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All these years, I was under the impression that except a few countries like India, Singapore etc, most others don’t have immigration / customs formalities for departing passengers. Now I realize, countries like US may be an exception than norm for this.

What is the purpose of these formalities for departing passengers? What is the process in other countries?

If it is to prevent theft of historic artifacts or smuggling contraband etc, wouldn’t that be dealt with by the security instead, who already inspect the luggage? If it is to track whose coming in and going out, surely the US is also keeping track of that somehow without this additional process?(not talking about the situation at Mexican border)

In Indian airports, I’ve experienced this process causing extremely long lines, especially when a bunch of flights leave late at night, close to each other. Thank you.

3 Answers 3

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I believe countries which don’t do explicit exit passport checks are the exception rather than the norm.

Beyond the US, there’s also the UK not doing it, and Ireland as well I believe.

At least in the case of the US and the UK, authorities get the list of people who exited from the carriers in many cases (that’s relatively recent in the UK, before that they just didn’t know).

The goal of those checks may include (that varies a lot):

  • to prevent some people from leaving. In “free” countries it’s usually wanted criminals, in authoritarian regimes it can be anybody who wasn’t authorised to leave.
  • to check that temporary visitors did not overstay their visa. If they did, the reaction could range from “we take a note and good luck for your next visa or visit” to fines (and possibly jail until you pay)
  • To check that children are not taken out of the country without the proper consent
  • To stamp your passport: believe it or not, in Schengen, at this time, the only way to find if someone has overstayed the 90/180 rule is… to find all entry and exit stamps in your passport and count the days!

I believe India has special rules for some categories of people/passports going to certain countries, but I’m not familiar with the details.

Indirectly, it will also tell authorities who didn’t leave and could thus be in violation of visa terms, though other than stats I don’t think this is currently actively used (it requires quite a bit of IT and processes, and there are so many reasons one could appear to not have left the country without being in violation of their visa that it would probably result in too many false positives).

Officers performing passport checks are usually not the same as those performing customs checks (though they can refer you to customs or alert them if they have any suspicions).

Systematic exit customs enforcement is extremely rare (even on entry, in many countries most people are just waived through). It has happened to me a few times to have customs officers at the gate asking questions. Mind you, it was a flight to Las Vegas and they were inquiring about large amounts of cash.

Some countries will have higher levels of enforcement, either about historical artefacts, or protected/endangered species, or even drugs, but usually they just count on the destination country to catch smugglers.

The people doing security scans are yet another set of people, in many places they’re not even government employees. It may happen that customs either “piggyback” on those checks or have their own checks, but again, usually not as frequent.

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    @littleadv you most certainly didn’t. The UK does not do exit passport control, hasn’t done so for ages, and explicitly uses data from carriers to know who left and when. Since there’s no preclearance in LHR, I don’t see how or why you could have gone through passport control on departure. Of course the airline may have required you to show them some form of Id so they can provide accurate records, but that’s the extent of it.
    – jcaron
    Apr 20, 2023 at 20:26
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    @littleadv You didn't mention 2017 in your first comment, knowing that it now seems even more likely that you simply misremembered. In actual fact, the UK phased out embarkation checks in the 1990s. The “Exit checks programme” mentioned in this fact sheet was in effect between March 2015 and May 2016 but was formally closed afterwards so I don't think it would have impacted you. Even then, any additional check should have been performed by the carriers and be invisible to the public.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 21, 2023 at 1:11
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    Now, I obviously cannot know what happened to you in 2017, it's possible you happened to encounter some unusual check for some reason but what we can definitely say is that they were not common at the time and not much has changed since.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 21, 2023 at 1:12
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    @littleadv Although the text says it's unmanned, the map of Terminal 3 for Departures next to it has no Immigration marked on it, only Security and Check-In. For the Arrivals Immigration is clearly marked. So I'm not sure what their text is trying to describe Apr 21, 2023 at 7:05
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    Canada doesn't do it either. Apr 21, 2023 at 16:23
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I understand the question to mean whether a traveller departing the country would usually have an interaction with an immigration or custom official. In this reading, the answer for almost all European countries is no regarding customs. If a traveller has something they need to report, it is on them to find a customs official. The Schengen countries do have exit immigration controls (when departing to a non-Schengen destination). The UK used to have no exit immigration controls at all, but is now switching to the US model of collecting airline data instead.

My experience outside Europe is limited, but I have not encounter any custom officials when departing Japan, South Korea or Canada either. Japan used to have systematic exit controls, but is in the process of introducing procedures whether the departing passenger is registered automatically rather than by interacting with an immigration official.

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I live in Canada, and have travelled to many countries in Europe. None of the countries I had ever visited had had customs/passport checks on leaving the country, so I never expected this upon leaving Turkey! I was confused in Istanbul airport, looking for the boarding gates. But there was only an entrance to "passport control," that I completely disregarded as where I should go! Eventually I figured it out. It was so completely counter to my expectation.

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  • In Europe typically there is always passport control when you leave, except maybe the UK. What are those other European countries that you left without passport control? Apr 21, 2023 at 4:22
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    All Schengen countries, which cover most of Europe, have exit passport control, as far as I know only the UK and Ireland do not. It may have been more logical in the airports you used.
    – Willeke
    Apr 21, 2023 at 4:22
  • Netherlands definitely has exit checks. When flying out of Schiphol you have to show your passport several times. At LEAST to both the checkin attendant (or scanned to the machine) and an MP agent manning the border control point (unless flying to a Schengen destination). Often also to an airport employee directing traffic to the correct emigration lines (Schengen citizen or not, Schengen destination or not). And quite frequently (certainly when leaving the Schengen area) at time of boarding as well, together with your boarding card).
    – jwenting
    Apr 21, 2023 at 6:59
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    @jwenting Out of those, only the border control point is an actual "exit check" (done by the authorities). Showing your passport at check-in is purely to identify yourself so they can look up your e-ticket and issue you a boarding pass (if you check in online instead, nobody will care about your passport). And having to show some sort of ID at the gate is purely a matter of airline policy for business reasons (mainly low cost carriers do that to prevent ticket resale).
    – TooTea
    Apr 21, 2023 at 7:13
  • @TooTea for the average punter all are... They don't know or care about the difference, and in places like the US you never have to show your passport at all in many cases.
    – jwenting
    Apr 21, 2023 at 7:24

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