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EXPLAINED: What the EU’s new EES system means for travel to Denmark

From biometric checks to the 90-day rule, residency documents and visas - here's what the EU's new EES system means for people travelling in and out of Denmark.

EXPLAINED: What the EU’s new EES system means for travel to Denmark
Passport control at Copenhagen Airport. Photo: Søren Bidstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

You might have seen some rather dramatic headlines about the EU ‘harvesting biometric data’ – so here’s what the EU’s new Entry and Exit System (EES) – due to come into effect next year – actually means if you are travelling in and out of Denmark.

The system has been in the works since 2013 and is due to come into effect in May 2023 – although it has been postponed several times before.

It has four stated aims – to improve and modernise border systems; to reinforce security and aid the fight against crime and terrorism; to help EU member states deal with increasing traveller numbers without having to increase the numbers of border staff; and to systematically identify over stayers within the Schengen area [ie people who have stayed longer than their visa or 90-day limit allowance].

The system doesn’t actually change any of the EU’s rules about travel, length of stay etc, but it will make enforcing them easier.

Where?

The EES is for EU external borders – so if you are travelling between Denmark and Germany nothing will change but if you are entering Denmark from a non-EU country (including the UK) the new system comes into play.

Who? 

It applies to all non-EU citizens, including those who have temporary or permanent residency of an EU country. Dual nationals are exempt if they are travelling on their EU passport. 

When?

The current start date is May 2023.

What?

Basically, the EES changes how passports are checked at the border.

The first change is the addition of biometric data – in addition to the current details in your passport (name, DOB etc) the system will also record facial images and fingerprints of all passengers – so it will be similar to going to the USA, where foreign arrivals already have to provide fingerprints.

The second change is through recording onto the system complete details of entry and exit dates; how much of their 90-day limit (if applicable) people have used and whether they have previously been refused entry.

Exactly how this applies varies slightly depending on your circumstances.

Tourists 

This is the most straightforward category and the one that will apply to the majority of travellers. For tourists or those coming for a short visit little will change apart from having to give fingerprints when they enter.

They will also be told how long they can stay in the Schengen Area – for visitors from non-Schengen-visa countries like the UK, USA, Canada and Australia this will be 90 days, easily long enough for most holidaymakers.

Regular visitors without a visa

If you’re a regular visitor to Denmark from a non-EU country, you will already know about the 90-day rule.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can Brits stay more than 90 days in the EU if they have a spouse with an EU passport?

The rule itself doesn’t change, but one of the stated aims of the new system is to catch overstayers, so anyone hoping to ‘slip under the radar’ with regards to the 90-day limit should forget that idea.

Instead of the current and rather inconsistent system of passport-stamping, each entry and exit to the EU is automatically logged on the system, so that border guards can see how long you have spent in the Schengen Area in the preceding 180 days, and whether you have overstayed your limit. 

Residents in Denmark 

If you are a citizen of a non-EU country but have residency in Denmark then you are not constrained by the 90-day rule. Under the current system you show your visa or residency card at the border and the border official should refrain from stamping your passport.

The automated system does away with passport stamping – which has become a headache for residents since it is inconsistently applied in some countries.

However, at this stage it is not clear how residency status will be linked to passports, and therefore how residents can avoid starting the 90-day ‘clock’ when they enter the EU.

The European Commission had previously told The Local that people with a visa or residency card should not use automated passport gates, but we are still attempting to get more information on this. 

Our sister website The Local France asked the French Interior Ministry and they provided a little more detail, telling us “EES only concerns non-European nationals, without a long-stay visa or residence permit, who are making private or tourist visits for periods of less than 90 days”.

In other words – EES does not concern people who are residents in Denmark or have a long-stay visa.

The French Interior Ministry spokesman continued: “People with a residency permit or long-stay visa must present these documents at the border. The control process does not change these categories of travellers.”

What this means in practice is that people with a visa or residency permit cannot use the automated passport gates, and must instead go to a manned booth so that they can show both their passport and residency card/visa. This is likely to mean extra waiting times at busy periods.

As with residents, anyone who has a visa must show it at the border in order to avoid starting the 90-day clock, and that means that visa holders cannot use the automated passport gates – as outlined above.

So how will this actually work in practice?

If you’re a tourist or short-stay visitor and you’re travelling by air you probably won’t notice much difference since many airports already have automated passport gates in place for certain travellers. In fact, the Commission says this system will be faster than the current system in place for non-EU arrivals.

If you are a resident of Denmark, you need to remember to avoid the automated passport gates and choose a manned booth so that you can show your residency card or visa along with your passport.

