or even better, whole outfit) to change into before you cross a border.

I even went to wearing thin white socks in my sandals when I was in my twenties, as to show as 'nice girl' rather than 'hippy', but only put them on after arriving on the airport and took them off when on the next transport.

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    The difference is not about the ethnicity, the ethnicity may make a difference whatever you do, but being clean and tidy will never hurt, being untidy may. – Willeke Nov 9 at 13:44
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    That's not true. Immigration officers are directed to discriminate based on race. ilpa.org.uk/data/resources/4703/11.03.1161.pdf – greatone Nov 9 at 13:51
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    However, since one of the places the OP wants to visit is the UK, and since the OP himself questions the possibility of racial/ethnical/religious discrimination (because of his beard, its religious implications, and his personal origin), and finally perusing the document that greatone linked, it is specifically about ethnicity. – CGCampbell Nov 9 at 15:05
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    I am afraid the rewording didn't fully help. “That is not about what ethnicity you have” : well, you said it yourself, immigration officers are human and human tendencies to judge people based on their ethnicity or “otherness” or prejudice against Muslims are well documented. So which is it? – Relaxed Nov 9 at 23:50
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    You all miss the point, OP has the ethnicity and therefor the looks he has. This answer is about how to minimize the reaction on it without going to the lengths of plastic surgery or extremes like that. – Willeke Nov 10 at 9:43

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