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I am an EU citizen with indefinite leave to remain in the UK (ILR), where my primary residence is. However this is currently complicated to prove, and requires a multitude of documents. This situation can be fixed, but to do so I need to be back in the UK, while I'm currently abroad. (Another question has more context, but I don't think it's needed for this one.)

The UK's Home Office has advised me how to ensure I can prove my ILR at the UK border and I have everything I need to do so. However, when returning to the UK in the past (before the current situation) I've found that passport control at the country I'm leaving from can be even more strict.

I'd really rather not have to explain the situation at the departure end, for several reasons:

  • Authorities outside the UK do not have the required access to verify everything I say.
  • It could take time to explain everything, which may make me miss my flight, something which isn't a concern if I'm already at my destination.
  • There is in my mind a not insignificant chance that if I explain the entire situation I might be discriminated against, so I'd prefer to explain it to as few people as I possibly can.

With the above in mind, and that generally every EU citizen has the right to remain in the UK for up to 6 months without a visa, would it be a bad idea to tell the country I'm leaving from that I only intend to stay for a short time?
N.B. this may not be the country I'm a citizen of, depending on whether I can find a direct flight.

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    Is the country you are departing from a EU and/or Schengen country? And are you sure it's the exit passport control that asked any details rather than the airline? Unless you are wanted, exit passport control for a EU/Schengen citizen should not care the least about where you are going, why you are going, and if you have the right to go there. They just care you have valid EU/Schengen ID. Airlines on the other hand have an incentive to ask for documentation proving you can enter the destination country, but again, a valid EU passport should be more than enough to satisfy them.
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 15:26
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    But who asked that? And are you sure it was not a language issue if you were in a different country from your own? I just don't see why they would ask... Was there any issue with your ID which could possibly mean they had doubts about it being genuine?
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 15:31
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    I don't remember any such issues. Please also see my comments on Willeke's answer.
    – R_K_T
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 15:32
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    @jcaron We have very specific reports on this site about Swedish border guards being annoying with Swedish citizens regarding their rights to enter their destination. Yes, it should be legally irrelevant but whether we find it believable or not really doesn't change the question.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 22:35
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    This is an interesting question but I find myself compelled to vote to close as needing clarification because you don't seem to know whether you were talking to airline employees or government passport inspectors. The two would be asking about your status in the UK for different reasons, so it's difficult to analyze your situation without knowing. More importantly, there are different consequences and implications of misrepresenting your situation to each, so it's impossible to know whether it's "a bad idea to tell them I'm only staying for a short time."
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 5:41

4 Answers 4

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As an EU citizen you have an alternative route which is completely legal and which allows you to avoid seeing a UK immigration officer, thus bypassing the potential stress of having to explain your situation.

  1. Book a flight to the UK via the Republic of Ireland or a flight to the Republic of Ireland followed by a ferry trip to the UK.
  2. On arrival to Ireland, you're unquestionably entitled to enter as an EU citizen.
  3. There are no routine immigration checks on flights/ferries to the UK and no requirement to otherwise report one's presence to the government
  4. As per the latest CTA rules, you're entitled to a fresh 6 month stay if entering the UK via Ireland:

Those entering the UK from 1 January 2021 are entitled to 6 months of deemed leave, or 2 months of deemed leave where they have previously visited the UK on the basis of deemed leave (including before 1 January 2021) and have not left the CTA in the meantime.

  1. There are no routine immigration checks on flights leaving the UK, so you may take a direct flight on your way home. Even if you do encounter an immigration check, there's nothing to worry about as you haven't violated any laws.

Once you sort out your proof of UK residency, you can go back to entering the country via direct flight. Until then, flying via Ireland is always an option that's guaranteed to be risk-free.

