Is French Guiana a (hard) EU border?



In the context of Brexit, there has been much discussion that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would mark the boundary of the EU. This has had large ramifications due to the length and porous nature of this border, and the large amount of interconnections between the economies of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

There is currently a question exploring the nature of that hypothetical border, but I'm not interested in that here. Specifically, what I want to know is whether French Guiana, a part of France and member of the EU, has a similar 'hard' border.

French Guiana in South America

As is evident in the attached map, French Guiana is very isolated from the rest of the EU, and possesses a very long border with non-EU nations. It is also a border that is (presumably) virtually impossible to police, as most of it falls within the Amazon rainforest. While it isn't a member of the Mercosur trade block, French Guiana presumably is very reliant on trade with its neighbours.

So, as the border of the EU, does French Guiana have an open and free-flowing border with its neighbours? Or are there border posts and heavily restricted movement?


Posted 2019-03-30T16:52:57.503

Reputation: 479

8You come to this question from Ireland - but mind having a land border isn't what is so special about the situation on the Irish island. EU has lots of land borders in the east. Also disputed on islands (Cyprus) What makes Ireland so special are the tight relations (social, economical, ...) while at the same time having deep conflicts (catholic/protestant religion; independent/unionist regarding UK) which makes this quite unique. – johannes – 2019-04-01T00:35:47.733


@johannes To add to that, there is also the fact that the the Good Friday Agreement which ended a period of violence and civil unrest in the area, explicitly leans on the idea of there being no hard border.

– Jasper – 2019-04-01T13:25:40.270



Customs in French Guiana

Yes, it is an external border for the purpose of EU common external customs tariffs. According to the EU's page on Territorial status of EU countries and certain territories

  • It is a territory of the EU,
  • EU customs rules do apply,
  • EU VAT rules do not apply, and
  • Excise rules do not apply either.

The New York Times has an article about the French Guiana-Brazil border. A quote to set the mood:

When you cross the border into French Guiana, you are not only in France — where French is spoken, French police officers patrol the border and people elect representatives to the French Parliament — but also in the European Union. The euro is the currency, and European Union regulations on matters like food safety apply.

And a picture of the border, showing the French side: enter image description here

At the time of the article, the border was not yet in full operation:

On its side of the bridge, France built a border police post, to manage customs and immigration services, that already appears weather-beaten and worn. On the bridge, which is more than four football fields long, the double white line at the center of the pavement is peeling away.

Goods from French Guiana to the EU (mainland)

Goods coming into the EU from French Guiana are subject to the following (from the Dutch tax agency website):

Exceptional areas within the EU countries

Certain areas which are part of the EU customs territory, exceptional areas, are subject to special rules. These areas are:

  • French overseas departments and territories, including Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte and Reunion

These areas are subject to special rules concerning excise duty and value added tax (VAT). Are goods entering the EU from one of these countries or territories? Then the goods are subject to the same tax rules that would apply if they came from a non-EU country.


Posted 2019-03-30T16:52:57.503

Reputation: 26 015

2How can it be outside the Customs Union but not have customs? If I ship something to French Guiana from Uruguay, how do you make sure it doesn't then make it to France (untariffed) from there (i.e. via French Guiana)? – Fizz – 2019-03-30T18:12:03.270

1@Fizz yea I think you might be right in that there were some factual mistakes, part of my first quotes was about OCTs, which French Guiana is not. – JJJ – 2019-03-30T18:26:23.343


@Fizz specific to your comment-question, they are checked again when they come into the EU. See the Dutch customs website: "These areas are subject to special rules concerning excise duty and value added tax (VAT). Are goods entering the EU from one of these countries or territories? Then the goods are subject to the same tax rules that would apply if they came from a non-EU country. "

– JJJ – 2019-03-30T18:30:47.780


So as the border of the EU does French Guiana have an open and free-flowing border with its neighbours, or border posts and heavily restricted movement?

There's a pretty "hard" border between French Guiana and Brazil, if that's really your question. There are Customs on the Oyapock River Bridge, just to pick an example. You don't just get waved through.

The border checkpoint is open during the periods of 08:00 - 12:00 and 14:00 - 18:00 on weekdays, and 08:00 - 12:00 on Saturdays.[5] The border checkpoint is shut on Sundays and Brazilian public holidays.[6]

And it's also mentioned that

full visa waiver reciprocity had not yet been achieved

Which implies id checks in at least one direction. Actually

French nationals could enter Brazil visa-free for up to 3 months, whereas Brazilian nationals had to obtain a visa to enter French Guiana, a requirement which was justified by the French government on the grounds of high levels of illegal immigration by Brazilians working as gold panners in French Guiana. In 2014, the Brazilian and French governments reached an agreement allowing residents of Oiapoque in Brazil and Saint-Georges-de-l'Oyapock in French Guiana to apply for a local border crossing card ('carte de frontalier'), enabling them to visit each other's city visa-free for up to 72 hours (but not further inland). The local border crossing card has a maximum validity of 2 years and contains a biometric chip; it can be used to cross the border without having to present a Brazilian passport.

That doesn't sound very "soft". Of course, I meant my answer mostly with respect to movement of people, if you mean with respect to goods, please clarify the question.


Posted 2019-03-30T16:52:57.503

Reputation: 76 605