EU: Smart Borders…

Enhancing mobility and security



Other available languages : FR DE DA ES NL IT SV PT FI EL CS ET HU LT LV MT PL SK SL BG RO

The EU is moving towards a more modern and efficient border management by using state-of-the-art technology. Today, the Commission proposed a ‘smart border package’ to speed-up, facilitate and reinforce border check procedures for foreigners travelling to the EU. The package consists of a Registered Traveller Programme (RTP) and an Entry/Exit System (EES) that will simplify life for frequent third country travellers at the Schengen external borders and enhance EU border security.

“The use of new technologies will enable smoother and speedier border crossing for third country citizens who want to come to the EU. Our aim is to facilitate the access of foreign travellers to the EU. This will not only be in the interest of the travellers but also the European economy. It has been estimated that in 2011 alone foreign travellers made a €271 billion contribution to our economy. Modernising our systems will also lead to a higher level of security by preventing irregular border crossings and detecting those who overstay”, said Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.

Regulation on an EU Registered Traveller Programme (RTP)

A Registered Traveller Programme (RTP) will allow frequent travellers from third countries to enter the EU using simplified border checks, subject to pre-screening and vetting. It is estimated that 5 million legitimate non EU-travellers per year will make use of this new program. The RTP will make use of automated border control systems (i.e. automated gates) at major border crossing points such as airports that make use of this modern technology. As a result, border checks of Registered Travellers would be much faster than nowadays.
Business travellers, workers on short term contracts, researchers and students, third country nationals with close family ties to EU citizens or living in regions bordering the EU are all likely to cross the borders several times a year. Making it as easy as possible for them to come to the EU would ensure that Europe remains an attractive destination and help boosting economic activity and job creation.

Regulation on an EU Entry/Exit system

An Entry/Exit System (EES) will record the time and place of entry and exit of third country nationals travelling to the EU. The system will calculate the length of the authorised short stay in an electronic way, replacing the current manual system, and issue an alert to national authorities when there is no exit record by the expiry time. In this way, the system will also be of assistance in addressing the issue of people overstaying their short term visa.

The current practice used by Member States when checking a third country national wanting to cross the EU’s external borders is based mainly on the stamps in the travel document. This practice is time consuming, does not provide reliable data on border crossings does not allow detecting overstaying in a workable way and cannot efficiently cope with cases of loss or destruction of the travelling documents. Moreover, today’s systems will not allow the EU Member States to deal with the ever increasing pressure of travellers accessing and exiting the EU whose number, at the air borders alone, is expected to increase by 80%, from 400 million in 2009 to 720 million in 2030.


Today’s proposals follow a 2011 Communication (IP/11/1234), in which a discussion was launched between EU institutions and authorities about the implementation of new systems, in light of their added value, their technological and data protection implications, and their costs.

The proposals are part of the initiative to strengthen the overall governance of the Schengen area, as announced in the Communication on Migration adopted on 4 May 2011 (IP/11/532 and MEMO/11/273).

Next steps

Negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council on the RTP and the EES legislative proposals will now start. After adoption of the legal texts by the co-legislators, the establishment of the systems will take place with a view to start operations in 2017 or 2018.

Why do we need ‘smart borders’?

Travel flows at the external borders of the EU are increasing and are expected to increase even more in the future. Border crossings at the air borders alone could increase by 80%, from 400 million in 2009 to 720 million in 2030. This will result in longer delays and queues for travellers if border checking procedures are not modernised in time. Member States cannot address this only by hiring additional border guards and expanding border crossing points. The ‘Smart Borders’ package leads the way towards a next generation of border checks relying on new, much more effective technologies.
The Entry/Exit System (EES) and the Registered Travellers Programme (RTP) will speed up border check procedures for third country nationals entering the EU while at the same time enhancing security.
Meeting these two objectives of facilitating access and enhancing security would make sure that the EU remains open to the world and attractive as a destination for non EU-travellers.

What are the current rules?

