Abstract In this paper we investigate the consequences of structural breaks in the factor loadings for the specification and estimation of factor models based on principal components and suggest procedures for testing for structural breaks. It is shown that structural breaks severely inflate the number of factors identified by the usual information criteria. The hypothesis of a structural break is tested by using LR, LM and Wald statistics. The LM test (which performs best in our Monte Carlo simulations) is generalized to test for structural breaks in factor models where the break date is unknown and the common factors and idiosyncratic components are serially correlated. The proposed test procedures are applied to datasets from the US and the euro area.