Getting Passport Stamps Are Not All Fun and Games

When Wanderlust Marriage was younger and independent souls traveling the Earth, we viewed passport stamps as collectibles. With American and Australian passports respectively, Western European immigration officials (aside from England) never asked us any questions and we sorta viewed the officials as memorabilia facilitators. When they didn’t stamp, for whatever reason, we asked them to do so- because why not? And as many early 20 somethings who kick hacky sacks around, we often wondered why were there even borders anyway? Of course with age you regrettably understand the reasoning, and with extensive travel you become aware that getting passport stamps is not all fun and games.

My worst experience with getting passport stamps came 2 summers ago, while we had rented an apartment in Zagreb, Croatia for a few weeks while Bell was finishing her PhD thesis. She had already been to Ljubljana, Slovenia and was very busy, but I had time on my hands and wanted to check it out for 2 days, especially since it was just a 2 and 1/2 hour train ride each way.

 

Ljubljana, Getting passport stamps
 

I now carry an American and Greek passport (that is where my father is from) and while I had both in Croatia, I decided to just leave the Greek one for a couple reasons. First, it’s bad enough to have one passport get lost or stolen, let alone two. And the other reason is that the Slovenians, who are also part of the EU, might not have stamped my Greek passport, but they would stamp my American one. And with the EU and more open borders on the continent, getting passport stamps have become harder to come by. So you want to try and get all the stamps you can, right?

As we arrived in Slovenia, the train stopped at a small border check point. Gruff border control officers with loud, crackling walkie talks swarmed the train demanding our passports. When the officer arrived at my carriage I calmly handed him my US passport thinking I had nothing to worry about. He flipped through the passport extensively, twice and then yelled “You have overstayed your EU tourist visa!” My heart sank and I immediately became very tense. “No, I’m also a Greek citizen” I replied. “Do you have your Greek passport?” “No” I replied, feeling like a royal fool. “Well, you have a problem then.”

The gruff Slovenian meant business and immediately began ringing my passport number and details into his walkie talkie, in which another angry sounding man shouted words I did not understand back at him. “Where is your Greek passport?” he said. “In Zagreb” I replied. “Do you have other ID?” I pulled out my wallet and he asked to see it, flipping through to apparently inspect how much money/credit I had first hand. Did he want a bribe I wondered? Should I offer him one? How much? Hmm, that could have also backfired, as I didn’t have the kind of money to offer him a large bribe.

 

Ljubljana, Getting passport stamps
 

“You know, the fine for overstaying your EU visa is 500 euros he said.” I freaked out, I couldn’t afford to lose that and told him so. He got back in touch with the other angry man on the walkie talkie and paced around for what seemed like an eternity. “Is there any way to have your Greek passport sent to Ljubljana?” “I don’t know” I replied, “I’m only there for 1 night.” “Well I suggest you do, otherwise you will have a problem when you re-enter Croatia.” And with that he walked away, not stamping my US passport…No stamp, all this trouble for nothing!

I was slightly relieved but still very upset about what had transpired. How could I get my passport sent to Ljubljana overnight when I didn’t know the country or where I was even sleeping that night? Then an unfortunate idea dawned on me…I could just ask Bell to hop on a train and personally deliver it to me. Because it was by far the easiest option I sent her a text message telling her what happened and asking her if she could come. And while she wasn’t the happiest camper about it she made the trek over. The bright side was that we had a lovely evening stroll around town and nice dinner on the emerald green river that cuts through the center of town. The next morning she caught the first train back to Zagreb and I stayed for the day to meander around.

Another big travel bullet dodged. So remember kids, getting passport stamps aren’t just a souvenir, they do in fact stamp for a reason.

8 thoughts on “Getting Passport Stamps Are Not All Fun and Games

    1. Hey Raul. I had been living in Europe for a few years (still do) and usually traveled on my American passport to get stamps, rather than my Greek one (I now travel within Europe on the Greek one). Dutch immigration barely looks at dates for Americans and Europeans so they never noticed. The Slovenians paid attention, unfortunately for me. My stamps would have confused even me, but what I did wasn’t legal.

      1. I asked you this because I think I overstayed here in Europe. I came to Europe on April 20 and leave on June 21 to America. I stayed about a month in America and came back to Europe on July 17. Im still in Europe. I want to go to Croatia in October throught Slovenia

        1. *I think* you are allowed 6 months in Europe in a 1 year time frame with an American passport, so long as you don’t stay more than 3 months consecutively. I’d double check all the particulars with an American consulate. Maybe contact the one in Slovenia as they’d be able to advise you best. Good luck!

          1. thank you very much 🙂
            I found this posted by a Australian:

            Overstaying Schengen Visa – The Facts!!!
            Posted: Nov 9, 2009 5:29 AM

            OK – this is the sort of info I wish I had when I was trying to work out whether I actually had to worry about the Schengen visa rules!!! Hope others find it useful.

            First, the “official” rules. The official rule for the Schengen visa is that, on the day you first enter any country within the Schengen zone, you start a 180 day “period”, within which you can stay a maximum of 90 days in all Schengen countries. After you have racked up your 90 days (in one go, or in several chunks if you leave to non-Schengen countries & come back), you can’t enter any Schengen country again until your 180 period ends. And on day 180, no matter what, you have to leave Schengen territory (even if you haven’t used all your 90 days), but you can then turn around & come back in again the next day & get a new 90/180 day period. So: if you enter on day 1 & stay for 90 days immediately, you have to leave on day 90 & cannot re-enter any Schengen country until your 180 day “period” is up.

            Clear? No? I know. The good news is, you can forget all that. Every person I have met traveling, and every border guard, has had zero experience with those rules being implemented. In practice, it works how everybody thinks anyway: it is a simple 90 days on entry. Once you enter a Schengen country from outside the Schengen zone, you have 90 days. If you move from one Schengen country to another, it’s all the same 90 days, but if you leave Schengen territory & come back in, you get a new 90 days. This may not be the “official” rules, but they are the rules that all of Europe seems to be under the impression apply (except, it seems, people who post on these forums to tell you how complicated it all is). Even when I exited & re-entered from a country with a notoriously strict border control, and computerised passport check which in theory could talk to any other computer in the Schengen world & figure out if I’d broken the 90/180 days rule, I had no problems. In fact, virtually the entire staff of a hostel in northern Greece (Greece are strict because they have borders with a lot of non-Schengen countries) work a 5 month season and at some point halfway through their stint take a day trip on a ferry to Albania, to come back & reset their 90 days. It’s an accepted strategy.

            In theory, at some point in the future when all the records have been matched up, people might figure out if I was over the 90/180 day rule & put a note on my passport that I can’t re-enter, if I ever try & come back. Or the entire zone may be computerised and eventually all the countries can talk to each other in real time (at the moment there are still a lot of manual checks & stamping by guards on trains, particularly in the east: Hungary, Poland, the Baltics etc). But I’ve never heard of this happening – ever. Obviously, the rules (or policy on enforcing them) may change at any time, and your mileage may vary. Also, in case there are any Big Brother wowsers out there who might dob you in, I want to make clear I am not admitting I did actually break the visa rules ( 😉 ), nor that you should. This is simply for information on how it actually works in practice, from someone who has done it. So for anyone planning a trip right now, you can be pretty confident in working on a new 90 days every time you enter the Schengen zone from outside.

            I guess, if you keep using the same crossing point and re-enter multiple times for like a year straight, then you might get questioned, although I know people in Spain (another notoriously tough country – proximity to Africa) who are working there virtually permanently & do that & they don’t have any problems.

            Hope that all helps…..

          2. Thank you for coming back and sharing this, Raul! Yeah I’d been living in Amsterdam for 3 years and traveling around on my US passport sporadically and never had any problems in the EU…It was only when I went from Croatia to Slovenia in 2011 that I had a problem. At the time Croatia wasn’t in the EU. They are now a member, but still not Schengen. Maybe the Slovenians are more lax now- but that was a strict train border just 2 years ago. Be careful with that one, Raul!

          3. Thank you. Yes I should be careful. In this 3 years that you have been living in Amsterdam have you traveled outside of Schengen? I think you had problems in Slovenia because Croatia is not Schengen and Slovenia is.

  1. Hey again, Raul. I traveled outside of Europe, including annual trips back to the USA, in which I traveled both ways on my US passport. A few summers ago we also flew from Croatia to Austria and I traveled with my US passport and it wasn’t a problem. I just think some borders are stricter and it depends who you get…Perhaps Croatia/Slovenia is a bad border for you to travel through coming up! Maybe consider an alternative route 🙂

Have something to share?