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A few weeks ago, I was going to write a post about how to get past UK immigration quickly and without suspicion. I thought I was finally starting to get the hang of it.
Not so fast!
For nearly a year, I’ve been trying to spend as much time as possible in England with my boyfriend, Dave. Without outright deciding to move to Chester, it seems like I actually have! It’s really starting to feel like home to me.
As much of a home as a 50% of the time home could be, anyways. I always knew that I could only spend up to half of my time in the UK. And as far as I knew, I wasn’t in the danger zone yet.
But even if you follow all the rules, spending time in the UK long-term is always a risk.
Trouble at the UK Border
The UK border is notoriously difficult — it’s the strictest border I’ve ever experienced. While the authorities are tough on most foreigners, they’re especially tough on a girl who has a passport the size of a small encyclopedia, doesn’t appear to have a job, and has 10 UK entry stamps from the past year.
Roughly one in three of my border crossings results in an intense interrogation. My latest arrival, coming into London from the Faroe Islands, was the worst yet. I always show my onward ticket and go through my travel plans, letting them know that I won’t be staying forever, and absolutely not mentioning that I have a British boyfriend.
I described to the immigration agent what my career in search engine marketing was (“You know those little ads on the side of Google?”), even talked through sample ads for different clients, and she kept saying, “So since it’s on the Internet, you could do it anywhere.” Well, yeah. You could do almost any office job on the Internet these days, but most companies won’t let you. We went back and forth this way for awhile.
Finally, she had had enough. “Are you aware that the limit in the UK is 180 days within one year?”
“Trust me,” I said, summoning every skill I had honed during my high school drama days, “I’m not even close to that.” She sighed and stamped me in.
Later that day, I decided to add up the days once and for all. I had been very careful of not exceeding 50% of my time in the UK since December, though I hadn’t been nearly as vigilant in the fall.
I stared at the number and my heart sank. By the time Dave and I flew to Germany on July 5, I would have spent 165 days in the past year in the UK.
The Obvious Solution
I’m only devoting text space to this because multiple people chime in with this suggestion each time: Couldn’t this problem be solved by putting a diamond on your hitchin’ finger and marrying that handsome Brit once and for all?
Yeah, it could. But I am NOT getting married for the sake of a visa when I’m not ready to get married, period. So kindly throw that idea aside.
Travel Blogger Burnout
My sudden predicament struck at a time when I was yearning to stay still for a bit, to just stay in England without leaving for awhile. Since April 19, I’ve been traveling nearly nonstop for the past 12 weeks.
I’ve spent the past 84 nights in 24 cities in 9 different countries. One night, I slept in a triple-decker bunk bed in a hostel; the next, I stayed in a five-star hotel that hosted Bill Clinton. Aside from a 16-day visit home this past May, my longest stretch in any location was 8 days in Chester.
Back in April, I knew I would burn out by July, and I did. The eternal conundrum of the professional travel blogger is how to create quality work that makes good money while traveling enough to have interesting original content. It’s a cycle that forces you to ultimately sacrifice in one direction or the other.
As a result of my recent schedule, my workload has been piling up like crazy. I haven’t been making as much money as usual, my creativity has been lacking, and with so many things due, the joy of writing just hasn’t been there.
What to Do Now?
With the UK now not an option, I would have to leave and go live somewhere for a few months — somewhere cheap where I could get a lot of work done, and a country where I could stay long-term without worrying about time limits.
Where could I go? Nowhere in the Schengen area. Maybe Bulgaria. Dahab, Egypt. Even Thailand was an option.
And then there was the cheapest destination of all: home to Massachusetts. As soon as it crossed my mind, I immediately felt relieved. This was the right choice. Plus, going back to Thailand when I had work to do wouldn’t have been the smartest choice. It’s the same reason why Anthony Bourdain’s producers try to keep him out of Southeast Asia. Neither of us can say no to too much of a good thing.
So I will be going home to live on the cheap and work! But I also miss my family and friends dearly. I feel like I gypped them out of a longer visit when I came back for only two weeks in May. I can’t wait to hang out with my parents and sister, and cause some New England mayhem with my girlfriends.
So, What’s Next?
