Bleary eyed and grumpy last week due to a delayed night train, I was nevertheless rather surprised when a Danish policeman demanded to see my passport abord the night train to København H at Padborg (border station from Germany). When I asked him why and how he was demanding this his answer was “I can”. My response was to question why this was so, as both Germany and Denmark are in Schengen. “It’s the same if you take flights within the EU” he said to me. “No it’s not” was my response, “that’s to prove to the airline that the right person is travelling”.

Anyway, not wanting to antagonise the others in the compartment, I showed the passport and the policeman pottered along to the next compartment, checking every passport systematically.

But – as I understand Schengen – this is not right.

Firstly, border controls are allowed to be random, but they are not allowed to be systematic, and this most definitely was systematic.

Second there is the question of what documentation I would actually be required to show. Because if this were just a regular police control that happened to be at the border, then I would only have to prove my identity according to whatever standards were applicable in the state I was in (see the Brenner case I documented a few years ago). So in Denmark that could be a sundhetskort with a CPR number on it, and would not need to be a passport.

But there is a dreadful lack of clarity here. There’s basically nothing on the Commission’s website at what can and cannot happen at internal borders. Wikipedia has little more. The best I can find is Article 21 of the Schengen Borders Code (PDF here)

Article 21
Checks within the territory

The abolition of border control at internal borders shall not affect:
(a) the exercise of police powers by the competent authorities of the Member States under national law, insofar as the exercise of those powers does not have an effect equivalent to border checks; that shall also apply in border areas. Within the meaning of the first sentence, the exercise of police powers may not, in particular, be considered equivalent to the exercise of border checks when the police measures:
(i) do not have border control as an objective,
(ii) are based on general police information and experience regarding possible threats to public security and aim, in particular, to combat cross-border crime,
(iii) are devised and executed in a manner clearly distinct from systematic checks on persons at the external borders,
(iv) are carried out on the basis of spot-checks;

(b) security checks on persons carried out at ports and airports by the competent authorities under the law of each Member State, by port or airport officials or carriers, provided that such checks are also carried out on persons travelling within a Member State;

(c) the possibility for a Member State to provide by law for an obligation to hold or carry papers and documents;

(d) the obligation on third-country nationals to report their presence on the territory of any Member State pursuant to the provisions of Article 22 of the Schengen Convention.

Now the checks at Padborg clearly contravene (a) and are not, in Denmark, covered by (c). But (c) concerns countries where there is an obligation to show an identity document when demanded to do so by police.

Anyway, via networks of bloggers I am going to try to assemble a Schengen internal borders guide – essentially what can be demanded of anyone, anywhere when crossing an internal border in the Schengen zone. Please do contribute your experiences in the comments.

In the meantime I’m putting a copy of Article 21 in Danish, German, French and English in my passport wallet!


  1. Dear Sir, Madam,

    I am a Lebanese student in Istituto Agronomico Mediterraneo di Bari (IAMB) holding a student visa type D (Mult) . My Italian residence card is under processing .
    I am planning to travel to Madrid during the Christmas vacation so i would like to know if i can travel using my visa or i need additional requirements ?

    Thank you for your cooperation,



    Caro Signore / Signora,

    Sono uno studente libanese nel dall’Istituto Agronomico Mediterraneo di Bari (IAMB) in possesso di un visto di tipo D studente (Mult). La mia carta di soggiorno italiano è in fase di elaborazione.
    Ho in programma di recarsi a Madrid durante le vacanze di Natale così vorrei sapere se posso viaggiare con il mio visto o ho bisogno ulteriori requisiti?

    Grazie per la tua collaborazione,

    Cordiali saluti,


  2. Tamara

    I was asked for my passport and for the entry stamp when traveling on a domestic flight in Greece from Thessaloniki. Note – I am a resident, and also, this was a domestic flight, but in effect it was a ‘border check’ performed by the airline official – not even a police officer. When I said that I am a resident I was then asked to present my residence permit (which I had on me) and then asked where I resided?! And this has happened more than once. Greek police officers can ask for identification papers, but this was an airline official on a domestic flight! How is it that they do this?

  3. .xm.vzmx,.b

    Let’s see… A ‘sundhetskort’ is a card showing that you are covered by medical insurance in Denmark. I have an EHIC card, which is an international card showing the same thing, and it also contains an ‘identification number’, although not a Danish identification number, but the Nordic Passport Union might take care of that, since all Nordic citizens have to be treated equally. Would an EHIC card be enough if a Danish official asks me to show identification at the border? Does it matter if it is a Nordic EHIC card or a non-Nordic one? Or should I bring the domestic variant of a ‘sundhetskort’ instead?

  4. Mohammed

    As far I Know, the Police can demand any document including a Passport, a Sundhedskort is not a proper document it self because there is no picture, and is do’sent tell anything about legal status of a Person! Hence why Passport etc. is the best, and easiest way to determine, whether a person may not be legal. Especially I if you are not a Nordic citizen. For example I wanna buy a Mobilephone (on leasing) a Sundhedskort is not enough.

  5. @Mohammed – I haven’t had the chance to try it yet. I’ll let you know what they say. But if you are stopped by police on the street in Denmark you are not under any legal obligation to produce a passport immediately. And so, at Padborg on Danish soil, so it should be the same thing.

    As for the mobile phone thing – I ordered only online, and for that a CPR number was enough.

  6. Pingback: Det Indre Marked i øjenhøjde: Tognørd til kamp mod grænsekontrol « Europa 3.0

  7. I lived in Denmark for six years and, while I didn’t hear of systematic border checks, I routinely heard of officers boarding trains and buses and asking to see the identification papers of the ethnic minorities. I would imagine these are defended on ‘random check’ grounds, so are perhaps legal. Morally, however, they are much more problematic.

    Great site,

  8. Nick Crosby

    It is an interesting- and- disturbing denial of free movement. What- if you had shown a ‘sundhetskort with a CPR number on it’ ? I guess you could carry that and a passport and try it on next time…?
    Meanwhile I see Teresa May is contemplating further restrictions on free movement of EU citizens…

  9. I was checked a few times on trains coming from the Netherlands into Germany, as well as when I was travelling from Poland to Czech Republic while changing trains in Dresden. It is usually not done directly at the border, but often to people that appear to be travelling transborderly, and imo goes against the spirit of Schengen…

  10. I have also experienced the same passport check in the same night train. However, I do not think I have experienced it more than once. A reason for the border checks might be 1) search for illegal immigrants, who come from countries beyond Germany, but who are mostly on their way to Sweden 2) drug trafficking. If they asked questions like: Can I see your identification papers? Where do you come from? What did you do there?, etc, I assume it should be perfectly legal (and legit in my opinion) to do these searches – its upland control, which I believe is legal. The police did the very same thing, when I once took a Eurolines bus from Brussels to Aarhus with a transit in Amsterdam – as they knew the bus was coming from Amsterdam. In my coach compartment the officer was also mostly interested in a fellow traveller who came from Amsterdam.

  11. But “Can I see your identification papers?” is different depending on if it’s a border control or a police check, and what happened to me in Padborg very clearly contravenes Art 21 above.

    I don’t deny there is cross border crime, but, conversely, politicians still pay lip service to Schengen. Either we make it work as it should, or we have to have honest statements of what it really is. We have neither one nor the other.

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