When travelling to the UK by æroplane or ferry, the UK Border Force checks passports upon arrival in airport or ferry terminals (at least for the Hoek van Holland-Harwich ferry; not sure about ferries from France). However, when arriving by train, passport check by the UK Border Force occurs prior to boarding. A French minister has suggested France might withdraw permission to do so, should the UK leave the EU, a warning UK leave campaigners describe as “scaremongering”, according to the BBC.

Why are train passengers treated differently from passengers by air or sea, and why would it be such a problem if this practice ended? The linked BBC article notes that [it] is meant to stop people from travelling across the Channel without their immigration status being checked, but from The Netherlands I can already reach British soil without showing my passport to any British official, so I don't understand why it would be any different by train.

  • How big are the ferries? (compared to train capacity... both as far as individual vessel AND total passengers in all trips made)
    – user4012
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 15:19
  • @user4012 1200 passengers max. on the MV Stena Hollandica and MV Stena Brittanica each between Netherlands and UK, compared to 558–750 on the Eurostar trains. Two ferries daily from Hoek van Holland to Harwich, compared to 16 trains from Paris and 9 trains from Brussels/Lille to London. I don't know the situation on the ferries from France or on the Shuttle (car trains) as to when passport checks occur. Most ferry passengers travel with a car.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 15:25
  • @gerrit Border controls are colocated (i.e. British immigration check happens in France for UK-bound travellers) in all cases.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 21:05
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on Travel.SE Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 8:25
  • 2
    I don't agree with the closing. The motivation is a political decision and not relevant for travellers; for travellers, just the fact that it is so suffices.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 9:42

1 Answer 1


Flight passengers are checked by the airline, at least minimally, and there are also colocated border checks for ferries leaving from Calais so it's not really about the mode of transportation and it's the Hoek-van-Holland-Harwich line which is increasingly looking like an exception to a general policy of checking as many travellers as possible even before they actually set foot on UK soil.

The situation for flights is quite typical (other countries have similar rules) and sufficient to prevent large numbers of refugees from showing up at airports (note that this is mainly about deterring people with a real shot at asylum and most definitely not about spurious applications, which are actually somewhat easier to deal with).

The situation for trains and ferries leaving from France is somewhat unusual and has become a focal point because of the refugee situation and especially the tensions in the Calais area. The concern is that if those people did reach Great Britain, they would be able to lodge an application for asylum and it would be very difficult to remove them. This situation has been on-going for years (the first Sangatte “refugee camp” opened in 1999) and predates the 2003 Touquet treaty regulating these colocated border checks.

But then why make an exception for the Hoek-van-Holland-Harwich line while tightening controls everywhere else? I am speculating a bit here but I suspect it's simply that it hasn't yet been discovered by refugees (at least not in a big way) and/or the British tabloid press so everybody is happy with letting it continue as it always was. There are a few other loopholes (e.g. you could take a ferry to Ireland - with regular border controls on arrival – and from there ultimately cross the border to Northern Ireland) but as long as you don't have thousands of peoples at the gate as in Calais, it's not an issue.

Incidentally, note that ferries leaving from Belgium have no colocated border controls either and this has - to my knowledge – never been an issue until now, yet it was all over the news this week (at least in France and Belgium). So it might just be a matter of time before Hoek-van-Holland becomes an issue too.

  • Doesn't the rule for flights apply equally to trains and ferries — if someone shows up at Harwich without valid entry papers, the ferry company will be fined and must take them back? There is a Schengen exit check in Hoek van Holland.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 23:22
  • @gerrit Not necessarily, IIRC the obligation to take the person back derives from treaties specifically about aviation. Fines are based on local law so anything is possible. One thing I forgot to mention is that the fine might be waived if the person lodges a plausible asylum application (that's the case in France for example). But my parenthetical remark might have been somewhat misleading as these distinctions do not really matter, the point is that airlines routinely check documents in a way that train companies do not, even on international routes, so the comparison is moot.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 23:38
  • But it's true that the British government could theoretically try to move the burden to the ferry/train operators like governments did for airlines (would be a recipe for disaster if you ask me but it's not absurd, you could certainly pass similar laws covering other modes of transports to force this). Ferry/train operators have apparently been more successful at resisting this because it's plainly not the case right now.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 23:42

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