It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Brighton, England because of all the great food. So I spend a lot of time coming and going from London. I like to use London as a layover stop. It’s convenient. And I love British pubs.
But, the time has finally come for me to start seriously trying to avoid ever flying into London again. The sheer amount of time I spend in the glass box of shame at Gatwick immigration is really starting to take years off my life.
The first few times were alright. They really had me thinking I was just wrong for showing up because they don’t like Americans. But then, the next few times started to get worse.
I finally got pretty fed up with the whole rigamarole when the last immigration officer looked at all the stamps in my passport, got red in the face, raised his voice at me, and said that I’m "abusing the system" by “traveling too much” and that I “should go home”.
I’m not a total moron most of time. I mean, I am a full-time traveler. And I’ve been traveling my whole life. I do my homework, keep track of my visas and Schengen time. I never overstay. I’m not doing anything wrong and I don’t deserve to be harassed.
Nonetheless, these stories have become funny as entertainment fodder because nobody ever believes that this actually happens. Apparently other travelers can come and go from the UK as they please. Well, la-di-frickin-da to them.
I’ve been keeping track of these pearls of wisdom I’ve gathered during my last few debates with the lovely folks at Gatwick and here are the best ones.
Self-employed travelers need a pre-approved self employment visa, obtained in-person at an embassy in their home country prior to travel, in order to enter the UK for any length of time, even a 1 hr layover with proof of onward travel.
Ireland is Schengen. And anytime spent in the Republic of Ireland directly counts against your success of entry into the UK.
This was verified by 2 officers and a manager who then spent one hour together calculating my Schengen time, and included all my time in Ireland in it.
If you're close to your Schengen 90/180 tourist visa limit, you can and will likely be denied entry to the UK since they're “afraid you won't leave".
Both the UK and Ireland are not and never were part of Schengen, so don’t think about this one too long or your head will explode. Plus you could just go to another country outside of Schengen.
If you get a tourist visa, it's completely voided if you only leave for less than 1 hour, by land or sea, without an entry stamp elsewhere.
Housesitting is considered "unpaid employment" and is therefore illegal on a tourist visa and grounds for immediate deportation.
Likewise, if you are visiting a significant other, friends, or family and stay in their house without proof of paying rent, then you are still receiving free accommodation, which is considered “payment in kind”, and is also unpaid employment, illegal, and grounds for deportation.
So, the only legal way to visit the UK is to stay in hotels the entire time, and be able to prove it with confirmed reservations along with proof of payment in full. You are legally not allowed to stay with friends or family unless you have a rental contract with proof of payment.
You will be denied entry without sufficient proof of travel insurance, even for a 1 hour layover with proof of onward travel.
Even if you do have current travel insurance by a major world insurance carrier, it can be negated if the individual officer decides not to accept it, because nobody knows what the types, length, limits or coverages required are.
You will be denied entry without sufficient bank statements to prove income. Again, even for a layover with proof of travel.
And again, even if you have printed bank statements, then can also be dismissed at the discretion of the individual officer, because nobody knows what the income requirements, ratios, or proof of requirements are, or if foreign banks or currencies are even acknowledged.
Frequent and/or full-time travelers are "abusing the system" by "traveling too much" because "it's not allowed".
But nobody knows exactly what system or exactly why, how, or when it’s being violated, in what way, or what exactly should be recommended or enforced.
Travelers on tourist visas have to “go home every once in a while”.
But nobody knows when, how frequently, where you're supposed to go, or what kind of proof is required, for what length or for what kind of verifiable proof of stay for said home is required.
And, lastly, coming in at numero uno, my all-time favorite...
"Americans are simply not welcome in the UK”.
So many things the immigration officers have told me have ranged from true to false to completely ridiculous so these, I’m sure, all fall somewhere on that super fun rainbow.
I’d love to credit all the folks I’ve quoted here, but I just never got any of their names during any of our long heart to heart chats! Instead I’ve just been calling them, um... other names.
And I bet you can guess some of those pretty easily.