Travelling to Europe? Sure?

A quick update and a little story from last Sunday at Geneva Airport for you.

This week I have mainly been hanging around with Leah. She made time in her busy schedule (i.e. the long winter holiday) to pop over and spend new year with me. We had a few really good nights out, got rather tiddly, ate some decent nosh and Leah tried her hand (or rather backside) at snowboarding. Her sis is apparently pretty good, having spent a fair amount of time in New Zealand. Leah didn’t do too badly for a complete novice, but we didn’t have an enormous amount of time for her to practice.

But back to the previous weekend and Geneva Airport. Now, look at a map and you’ll be aware that Switzerland is part of Europe. However, it is <em>not</em> part of the European Union. There are many agreements between the EU and Switzerland, one of which involves the freedom of movement of people – citizens of one can travel through the other unhindered and without a need for visas. You generally speaking won’t have to stop at a customs point on a border and so on.

However, if you’re an EU citizen and you <em>do</em> get stopped on the border (they randomly stop vehicles) then you must have your passport. Any other form of ID is not sufficient. Likewise if you fly in/out of Switzerland then you require a passport.

For those who are not EU citizens, it gets slightly more complicated…

If you’re from outside of Europe and you plan a holiday here you generally apply for your visa in advance (depending on where you’re from). The family who had the problem last week were from South America. They did as so many other people do – landed within Europe (I assume in the UK in their case) and their visa was checked, sorted and they went on their way. From then on, travel within Europe is fine but generally the visa will expire when you leave Europe and try to re-enter.

Ah, now I just made the same mistake they probably did. I said "Europe" when I should have said "the EU". They booked a holiday with us, hopped onto their plane in London or wherever, got off in Geneva… and then found out that they didn’t have a visa to enter Switzerland. Their holiday destination was actually to be in France, but we use Geneva as a main hub as it’s a larger airport than our alternative (Chambery).

Technically the fault lies with the airline as the family should not have been allowed on the flight in the first place. But airports make mistakes (witness my visa-less flight to Australia) and so they ended up stuck at immigration in Geneva Airport. We did get the situation sorted and they caught a later bus to their resort. Apparently there’s a French area or something at the airport where they were allowed to pass through, but don’t expect this to work for everyone.

So it’s a simple warning – when traveling, don’t assume that every country has the same immigration regulations for you as every other – even if they share borders.

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