Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Musing: Passport Stamping

PassportstampingI had some "fun" with the Swedish immigrations man in Nynashamn prior to boarding the PolFerry to Gdansk. Examining my passport, he was unable to find the stamp he normally looks for to determine how long someone has been in his country, namely the "entry into Sweden" stamp that most people get at the airport. He asked me how long I had been in Sweden and how I had gotten there, so I told him I had arrived by train from Norway last week. Unable to find a stamp for Norway, he inquired how long I had been there and how I had gotten there. Again, I explained that I had arrived by train the week before last and -- anticipating his inability to find a stamp for Denmark -- explained that I had arrived in that country by train from Germany a few days earlier without a stamp, and from BeNeLux before that where I had arrived by ferry from the UK. I told him I had a stamp into Amsterdam from a month ago and said with a bit of a laugh, "I had to ask for that one. Otherwise all you'd have is my stamp entering Canaria six months ago!"

He gave me the universal expression of "What the...?" so I gave him a brief synopsis of The Voyage and explained about traveling only on the surface of the earth, etc. After a little further dialogue, he seemed satisfied with my story and I asked him for a stamp to update my passport. He smiled and said, "Oh, don't worry... You're getting a stamp."

Besides the entertainment value of this experience, it got me musing about "Freedom of Movement" in the European Union. As a policy, it allows EU nationals to no longer have to deal with all the different multi-national immigrations issues. They just flash their passports and walk on through. It also means that there are many fewer immigrations officials at border crossing points. I have commented before in the Logbook about how it seems like "once you're in, you're in" and you can go anywhere you want anytime you want to. The advantages to international commerce, culture, etc. are, I think, pretty obvious: Open borders among nations improves the human experience.

In some ways, this less stringent immigration policy is also good for non-Eu nationals. There are fewer stops along your route, fewer places you have to show your passport, less time screwing around with documentation and more time enjoying your travels. For long-term, long-distance travelers like me, however, there is a bit of a downside: Not having proof of your entry/exit dates can be a problem when you are generally allowed only 90 days in EU countries without a visa. If you only have a stamp from six months ago, how do you prove you haven't been in your current country ever since?

So, while I have generally avoided getting unnecessary stamps in my passport -- mostly because it's too "touristy" but also because, after all, there is only so much space even in my "extra page" passport -- I have learned the value of asking for one from time to time.

While I still laugh at the extreme nonsense of having over a dozen stamps within a three week period from Chile and Argentina -- as a result of my going "back-and-forth" so often between those moderately unfriendly neighbors during my time in Fin del Mundo -- I'm not laughing quite so much as I once did about the other extreme of having practically no stamps from my many, many border crossings in the EU. It could have been a problem, and I'm going to be a little more energetic about getting stamped even if it is "touristy."

So, you probably will not be surprised to learn that I now have an entry stamp into Gdansk, Poland -- dated today -- in my well worn an rapidly filling passport. "Touristy" or not, I'm good to go for another 90 days!

No comments: