EXPLAINED: What the EU’s new EES system means for travel to Switzerland
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 Switzerland.
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 Switzerland.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but it is part of the Schengen Area and will be part of the EES system so the same travel rules apply here.
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.
The EES is for the external borders of the Schengen Area – so if you are travelling within the zone, nothing will change but if you are entering from a non-EU country (including the UK) the new system comes into play.
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.
The current start date is May 2023.
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.
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.
Second-home owners and other regular visitors without a visa
If you’re a regular visitor to Switzerland from a non-EU country, you will already know about the 90-day rule.
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 Switzerland
If you are a citizen of a non-EU country but have residency in Switzerland, then you are not constrained by the 90-day rule. Under the current system you show your visa or 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.
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 Switzerland, 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.