With the advent of biometric facial recognition and digital passport control, high-tech methods of border control are speeding up the way we enter and exit countries around the world. But as immigration lines shrink, another aspect of the process is also starting to disappear: passport stamps.
Once the international standard for crossing borders, the analog process of immigration officers flipping through each traveler’s passport book to hand-stamp official ink entries—while an exciting step of the process for many international passengers to document their travels—is no doubt time-consuming and not the most reliable method for providing border clearance.
“Stamps often aren’t the best solution,” Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet, says. “If they’re printed poorly, they can be tough to access later on. They’re often placed randomly in passport books which can make them tough to find—and they can also be easily counterfeited.”
While the U.S. has been moving toward more simplified digital processes with electronic I-94 entry records and speedier Global Entry processes, one the most significant changes is coming later this year across the Atlantic.
The European Union is preparing for a November roll out of its Entry/Exit System (EES), which will automate the border crossing process and eliminate passport stamping all together. For those who require a visa for entry, facial recognition will be used, since their fingerprints have already been taken during the visa application process, and for those who don’t need a visa, they'll have to log in four fingerprints and facial recognition.
The system will apply to those who are not a citizen of an E.U. country, who are traveling for stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period, and will be in use in 29 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Sandra Weinacht of Inside Europe, who has been traveling through the continent this week, said that some airports already have the electronic stamp-less systems, with an immigration officer at Germany’s Nuremberg airport telling her that it has been in place for “months now.” But when she got to Italy’s Pisa airport, she met American travelers who had arrived via London’s Heathrow (the U.K. won't be part of the new program) and proudly showed her their stamps in their passports, noting they were some of their “most treasured keepsakes.”
That sentiment holds true for traveler Lee Abbamonte, who has visited every country in the world and owns the equivalent of more than 25 passports, with five old passports getting stuffed with extra pages five to six times each. Among his most beloved stamps are the most remote ones, like at South Pole Station, Pitcairn Islands, Tokelau, Ogasawara, Ascension, and St. Helena islands, as well as the harder-to-obtain ones at the time he visited, like Iran, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, and Cuba.
“Passport stamps were the only souvenir I would usually have from my travels that took me to every country,” Abbamonte says. “I loved them and would actually point to the immigration officer where they should stamp to avoid stamping over another or taking up unnecessary space so I could get more stamps in my passport.”
But even so, he understands where things are headed. “Digital and virtual stamps have been coming for years and started a while ago,” he adds. “I’ve never liked it for the simple reason I love actual passport stamps, but it’s hard to argue it’s not more convenient or efficient.”
As our world gets more digitized, French suggests considering other ways to collect records of where you’ve been, whether it’s by geotagging photos, using an app to put digital pins in the countries you’ve been, or even turning to tourist souvenir shops that sell faux passport stamps.
“There’s a sort of dreamy nostalgia that comes with passport stamps,” she says, noting they can serve as "tangible evidence of those world-traveling experiences.”
But even for a global traveler like Abbamonte, he knows it's a sign of the times. “As I’ve gotten older I don’t care as much,” he admits. “But I still love scrolling through pages to see the stamps as they bring back memories of trips."