Under the current rules, the Schengen Borders Code requires a thorough check at entry of all travellers crossing the external border; there is no flexibility in the system. The same checks are applied to all third country nationals, regardless of the level of risk associated with them or their frequency of travel.
Moreover, there are currently no means to record a traveller’s cross-border movements. The period of time a traveller has stayed in the Schengen area is calculated based solely on the stamps affixed in the travel document. There is no European data base in which such travellers are recorded. As a result there is no effective way for the relevant authorities to address the issue of ‘overstayers’ (i.e. travellers who stay beyond the authorised period of time). This lack of information affects the capacity of Member States to carry out returns and reduces the extent to which EU border and visa policy is based on evidence.

Registered Traveller Programme

How will an EU Registered Traveller Programme be working?

The Registered Traveller Programme will facilitate border crossings for frequent, pre-vetted and pre-screened third country travellers at the Schengen external borders.
The Commission is proposing to make use of new technologies such as Automated Border Control systems, thus giving Member States tools to manage their passenger flows more efficiently and releasing human resources needed at the external border for checking higher risk travellers or serve other travellers. Third country nationals having access to the RTP would be able to use Automated Border Control facilities whenever available at the Schengen border crossing point.

In practice the RTP would work at the border the following way: A Registered Traveller would be issued a token in the form of a machine-readable card containing only a unique identifier (i.e. application number), which is swiped on arrival and departure at the border using an automated gate. The gate would read the token and the travel document (and visa sticker number, if applicable) and the fingerprints of the travellers, which would be compared to the ones stored in the Central Repository and other databases, including the Visa Information system (VIS) for visa holders. If all checks are successful, the traveller is able to pass through the automated gate. In case of any issue, the traveller would be assisted by a border guard. All in all, passing the external border will be a matter of seconds.

Who could become a Registered Traveller?

While citizens from some non-EU countries are required to hold a visa when travelling to the Schengen area, others are not1 (see also DG Home infographics).

Visa holders and non-visa holders from all third-countries would be eligible to apply for access to the RTP and after successful vetting and pre-screening process would be able to benefit from this type of travel facilitation arrangement at any external border crossing point of the Schengen area.

Third-country nationals of at least 12 years of age should be able to lodge an application for the RTP at the consulate of any Member State or at any external border crossing point. Examination of applications would be aligned with the criteria for issuing multiple-entry visa.

A maximum €20 application fee covering the administrative cost of handling RTP applications by the Member States could be asked to applicants. Initial access to the Registered Traveller Programme should be granted for one year.

Entry-Exit System

How has the Entry/Exit System been designed?

The Entry/Exit System will permit the accurate and reliable calculation of authorised stays as well as identification and verification of travellers. It will do so by replacing the current system of calculation based on the stamps in the passports by the electronic registry of the dates and place of entry and exit of third-country nationals admitted for short stays. The Commission proposal for an EES Regulation foresees to start with the registration of alphanumeric data (e.g. names, type and number of travel document(s), date and time of entry/exit, etc.) and after three years of operation also biometrics (fingerprints). The data retention is foreseen for a period of 6 months in ‘ordinary cases’ and for 5 years in cases of ‘overstay’. Access to the database will be granted to authorities responsible for border control, issuing visas and authorities competent for verifying the identity of third country nationals within the territory of a Member State.

How will travellers’ personal data be protected?

The RTP and EES will comply with the relevant legislation on the protection of personal data. Furthermore, privacy by design will be promoted by the system –i.e. the system will be designed in a way that limits its data protection impacts.
Data would be collected and handled only by the designated competent authorities (RTP: visa and border authorities; EES: visa, border and immigration authorities) as far as is necessary for the performance of their tasks. Access to the data is strictly defined and limited in both regulations.
Measures for redress will be put in place so that travellers can rectify any data contained in their Registered Traveller application and/or their Entry/Exit record.
Measures are taken to ensure that the data is stored securely and is not subject to misuse. Data processing will be supervised by the European Data Protection Supervisor as far as EU institutions and bodies are involved, and by national data protection authorities, as far as Member States’ authorities are involved.

What is the cost of such systems?