Home for the foreseeable future. Likely until late August. I don’t start earning back days I can spend in the UK until August 19-22, and then steadily after September 9. Most of September will be spent in Portugal and Spain for the TBU and TBEX conferences, so that will help me make up some days.
As for me and Dave, we know that my going home is the smartest solution. We’re already used to being apart for several weeks at a time, and as much as this sucks — and ruins our summer plans — it’s a setback that we can handle. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s NOT to mess with UK immigration. Hopefully in the next few months I’ll figure out a way to stay in the UK longer.
Until then, I’ll be enjoying my hometown during its best season. I’ll be seeing you soon, Boston!
94 thoughts on “I’m back in America. Wait, what?!”
Oh dear, I am in a similar situation. I am starting to loathe going in and out of this country I’m in because of the hard, sometimes accusatory, questioning of the IOs. I just hope that my visa state here will be settled soon because I don’t want to deal with them anymore.
Continue to write though, I like looking through your site. To be honest, I’m not a 100% fan (still sort of a fan! 😉 ) of your blog but I read it nonetheless. 🙂
Thank you, Joyceee. Hope you stick around!
Cross over the Ireland/Northern Ireland border. There is no immigration control there 🙂
I think everyone has issues balancing blogging and travel. This year my traveling has outstripped my blogging. I’m also thinking of heading to Thailand for a month or two.
Gary….that is incredible. Will remember that for sure.
Forgive me if you’ve covered this elsewhere, but is something keeping Dave from visiting you now that you’re home in Massadhussetts for a bit?
He can visit me, technically, but he has used a LOT of vacation days on our travels. That plus the expense means it doesn’t make much sense.
Who are these people telling you to get married for a visa? Funny! (And definitely NEVER a good solution in the long run!) I think it’s wonderful that you’re going back home to reconnect with loved one and to regroup in general. Enjoy your time! And you know what they say about absence and the heart….(thank goodness for Skype).
Diana, it’s EVERYBODY! 🙂
You’re right, Kate – you do NOT mess with UK immigration.
Smart move going back home, I remember you asking where you should go on Facebook. There’s nothing like going back and just being with family and old friends for a while, especially if you’ve had a non-stop schedule like you’ve had recently.
You and Dave will handle it just fine, I’m sure. When me and my bf were apart from 2 months earlier this year, we Skyped every day and when we saw each other again, it felt like we’d never been apart.
Thanks, Tom! Dave and I have to be apart so much anyway that it’s something I know we can handle…
I would give almost anything for a UK or EU visa….apart from my ring finger.
Looking forward to reading your new posts once you’re feeling refreshed. Although I’ve never noticed your creativity fading.
Aww, thank you, Megan. It’s nice to hear that. It’s tough finding inspiration lately — the Faroe Islands helped a lot!
Ugh, UK border control is like the inquisition-and I have a visa. It’s good for FOUR YEARS, yet the agents always act like we are illegal immigrants desperately trying to bust through the border. America sounds like a great solution to your burnout problem. Plus you’ll surely have real summer weather to enjoy as opposed to the nonsense rain and cold we have here in England!
It’s true, Marina — it’s so hot and humid here, and I love it.
As a Brit, it’s weird to hear an experience of how strict British immigration is – the perception within the country always seems to be that it’s too lax. Our equivalent is US immigration – always a terrifying experience!
My issue is that immigration laws just haven’t kept up with how people live their lives. If you can do your job from anywhere in the world, you’re spending your money in their country and not claiming anything from the state, what does it matter exactly how many days you’ve clocked up?
Anyway, Boston is awesome – have a great time and I’m sure you’ll be on the move again soon!
It’s lax in some surprising ways, Rob — like that nobody is ever stamped out. A bit ridiculous. They just don’t want me to take advantage of their taxpayer-funded services.
Oh wow lady! I didn’t know we could stay 180. That is still half the year!
Do what you need to do. We are all rooting for ya. <3
I guess the 180-day rule is good for you, huh? 🙂 If you’re staying for a long time, get ready for a LOOOONG interrogation!
The funny thing is that the London immigration was one of our easiest entries. It is always coming back to the US that gets us the interrogations!
Welcome home! Boston is gorgeous now 🙂
Thanks, Anya! I can’t wait to get into town.