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  • Apparently OP has the issue when departing their country, not on arrival in the UK, though I can’t fathom who could ask “why” and for what reason. And since Ireland is non-Schengen they would go through the same procedure on exit they would flying to the UK directly, so I don’t quite see ho this would help.
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 21:49
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    @jcaron I suspect OP is referring to airline employees rather than actual immigration.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 21:50
  • I don’t quite understand why airline employees would ask such a question, especially for someone with a EU passport. The only cases I can think of are random customs checks (those have a tendency to ask more questions to determine if they have any reason to press further, but they are extremely rare in my experience — while I’ve had a couple leaving the UK, I can’t remember having one leaving the EU, but that may vary by country), or a border officer trying to ascertain if a document is genuine. But none of those would change if travelling to Ireland rather than the UK…
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 21:55
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    @jcaron I suspect that even if its the border guards who care, they'd probably care a lot less if the destination is another EU country. But I agree that OPs situation is confusing.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 1:28
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    The issue arises when someone with a EU passport checks in to a flight to the UK(most common outside the EU) and has no return/onward flight leaving the UK. Delta Airlines will not let me check in online unless I give them a date when I am leaving the UK again, despite the fact that I have settled status (ILR). I also had a lengthy conversation with the checkin staff at Tokyo Narita who also were not able to verify my settled status. THE UK government screwed that one up. Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 14:58
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At the exit passport check, you shouldn't need to get into the details and definitely don't need to volunteer anything you are not asked about but to go to the bottom of your question, if you are asked explicitly about the purpose of your trip or when you are planing to come back, it's hard to see how you could avoid disclosing the fact you live in the UK. In your specific situation, I don't think a lie would be very dangerous (there is no visa to rescind, your rights as an EU citizen are very extensive) but I would still never advise lying to a border guard.

You could still try something like “I don't think that's relevant” or “Why does it matter?” but it's difficult to do that without antagonising the person in front of you and it will not necessarily make the conversation smoother. It might even invite more pointed questions.

Quite apart from the specific situation, any deception, even relatively benign, can force you to engage in additional lies and end up making things worse. For example, if you say it's a short visit, you could be asked when you intend to come back, why you don't have a return or onward ticket (even though it's not strictly necessary legally speaking), etc. It becomes hard to convincingly answer these questions without completely making up a story or looking very suspicious. At that point, if you revert to explaining that you actually have an ILR, your credibility has been severely damaged and the conversation will be even more frustrating than if you had tried to explain the truth from the get go.

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When you leave a Schengen country you will be asked by the airline (or possibly the ferry) to prove you are allowed into the country you are going to. The airline will not worry how long you are going to stay in the UK and if they ask you about a return ticket you can always say you are not yet sure which date you return, as an EU citizens you do not need a return ticket and I have never been asked for one.

Next you go through exit passport control and those officers want to see your EU passport, they are not concerned about where you go or how long.

In most cases you will meet the UK officers when you enter the UK, I think only with the train you meet them before you cross the channel or North Sea, to them you need to tell you will stay long term, but you left that out of this question.

If it is the airline you can evade the question, if it is the passport check officer they might be checking you actually are the person you claim to be, by using the passport. You can ask them why they ask, as it is none of their business but you will not want to be so rude to an immigration officer. I think this is one of the cases when not telling the truth might be acceptable, even though we usually tell people never to lie to an immigration officer.

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    In fact last time I travelled I was asked why I was going, and when I said I lived there they wanted proof. I had an EU passport with almost a year left, at the time.
    – R_K_T
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 15:19
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    No, tell them "I do not know the date yet". You can even go as far as "some weeks" if they press you.
    – Willeke
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 15:25
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    Whom asked "Why are you going?"
    – Willeke
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 15:27
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    Airline or border officer?
    – Willeke
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 15:30
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    If it is the airline you can evade the question, if it is the passport check officer they might be checking you actually are the person you claim to be, by using the passport. You can ask them why they ask, as it is non of their business but you will not want to be so rude to an immigration officer. I think this is one of the cases when not telling the truth might be acceptable, even though we usually tell people never to lie to an immigration officer.
    – Willeke
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 16:14
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As mentioned in the other answers, airlines only care whether you will be allowed to enter the destination country (since they would have to move you back), they don't need or care about the length of your stay or specifics for your visit. Exit guards don't really care, either.

This kind of chit-chat by border guards imho is geared to see if you react nervously, as if trying to hide something, inconsistencies, etc. which could be a sign they should take a closer look (more relevant when you are entering, though).

Should you be asked, I would simply mention that you are going back home to fill some paperwork with the UK Government. They don't need or care, but you could even mention that even though you got the settled status years ago under the EU Settlement Scheme, now you need to file more forms with the Home office. And nicely avoid the reason you need those to be updated.

Officers are not more interested in hearing lengthy explanations than you. While you may get a couple of questions, I think you are unlikely to have any issue.

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    "since they would have to move you back": that's not the most compelling reason. Most countries will impose a fine of several thousand dollars/euros/pounds/etc. if an airline brings someone who lacks the proper documents. "they don't need or care about the length of your stay or specifics for your visit": but they do, because these facts determine what documents the traveler néds to have..
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 5:30

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