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US State Department says, “You will need sufficient proof of funds and a return plane ticket” for a tourist visit to every Schengen country I looked at.  Something similar for several other countries.  And I’ve often read folks warning others of this (or complaining of it).

But I've made fourteen entries into Schengen and thirty into other countries or regions and never been asked for either.  (Actually more, but I didn't count transit, returning to USA, or port visits on ships.)

In most of those, I did not have a return or exit ticket.  I know that border officers have discretion, but am I some sort of outlier, or are the outliers the folks I've seen/heard complaining about it?

I don't think the details matter, but for those who disagree:

Schengen 14 (es/pt/is/it/be/nl)
México   10
UK        9
Canada    5
CA-4      1 (sv/hn)
Corea S.  1
Iceland   1
Irlanda   1
Perú      1
Taiwan    1
Turquía   1

P.S. Yes, I am US citizen, but that’s not my fault. :-)

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    Are you a US citizen? Passport privilege could be the answer. Holding a strong passport like US, Canada, EU, and UK can usually assure most border officers that you aren't there to stay unauthorized. Then again, I have a Salvadoran passport and have entered EU countries several times and never been asked more than how long I'm staying.
    – Ozzy
    Feb 14, 2023 at 9:10
  • I’d hazard a guess that pretty much every country offering visa-free entry has a similar rule but only exercises it if the traveller attracts the attention of Immigration or Customs officials for some reason. So the outliers are the ‘complainers’, not the millions who come and go undisturbed by the rule. On a recent entry to Cuba I was asked how much money I had but not asked for any proof of funds or return ticket or health insurance (all of which are supposedly ‘required’).
    – Traveller
    Feb 14, 2023 at 10:12
  • What Ozzy and Traveller said + they can't hold everyone for questioning, especially those with strong vetted passports, it would be highly inefficient and would hold back passenger flow a lot, which is something that most countries don't want (the US is a notable outlier to that) Feb 14, 2023 at 10:14
  • @NicolasFormichella "would hold back passenger flow a lot": or require hiring more officers to increase the ability to scrutinize passengers without reducing passenger flow. "the US is a notable outlier to that": the longest wait I've had in recent years in an airport immigration line was in Greece.
    – phoog
    Feb 14, 2023 at 10:46

2 Answers 2

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With regard to the Schengen area, at least, the State Department is ... wait for it ... wrong. This is what you get for asking one government about another government's laws. They don't always get it right. The actual criteria for entry that relate to funds and tickets are

they have sufficient means of subsistence, both for the duration of the intended stay and for the return to their country of origin or transit to a third country into which they are certain to be admitted, or are in a position to acquire such means lawfully;

There's nothing about a plane ticket except by implication, and there's explicitly no requirement to have it in your possession when you enter.

Now I can't say whether there is some formal line of reasoning that officially served as a determination that you had or could acquire sufficient resources, or whether the Schengen countries you entered have some official policy of letting certain travelers in without inquiring into their means of subsistence based on some other criteria, presumably in the name of using their own resources more efficiently, or whether border guards informally adapt their practices based on their personal experiences.

I suspect that it's one of the first two; "acquire such means lawfully" would, after all, include the US repatriation loan. I can't tell you, however, whether there was some formal determination that this option meets the relevant requirement of the Schengen Borders Code or whether a historical absence of US citizens being unable to afford to return to the US has been formally recognized by any Schengen country.

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A few facts that go some way towards answering your question:

  • Entry requirements are basically the same for all third country nationals, including having a valid purpose, valid travel documents, the means to cover your costs of living and return to your place of residence, and not being banned from entering the Schengen area. The only extra requirement for people who need a visa is health insurance.
  • Some years ago, I came across some data on the average length of the landing interview in the Schengen area. I don't remember the details but the average was something like a minute and a half. That includes the time it takes to scan / check your document and read the outcome of any database lookup.
  • Depending on where the last flights come from, you can easily see some people held up for several minutes while being processed. That means many many people really only spend 30 s or less talking to a border guard (to balance out the unfortunate people who have to undergo a much longer interview). That's not a lot of time to check anything.
  • In fact, there is at least one Schengen country where US citizens are allowed to used automated passport gates on entry. Border guards are still present to stamp passports and can presumably pull someone aside if they see fit but there is no systematic interview and clearly no expectation that any of the entry requirements would be routinely checked (beyond citizenship and presumably a lack of alert in various databases, which could be flagged by the machine).

In theory, you could imagine that border guards would spend less time checking visa holders as they have been vetted before even taking a plane and had to submit a lot of documentation to establish that they meet the entry requirements. In practice, this does not appear to be the case (to say the least).

As @phoog noted, holding a return ticket when entering is not even a formal requirement. And yet, I have read about countless consulates (or third-party visa handling businesses) that basically demand that you produce one to apply for a visa and would not be surprised if some visa-free visitors had been challenged about it at the border.

It seems quite clear that you are not an outlier and the rules you are reading about are just there as a tool to be used selectively by border guards, not something you should expect to be enforced thoroughly every time you cross the border.

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  • Two answers pretty much equal, but can only accept one. :-( Thanks for this!
    – WGroleau
    Feb 14, 2023 at 17:54

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