You can travel Boston! 🙂 You never know what new things you may discover. I volunteer at a hostel in Boston so you are welcome to join anytime if you miss being surrounded by travelers!
Thank you very much, NaEun! Which hostel do you work at? I got invited to check out 40Berkeley.
Ugh, yeah UK immigration are hard-asses. It sucks that you have to be apart from Dave for so long but I am 100% with you on the ridiculousness of getting married just for a visa.
Anyways enjoy your time in the US! As you know we are hanging out on the East Coast this summer too so hopefully we cross paths!
Thank you — it’s nice to hear you say that in the midst of all the “WHY DON’T YOU GET MARRIED?” comments.
Will definitely let you know where I am! I’ll be in Boston for the next few weeks.
I feel your pain lady!
I’m back in Maui far far away from Germany and my boyfriend. Stupid 90 day in 90 day out EU rule! Hit a writers block as I mope around in reality but I think it will pass as I prepare for our fall adventure… Driving from Germany to Morocco in a camper van!
Alexandra, it must be SO much worse for you because you can’t spend as much time in so many wonderful countries. Why not try for the artist visa in Germany? From what Adam posted recently, it seems easy enough to do…
As much as the visa rules suck I’m sure your family and friends will be stoked to have you home. It’s so funny to hear you say the uk immigration is strict. While I haven’t been through Europe yet, as a kiwi who’s been living and working in the states for the past two years I’ve always found US immigration to be a scary and stressful experience!
Nothing beats going home after a long time away though so I hope you enjoy being able to relax and get some work done 🙂
i agree, Stacey! Just been through US immigration a couple of months ago (in the US for the summer), and they were scary. Scarier than i remember 3 years ago, that’s for sure. But i had money with me, and they asked questions about how i could not work for 6 months etc. they said ‘You’re not planning on working in the US are you?’ Hell no.. Being from NZ, like you, i tried to explain that we get long periods of paid vacation and i’d been saving my ass off for 3 years to come back. And i had a 10 year visiting visa that they were very suspicious of. US immigration is the most paranoid in my opinion.
Kate, I really enjoy reading your blog and admire your adventurous spirit! I’m heading to Europe myself at the end of August 🙂
Thank you, Maddie! I hope you have a GREAT time in Europe this summer!
I keep hearing awful stories about US immigration — glad you got through okay!
They’re excited, Stacey. 🙂 I’ve already had so much fun with friends and family in NYC — looking forward to Boston tomorrow!
I didn’t realise it was such a pain getting into the sunny isle!
And I thought China was hard… 😉
If you don’t have an onward ticket for a short (under two weeks) visit, you’ll go through at least some tough questions.
I’m glad I read this post now. I am planning to return to the UK by end of August to reunite with the family. Although I had a UK visa before, I wouldn’t want to mess up with the immigration too T_T I didn’t know about the 180 days limit.
Anyway, I think you made the right decision. At home, you can work on some backlogs related to work and the blog. You need to rest a bit as well in a homey ambiance 🙂
Thanks, Mica. I’m so glad you know about the 180 day limit now!
Is it possible for Dave to visit you while here? That will make the time go by faster!
Best of luck and come on down to the Tweetup next Wed in Newport!
Hi, Priscilla — it’s possible that he could visit, but not probable. He used up a lot of his vacation days on our travels this week (especially the three weeks in the Balkans), and it’s expensive, plus, we were thinking Thanksgiving would be his next visit. So possible, but not very likely.
Jess and I had the same problem when we lived in the UK – I (as a German) was free to live there for how ever long I wanted, but once her work visa ran out, we were not sure what to do. We finally found a visa option on the UKBA website that was perfect for us: a partnership visa that included non-married (and same-sex!) couples. All I had to do is put my name down as her sponsor and 9 months later we had the visa (they sure took their time to process the application). I’m sure Dave would be your sponsor?
Dani, I have researched that — from what I understand, you must have lived with someone for two years before you go for that visa. BUT I’m not sure if just being in a relationship would be enough. If so, I would totally apply for the partnership visa once we’ve been together for two years (this February).
Well, I have reading lot about the issue and it looks like there is no way to cheat with UK or other European countries immigration departments. You took the best decision. You don’t want to mess up your relationship with those countries. Anyway, I am sure you are going to have blast in Boston.