However, things are less clear for people by ferry to Denmark from the UK or another non-EU country. The EES system would require all passengers to get out of the car and have their passports and faces scanned, and scan fingerprints, which would obviously take longer. 

Anything else I need to know about?

Yes, EES is different to ETIAS, which is due to come into effect later in 2023. That won’t affect residents, but will require tourists and those on a short visit to pay €7 for a holiday visa – full details on that HERE.

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Tips for short-haul foreign travel from Denmark this Christmas

For the past two Christmases strict Covid rules prevented many people from travelling. This year that isn't an issue, but there are strikes, service reductions and high ticket prices to contend with.

Tips for short-haul foreign travel from Denmark this Christmas

Whether you’re a foreigner in Denmark planning a trip to see friends or relatives over the festive season, a second-home owner or you’re planning a Christmas or New Year trip to Denmark, there are several things worth keeping in mind when planning travel.

Strikes

If you’re taking a trip to the UK, be aware that rail workers are currently engaged in a protracted battle to secure pay increases that will help them cope with the soaring cost of living, and have not ruled out further strikes over the festive season.

If you’re going to Italy there are widespread air and rail strikes in November that could continue into December, while Germany has also seen airline strikes. Low-cost airlines in Spain are also staging strike action that is currently scheduled to last until after Christmas.

You can find the latest in Italy here, Spain here and Germany here.

Flying

Many airlines are struggling to bring back staffing to pre-pandemic levels, making it difficult for them to increase the number of flights to meet demand. The current oil prices have also significantly increased airlines’ fuel costs.

Long-haul flights have been particularly affected, with flights from Denmark to New Zealand for a family of four costing around 100,000 Danish kroner over the Christmas period.

Short-haul flights aren’t quite as jaw-dropping but can still be expensive.

One tip to consider, is flying from a different airport to reduce savings. 

“For the first time in six years of living here in Copenhagen we are using Billund airport to fly to the U.K. for Christmas as it was a third of the price of flying out of Copenhagen on the same dates in December,” The Local reader Rachel Prowse said.

Flights for two adults and two children for two weeks over Christmas from Copenhagen to London Stansted currently cost between 3,500 and 4,500 kroner. From Billund to London Stansted for a family of four it costs between 1,700 kroner and 2,500 kroner depending on the flight time. 

Another reader of The Local suggested advance booking and avoiding check-in luggage to keep costs down.

Trains

DSB is the national rail operator in Denmark. Timetables and tickets can be found at dsb.dk, including discounts for travelling outside of rush hours. The timetable for train travel over the Christmas period which includes slightly adjusted times.

Copenhagen central train station has direct services to Sweden and Germany. From Germany, you will have access to the rest of Europe.

Thanks to a newly launched overnight train service in 2021, you can catch an evening train from Copenhagen and wake up in either Hamburg or Berlin.

The train stops in Høje Taastrup and drops off in Hamburg and Berlin the following morning, although there are not many tickets left over the Christmas period. 

The Seat 61 website provides tips on how to travel comfortably and affordably by train. It includes an introduction to train travel in Europe, as well as an extensive search feature to find trains by starting location.

For example the website guides you through taking trains from Aarhus, Aalborg, Kolding, Odense or Copenhagen to Brussels, Cologne or Hamburg. From Brussels you can take the Eurostar onto London.

However be aware that the Eurostar is running around one third fewer services in order to avoid massive queues due to the post-Brexit passport check rules, and passengers are now advised to allow 90 minutes for pre-boarding checks. Financial troubles at the company have also seen ticket prices rise.

The Trainline is an international platform focused on train travel. The company is based in the UK but has extensive coverage of train travel in 45 countries across Europe.

The aim of the Trainline is find to the cheapest tickets for a selected route. Most of the time, this means booking in advance.

Ferry

An overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo for a family of four costs around 3,300 kroner without including meals. 

There are two ferry routes operating between Denmark and Sweden: Frederikshavn to Gothenburg and Grenaa to Halmstad, which costs around 900 kroner for a family of four without a car over Christmas.

You can travel between Denmark and the UK using ferries. You can take a train from Copenhagen to Hamburg, then Hamburg to Rotterdam and sail overnight from Rotterdam to Hull by P&O cruise ferry.

You can also take the overnight ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle by DFDS Seaways cruise ferry. You can get from Copenhagen to Amsterdam by train via Hamburg or you can take the car.

This method may not save you money but can make the journey more fun if you want to avoid airport delays.

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