The maximum estimated costs for the development and operation of the two systems between 2015-2020 (€ 513 million for the EES and € 587 million for the RTP) has been earmarked by the Commission (under the Internal Security Fund 2014-2020)2 to cover: – one-time development costs at central level and in all Member States; – costs for four years of business-critical maintenance of both central and national components.
Implementing the RTP in practice will also mean that Member States would increase their investments in automated gates at the border.
The substantial costs need of course to be considered alongside the benefits: for example, as well as automating a substantial share of all border crossings, the RTP could reduce border control resources needed by around 40% (estimated to be around €500 million/year). This would enable Member States to make more effective use of their border guards. Even if we assume that savings would be more modest (i.e. €250 million/year), Member States would still start making considerable cost savings as of their second year of operations.
Furthermore, the RTP applicant will have to pay a fee of 20 EUR for administrative costs of examining applications. The fee could be reduced to 10 EUR if a multiple-entry visa application and an RTP application are examined at the same time based on the same supporting documents.

Why do we need specific systems at EU level?

The establishment of a European EES will record the entries and exits of all third country nationals admitted for short stays within the Schengen area, including those not subject to the visa requirement. Therefore, it will provide accurate data on travel flows and movements of third-country nationals across all external border crossing points of the Schengen area. Moreover, the system will automatically calculate the authorised stay and issue an alert to the competent national authorities when there is no exit record on the expiry of the authorised stay. Finally, the EES will allow for accurate and reliable identification and verification of non-visa holders both at the external border and within the territory.
Thirteen Member States3 are currently implementing national Entry/Exit systems, which systematically collect all entry and exit records of third country nationals crossing their respective external borders. However these national systems are not linked to similar systems in other Member States. The entry and exit records cannot therefore be matched when persons leave the Schengen area through another Member State than the one from which they entered and in which their entry was recorded.

The EES will not only bring benefits by allowing more evidence-based policymaking, for example, in the domain of visa policy and visa facilitation, but also in the framework of the Partnership for Migration, Mobility and Security with certain neighbouring countries.
An EU Registered Traveller Programme (RTP) will allow for a faster and simpler border check process for frequent, pre-screened and pre-vetted third country travellers at every external border crossing point. Some Member States are successfully speeding up border checks for EU/EEA/CH citizens by implementing automated border checks based on the e-passports (For example, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom have already implemented ABC for EU/EEA/CH citizens or will soon implement it.)
or based on the pre-registration5. But these systems cannot be used for third country nationals and membership of a national RTP in one Member State does not automatically allow the traveller to benefit from facilitated border crossing in another Member State.

Would an Entry-Exit System be duplicating other tools?

No. There are already measures and tools available at EU border crossing points, such as the Schengen Information System (SIS) and Visa Information System (VIS). However, none is intended for the purpose of recording border crossings and keeping track of the time people stay within the EU territory.

The SIS is used by border guards as well as by police, customs, visa and judicial authorities throughout the Schengen Area, in particular to carry out checks on persons who may have been involved in a serious crime or may not have the right to enter or stay in the EU.
The main purpose of the VIS is to allow the verification of a traveller’s visa application history and, at entry level, verify whether the person presenting the visa at the border is the same person to whom the visa has been issued. It has not been designed to keep track of the entries and exits of third country nationals nor is it meant to allow checking whether a person, after entering the EU legally, does or does not stay longer than permitted. In addition, of course, the VIS concerns only countries whose nationals need a visa to enter the Schengen area.

Would the Entry-Exit System be a kind of EU ESTA?

No. The EES will mainly contribute to border management and whereas an EU Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) would entail a pre-travel screening system of all non EU citizens not requiring a visa travelling to the Schengen area, which has no direct relation with the functioning of the EES or the RTP. The Commission has decided to not proceed with proposing an EU ESTA at this stage, but will further analyse this issue in 2014 in relation to the future of visa policy.

28 February 2013 – In June 2011 the EU Heads of State and Government asked the European Commission to reinforce the management of external borders and guarantee the free movement of persons.

Answering their request I am presenting today a ‘Smart Borders’ package that will help facilitate a more open and secure Europe, relying on state-of-the-art technologies.
The EU has extensive borders with around 1.800 external border crossing points; the number of persons crossing those borders is substantial and is expected to increase even more in the future. In fact the number of arrivals by air alone is estimated to almost double by 2030 increasing from 400 to over 720 million.

