I have a family member who speaks Romanian but not English, French or any other world language. If she flies alone, how can she pass through the control points (immigration, customs) at the airport?

Would it work if she brings a sheet with translations of the common questions and answers? Do airports (CDG in particular) have interpreters available for most languages? Is there any arrival card (for France) she will need to fill?

  • 1
    Is this family member coming from his/her/your home country?
    – Karlson
    Mar 12, 2014 at 16:53
  • @Karlson yes, our home country Mar 12, 2014 at 16:55
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    @aditsu Romania's in the EU so it's hardly some obscure language. I'd be very surprised if there aren't translators available. Mar 12, 2014 at 21:33
  • @aditsu I read the version where Paris was editted out (CDG in itself is meaningless to me), thanks for clarifying.
    – Bernhard
    Mar 12, 2014 at 21:58
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    It looks like some airports have telephones that can connect directly to translations services for just this reason. For instance, SEA has one for 150+ languages (see portseattle.org/sea-tac/passenger-services/Pages/default.aspx, look under interpreters).
    – Kaypro II
    Aug 8, 2016 at 20:01

4 Answers 4


The solution to the language barrier problem may be much simpler than relying on the immigration to provide the interpreter for the native language of your family member.

Given that he/she is coming from your native country it is much simpler to do one of the following:

  • Find a person on the plane who speaks one of the major languages as well as the native language of your family member. My mother-in-law does it all the time. When she arrives she asks to come through immigration with that person to help her understand what's being asked and she had no problems on her numerous visits.

  • Ask the air crew for the same help. Yes it may require them to stick around longer then they would normally would but they normally speak at least one language in addition to the native and on most international flights (if not all) you will be able to find a person in the crew that speaks the native language of the destination country in this case France. He/She can try to arrange it prior to departure this service definitely is available for kids traveling alone but you can try it for your relative.

  • 1
    I think I've been on at least one flight from my home country where none of the flight attendants were speaking my native language. But your first suggestion is most likely to work. Mar 12, 2014 at 17:20
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    I would also find it highly unlikely that the airline crew speaks the native language of the "outward" destination of an international flight, unless it is a commonly known foreign language in the airline's home country. I am regularly flying with Lufthansa to non-German speaking countries and I don't think I've ever met airline crew with knowledge of the language in the destination country. In this particular case, if she's flying with a French airline from Romania to France, the chance that anyone in the crew speaks Romanian is probably close to zero. Mar 13, 2014 at 8:22
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo depends on the airline... There are airlines who take great pains to match language skills of cabin crew with the destination of the flight, so at least some of them know the language of the destination country. BA is one, I believe Emirates and SIA do the same.
    – jwenting
    Mar 13, 2014 at 11:47

Since she'll be traveling between two EU member countries (Romania and France), the formalities will be minimal. Assuming that she has Romanian citizenship, she has the right to travel freely inside the EU. She needs to have a valid passport or identity card. Unless something really unusual happens (e.g. her papers are damaged, her name matches that of a wanted person), the immigration officer will look at her ID, maybe check the number against his database of wanted persons, check that the photo isn't too far off, and wave her through.

This even goes if she's traveling via a non-EU member (e.g. a flight via Istanbul) — EU citizens have no formality to accomplish when entering the EU.

If she is Moldovan (or other non-EU/EEA nationality), she will have to satisfy the immigration officer. She should have any invitation letter or whatever papers are required ready, as well as something to show that she has a flight out booked, and possibly a printout of “I'm visiting my family who lives at this address”. But don't worry: immigration officiers are used to people who don't speak the local language.

Going from the plane to the luggage carousel should be self-explanatory. The only potential difficulty would be joining the right queue (automated gates, EU, other) and there'll be someone to wave her into the proper lane.

The difficulty starts when she exits into the public zone. There, there will be signs in French and English only, and any audio announcements in the trains will be in French only. It would be best if someone can meet her at the airport. Failing that, she should either take a taxi (with her destination printed out) or know exactly what signs to follow and what tickets to buy for public transport.

  • 3
    And, furthermore, since she's travelling between EU countries, I'm pretty sure there will be interpreters available if the immigration officer needs to talk to her. She won't even have to explain that she speaks Romanian, since that will be the immigration officer's first guess on seeing her passport. Mar 13, 2014 at 9:28

This is not a rare issue or something that immigration officers do not know how to deal with. It is very common for all different employees in airports to face this especially the immigration/customs people.

I have also noticed that in many countries the immigration/customs employees are from different ethnicities who do speak their original languages. So nothing to worry about.

  • 1
    Given the number of possible languages there may not be a native or even a non-native speaker available if you're in the country with low immigration as border control need to be citizens of the country, so CDG, Heathrow, Frankfurt, Schiphol this will likely hold true but in Warsaw it may not.
    – Karlson
    Mar 12, 2014 at 16:56
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    Ok, maybe they know how to deal with the situation, but I'm asking what methods they use and what the passenger can do that will help. I don't think it's safe to assume there will be a staff member available who speaks the same language. Mar 12, 2014 at 17:03

I would probably teach the family member to hear (not read) the keywords in the usual questions that are asked and to respond with simple phonetically memorized answers:

  • where - as in Where are you coming from? or Where you have been? This can be answered with the city name your relative has just left
  • purpose or business or reason - as in What is the purpose of your visit, what is the reason for your visit, are you here for business or leisure? This can be answered with "I am visiting my sister for three weeks" (In English) or whatever the reason is.
  • any other question - "No English sorry" followed by the name (in English if possible) of the language(s) the relative can speak

Yes, I know this could go badly: Where are you staying? Mumbai (or Tokyo or whatever). No, where are you staying in France? Mumbai. But I am guessing your relative can understand when someone is asking the same question a lot that it's a good time to trot out "No English sorry".

Chances are a middle aged reasonably dressed person who can get out the sentence saying their reason will pass the two things border agents look for most

  • smuggler, drug dealer etc
  • work seeker or possible illegal immigrant

And will thus be allowed in. But if a more detailed conversation is needed, they'll find an interpreter.

One other thing: get hold of any declaration card that might need to be filled out, and translate it in advance for your relative. I found out just how darn rusty my Russian was when I tried to help a professional hockey player fill out the Canadian arrivals form on a flight from Seattle to Vancouver. Apparently the team took care of that normally, but he had been injured and was rejoining the team without a support staff. That he could tell me, but reading the form was a struggle for him. Especially subtleties like "the address where you live" on some forms but "the address where you are headed" on others, country by country. You can typically find these online, print one, and mark it up in the language your relative knows so they can fill out the real one when they get it.

  • 1
    Have you tried hearing the word "purpose" from a Scottish person? Mar 12, 2014 at 23:36
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    However, since we're talking about an EU citizen flying to another EU country, she shouldn't even have to answer any questions. Mar 13, 2014 at 9:30
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    @NeanDerThal — youtube.com/watch?v=sAz_UvnUeuU
    – WGroleau
    Jan 9, 2018 at 3:58

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