Needed Schengen zone stamps

By: Skip Carpenter
This article appears on page 14 of the February 2018 issue.

After taking a Holland America Line cruise, my wife, Bonnie, and I toured the Baltic states in June 2017 with ElderTreks (Toronto, Canada; 800/741-7956, www.eldertreks.com).

In Latvia, our group traveled north on Route E67, along the Riga Gulf, toward Ainaži and the border with Estonia. Just before crossing the border, on June 19, our bus was pulled over at a police checkpoint and a police officer came aboard asking to see everyone’s travel documents (passports). 

Travel documents were checked at the Latvia/Estonia border crossing. Photo by Bonnie Carpenter

This was strange because we were in the Schengen zone, where unfettered inter-country travel is authorized between most European Union countries, much like we have here in the US when going from state to state. 

Bonnie’s and my passports were in our luggage, so we showed the officer copies of our passports’ identification pages, which we always carry, and that satisfied him. Another in our group showed the officer his driver’s license, but that was not sufficient, so he had to get into his luggage and retrieve his passport. 

We were never told why there was a border check, but had the officer actually checked Bonnie’s and my passports, he would have found that we had no endorsement of authorized entry into the Schengen zone.

(After returning home, I read somewhere that several Schengen zone countries were, in fact, establishing border checks to stem the flow of unauthorized refugees.)

Some days later, checking in at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol for our flight home, we proceeded to Immigration to exit the Schengen zone.

“Stop! I cannot find your entry endorsement,” said the Immigration officer.

When I admitted that we didn’t have entry stamps, she waved in the air and the big guy appeared.

Fortunately, we had a letter from Guest Services on our Holland America Line ship stating, “On May 17, 2017, Prinsendam arrived at its first Schengen port of call for the cruise, Brest, France. The local French Immigration authorities decided not to stamp the Schengen entry stamp in the passports for the in transit Guests. After verification with the Dutch Immigration authorities in Amsterdam, we were advised that an Entry Stamp should have been placed by the French Immigration authorities in Brest. Please have this letter available to present to the local Immigration authorities when you leave the Schengen area (if requested).”

Authorities checked group members'travel documents at the Latvia/Estonia border crossing. Photo by Bonnie Carpenter

(In fact, in Brest, ship’s staff handled all of that, as we had surrendered our passports to them upon boarding the ship.)

We aren’t sure why the authorities in Brest considered our ship’s passengers transit guests, as we sailed that evening for Cherbourg, France. One possible explanation is that, originally, our ship was to go to the Azores, but, due to a storm, we were rerouted to Brest and (I can only suppose) the authorities there were not expecting us, and someone goofed.

Not to worry, though. The big guy updated our passports with a correction entry stamp and the exit stamp, and we then were all legal and could be on our way.

SKIP CARPENTER
Coronado, CA