Our proposals consist of a Registered Traveller Program (RTP) and an Entry/Exit System (EES) that will facilitate, speed-up and reinforce the border check procedures at EU’s external borders for third country nationals.


Let me start by illustrating the Registered Traveller Program: Openness is the key word to make sure the EU remains an attractive destination. This is crucial if we want to reap the benefits travellers bring to our economy.

According to Eurostat, non-EU residents contributed €271 billion to the economy when travelling to the EU in 2011. So we have to make it as easy as possible for tourists, business travellers, researchers and students to come to the EU.

The new EU Registered Traveller Programme will facilitate border crossings, introducing a faster and simpler border check process thanks to automated border gates and a simplified border check for pre-screened frequent third country travellers.

Participation in the Programme will be entirely on a voluntary basis and both visa holders and non-visa holders from all third-countries are able to apply for it.

Upon their request, they will be vetted and pre-screened and if approved they will be given a token, probably in the form of a machine-readable card.
Successfully registered travellers would be able to use an automated gate whenever available at the Schengen external border. The gate would read the token, the travel document and their biometric data. If all checks are successful, the traveller is able to pass through the automated gate, and thus enter the Schengen area in a matter of seconds.

We all see the common interest that our border check procedures allow for quick processing and that we avoid long queues for the vast majority of travellers who are legitimate to enter and pose no threat to security.

But at the same time we also expect our border guards to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the Schengen area.

Although a very small percentage of total travellers, there are people who are not entitled to enter or who remain in the EU beyond their permitted stay.

This is why we are also presenting an Entry-Exit System that will help to ensure a sufficient level of security.

The current border control system needs to be updated to face the challenges arising from increasing number of people travelling to the EU.
The Schengen area has almost 42.000 km of maritime borders, more than 7700 km of land borders and 644 air border crossing points. Every year 200 million third country nationals cross these borders.

But in this ”digital era” made of tablets, smartphones and high-tech devices, our border guards still use a manual system based essentially on stamps in the passports.

As a consequence, we don’t have accurate data on travellers’ identity, on travel flows and on the movement of third-country nationals within the Schengen area.

We don’t have an overview of people entering the EU and it is difficult to detect those who abuse the system by staying beyond their visa expiry date.

With the Entry/Exit System we will introduce new technologies, allowing for an accurate and reliable calculation of the authorised period of stay, as well as the verification of the individual travel history for both visa holders and visa exempted travellers.
For the first time, it will be possible to have a real time picture of which third country nationals are present in the Schengen area, and verify their identity.

The system will automatically calculate the authorised stay and issue an alert to the competent national authorities when there is no exit record in due time.
The verification of identity could even be done if people were to travel without valid documents. It can happen that third country nationals lose their travel documents either accidentally or purposefully and it is very difficult and costly to identify them if they are not cooperative.

The EES has been designed in a way that limits its data protection impacts. For those who respect the rules, which are the vast majority, data will be erased after just six months.
For those who abuse the system and stay behind the expiry of their visa validity, we propose a longer data retention period (5 years).
Access will be granted only to authorities responsible for border control, issuing visas and authorities competent for verifying the identity of third country nationals within the territory of a Member State.


Developing the two systems will require substantial financial investments, and support by the EU budget will be needed. For the period between 2015 and 2020, the estimated costs for the development and operation are over € 500 million for the EES and almost € 600 million for the RTP. However using them together can reduce costs marginally.
But the costs must also be seen in conjunction with the savings that will follow more effective border checks. The new systems will boost the ability to handle growing number of travellers without having to increase the number of border guards.

The financial benefits of facilitating travel for tourists and business travellers coming to Europe also have to be taken into account.

I know that during periods of budgetary constraint, this represents an important financial effort but I truly believe that having a modern management of our external borders is worth the investment.
It will now be up to the Member States and the European Parliament to deal with our proposals.

Cecilia Malmström

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs


There are currently 42 countries and entities whose citizens do not need a visa.

Other available languages : FR DE DA ES NL IT SV PT FI EL CS ET HU LT LV MT PL SK SL BG RO


Proposals for regulations on a Registered Traveller Programme and an Entry/Exit System

Videos: Frankfurt Airport; Schiphol Airport

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