the story of the glass box of shame
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Brighton, England because of all great food. So I spend a lot of time coming and going from London. I even like to use London as a layover stop when I go to Iceland. It’s convenient. The airports are nice. 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. (Which, turns out, was true!) 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”.
Let me also say that, contrary to popular belief, I’m not a total moron! I'm a full-time traveler! And I’ve been traveling my entire life. I meticulously do my homework, keep track of my travels, my visas, and my Schengen time. The algorithm can kiss my butt, frankly, but I still keep track so that I’m aways within the limits. I never violate any visas or overstay my time. I’m not doing anything wrong and don’t deserve to be harassed. So, meh.
Nonetheless, these stories have started to become funnier and funnier 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. So, without further ado, here are....
The Top Ten Most Outrageous UK Visa Rules
10. Self-employed travelers need a pre-approved self employment visa, obtained in-person 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.
9. Ireland is Schengen. And anytime spent in the Republic of Ireland directly counts against your success of entry into the UK. I had this verified by 2 officers and a manager who then spent one hour calculating my Schengen time, and included all my time in Ireland in it.
8. 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 just “afraid you won't leave". (The UK is not and never was part of Schengen, so don’t think about this one too long or your head will explode.)
7. If you get a 6 month tourist visa, it's completely voided out if you leave and come back again, even if you only leave for less than 1 hour, by land or sea, without an entry stamp elsewhere.
6. Housesitting is considered "unpaid employment" and is therefore illegal on a tourist visa and grounds for immediate deportation. Likewise, if you are visiting 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”, is also unpaid employment, illegal, and grounds for deportation.
5. 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 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.
4. You will be denied entry without sufficient bank statements to prove income. Again, even for a layover with proof of travel. And 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 outside banks are acknowledged.
3. 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 or in what way.
2. 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...
1. "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 rainbow. Most are just weird grey-area type rules. I think that #4 and #5 can be true, #9 is clearly wrong (the UK and the Republic of Ireland are not Schengen), and #6 might be somewhat true.
I’d love to credit all the folks I’ve quoted here, but don't ya know, 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.