Thanks, Ruth. It’s definitely a risk not worth taking.
I got kicked out of Taiwan for overstaying my visa. It’s not fun to have to move on before you’re mentally ready. I feel for you!
Oh no, Ava! That must have been awful. 🙁
Wow, I didn’t realize UK immigration was that strict. I don’t think I’d do so well being interrogated like that.
Have an onward ticket for a short stay and you’ll probably be fine. 🙂
Kate, Boston in the summertime can be its own adventure– this weekend is the Revere Beach Sandsculpting contest, which is supposed to be wild.
Also, I throw music and art events in the Cambridge area, so let me know if you’re interested in that!
(Also, I found your blog through our mutual friend Julianne.)
Katie, my mom went to the beach today and said this year’s sculptures are REALLY good. I’ll have to go check them out!
I’d be happy to hear about Cambridge events — could I sign up for a newsletter or something? Thanks!
I must admit I hadn’t read your blog for a while but was compelled to check this one out. I didn’t find them too bad, I just smiled and remembered what i had written on the landing card and all was good for me, and that was with multiple entries over a 6 month period. Maybe they have slightly different rules for Aussies but I do know 6 months is the maximum stay in the UK for aussies but I think every time you leave the UK to go to Europe it resets. The main thing I have encountered is proving you can sustain yourself for the time you will be there.
Hope all is good in Boston and you enjoy time with your mates back home. Chat soon.
Hi, Earl —
Glad to see you back! And if you’re planning a six months visit total, you’ve got nothing to worry about, though the clock doesn’t reset for anyone.
Just so you know I took out part of your comment because I heeded your, and several other readers’, concerns. 🙂 Thanks!
I understand how hard that decision must have been for your heart even though your head said it was the right thing to do. Sounds cheesy but I’m sure it’s true! Have fun in Boston and see you at TBU 🙂
Thanks, Marie! I will see you there. 🙂
I’m facing the same dilemma as you. As a Canadian I am eligible for a two year visa to live and work in the UK (the UK grants non-restrictive work visas to people under the age of 31 from Commonwealth countries), so I’m okay until next October. That said, I’m already looking ahead and wondering how in the heck I’ll be able to stay here once my visa is up. I’m living in London with my German boyfriend, so there MAY be the possibility of him sponsoring me for a common-law partner visa, but with UK immigration laws changing and tightening up daily, I don’t know if I’ll still be eligible for such a visa come 2013. Like you, I don’t want to have to get married just to stay in England (which, for the record, is far from being my favourite country).
I know that things are trickier for Americans over here, but have you looked into the possibility of applying for a student visa? You could potentially just apply to a bogus university program and get a long-stay visa for the duration of the program.
I think you should explore the possibility, Oneika. Maybe see if you can get a quickie consultation with a lawyer. There may be a way around it.
A student visa did cross my mind, but I’m not sure if it will create more problems (particularly financial) than it’s worth.
Welcome home! I’m fairly certain this past week was THE best summer week, weatherwise in Boston, since I moved here in 1999. Hopefully you can have the same enjoyable climate to do whatever your heart pleases in and around Boston and New England!
Thank you, Nicole! I’m looking forward to enjoying the nice weather, maybe lying on the Esplanade. There’s no place like Boston in summer!
I’m glad you can look at this setback as an opportunity to go back home to family and friends 🙂 I know it is so hard and disappointing (yes never mess with the UK border guys and amen to not marrying for a visa!) but at least it isn’t as if you can never return again! Time will pass so quickly, trust me 🙂 I enjoy reading your blog, wish I could do as much travelling as you do! All the best and hope it all goes well!
Thank you, Marcie! I’m sure the time will pass quickly. 🙂
Hey Miss Kate!!!
Glad to see you are stateside!
Just wondering though… Doesn’t UK immigration have your blog URL? The next time you go to enter, if they choose to interrogate you again, they could conceivably see this post. Right?
Apparently, yes. I went through this entry a second time and made sure everything I said was kosher.
All you wanna do is be based in the UK, all I wanna do is be anywhere but the UK. I have no love the place at the moment. Wanna trade passports?
