When I arrived by ferry from Belfast (Northern Ireland, UK) to Birkenhead (Merseyside, England, UK), police were checking all (foot) passengers for their passports (perhaps car passengers too — I couldn't see). When asked, I was told this was because of the seamless border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There were no such checks when we travelled in the opposite direction.

I found those checks surprising, as this is a domestic ferry and even on ferries between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain there should be no passport checks.

Is it normal that there are passport checks when travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain?

  • 1
    Is UK police really allowed to do any kind of id check on persons without any other cause than the person travelling within the UK? Commented May 30, 2017 at 14:52
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo Good question. My first thought was that it might have been related to the current terror threat level, but the nature and position of the checks does not really add up unless they have specific information on an individual travelling from the island of Ireland.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 16:03

2 Answers 2


It is definitely not uncommon, despite it not being an "official" border. Certain nationals, such as South Africans, can enter Ireland but not the UK visa-free. For the same reason, there are spot checks on buses and trains from Dublin to Belfast as well.

It's similar at the land border between Switzerland and the neighbouring countries (despite all of them being in the Schengen Area), where the Swiss frequently stop long-distance buses entering the country and collect all passports for inspection.

  • I don't think it's similar. Northern Ireland is not a neighbouring country — it is the same country. It would be like passport checks when entering mainland France from Corsica.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 15:15
  • @Gerrit It's certainly not uncommon on ferries from Sicily to mainland Italy, though that's for slightly different reasons
    – Crazydre
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 15:37
  • Northern Ireland may be the same country, but if there are no checks for entering Northern Ireland from (southern) Ireland, then it makes sense to me that they might want checks on the English side.
    – WGroleau
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 19:00
  • @WGroleau There are spot checks from Ireland to nortern Ireland as well, at least on buses and Trains Dublin-Belfast.
    – Crazydre
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 19:01

I Am Not a Lawyer, but it seems that British police can legally demand that you identify yourself in the context of ferry travel (even purely domestic ferry travel). See this answer on Law Stack Exchange. Ferries aren't specifically mentioned, but the link given for domestic air travel seems pretty clearly to apply to ferry travel as well. Police can apparently not only check your ID, but search you and detain you for up to nine hours.

Note that this was an ID check, not a passport check. It's not a requirement for British or Irish citizens to even own a passport for travel between the UK and Ireland (never mind two parts of the UK).

I don't know how common police checks are, but all the ferry lines seem to have a policy requiring photo ID.

  • Where exactly in the linked section of the 'Terrorism Act' do you read that passengers, arriving on a ferry from Northern Ireland to England, can be required to present an id or a passport? Commented May 30, 2017 at 18:18
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo "2 (2)This paragraph applies to a person if— (a) he is at a port or in the border area, and (b) the examining officer believes that the person’s presence at the port or in the area is connected with his entering or leaving Great Britain or Northern Ireland...." Commented May 30, 2017 at 18:22
  • @DavidRicherby That does not answer my question. The paragraph you are quoting from gives the examining officer the right to question a person, to whom the paragraph applies. It does not say, that the persons can be required to present any kind of identification document. Commented May 30, 2017 at 18:38
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo Did you actually read the linked document at all? Paragraph 5: "A person who is questioned under paragraph 2 or 3 must— (a)give the examining officer any information in his possession which the officer requests; (b)give the examining officer on request either a valid passport which includes a photograph or another document which establishes his identity; (c)..." I realise the document is rather long, but this stuff is right at the top and I found it within seconds. Commented May 30, 2017 at 19:03
  • @DavidRicherby Yes, I read the document and did not find it, otherwise I would of course not have asked. Had you pointed to 2(5)(b) right away, it would have answered my question. Commented May 30, 2017 at 20:28

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