Hmmm, think I can pass for a wannabe mountain man with a bushy beard? 🙂
Welcome home! Boston is lovely right now! Come see a Sox game and visit me at the bar!
Oh really! Which bar is that — the Bleacher Bar?
Hahaha, some people will look for any excuse to tell someone to get married. SO glad you’re not getting married for a visa when you’re not ready! I was in Boston in the fall and loved it. Will you be writing about Boston as well?
I’m sure I will, Ayelet! It’s still a city I love.
I’ll be flying to London in about two weeks can you e-mail me some tips to help me get through security? I’ve never been out of the country and I get intimidated pretty easily so any help will be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
I just got back from a stay with Mom and Dad between expeditions…. I’m sure it will fly by for you like it did for me! Good luck at home, Kate 🙂
Ugh, UK immigration. I had a pretty hard time when I was there last summer, because apparently a six week stay with no onward ticket is suspicious? (Yeah, I’m an idiot for not having the stupid ongoing ticket). Also I went to Ibiza for a week and was the ONLY non-brit on the plane returning which the immigration people were super excited about. They interrogated not just my at-the-time boyfriend and all his friends. Fun times.
However, prior to that my ex came in and out of the US for two years from jobs in the Caribbean. Even with the Caribbean work permit he was constantly harassed, and on his final visit into the States they gave him a warning and only stamped him in for half of the usual 90 days. It was pretty scary but at that point we had already made plans to move to Thailand. So yeah, US Immigration is pretty indimidating as well.
I’ve arrived without an onward ticket in the past and it was a huge pain — if you arrive in the UK, make sure, above else, you have an onward ticket!
One of the best things about coming home was that I was surrounded by people who didn’t care I was a blogger and I rarely have travel blogging conversations. It will really help with the burn out to realize that life is more than blogging.
It IS. I spent an afternoon with a good friend from work who I hadn’t seen in five years (!) — we gabbed nonstop for hours and I barely mentioned blogging. It was SO NICE — and different.
Enjoy a little bit of downtime Kate, but we expect you to come back bigger and better than ever….No pressure or anything:)
Haha, like I’d ever take any pressure off!
Oh, this all sounds so familiar to me! I actually live in Chester now with my Irish boyfriend but it’s been a bit of a rocky road getting here. Dealing with the endless bureaucracy of UK visa applications is exhausting and stressful and while marriage might seem like an easy solution, it really isn’t – and like you said, who wants to get married for the sake of convenience?
I’m now legal to stay here as the family member (civil partner) of an EU national and every border crossing is so much less stressful!
I hope you get things sorted out in some way, shape, or form soon and enjoy having your feet on the ground for a little while 🙂
Amanda, we HAVE to hang out when I get back to Chester! I’ll let you know when I come back!
Thanks for the kind words — nice to hear from someone who has been there.
That would be great, just send me an email when you are heading back in this direction 🙂
UK immigration sucks. One time, when I was living in Denmark on a student visa in 2005, they held me at the border at Stansted because I was flying in from Aarhus, taking a train to visit a friend living at the University of Swansea in Wales, and didn’t have an actual address written down on my customs form. They pulled me aside and grilled me, trying to catch me in a “lie.” I have never been so angry at customs people in my life!
Yikes. You definitely need a STORY when you come in.
I never knew British immigration was such a pain. That’s good to know. There are a lot worse places to spend a summer than Boston. Enjoy it!
The media makes it seem like it’s the easiest country to get into. In a lot of ways, it is, but it’s been a struggle for me! Thanks.
i liked this post, as a Brit… i got a real grilling at LAX in 1993… and i was only gonna be in transit for a few hours….. the stewardess had given me the wrong landing card….. he seemed happier when i said id be taking a connecting flight from Seattle to Vancouver the same day….. so was i…. and i have not been back to the US since… LOL
US immigration is far stricter than UK…. ;)))
So says everyone!
I just found your blog and it had to be just divine intervention. I just returned from a 12 day visit to the UK with friends , and KNOWING that this is the unconventional life I have to live, it’s what i believe I am to do (i also began an online business about a year ago) but just not sure of the actual HOW of how to travel and write/blog and acually live(be able to sustain myself and have an income). Please respond here or to my email address with any advice on how its done, ideas, resources and suggestions or any tidbits you (or anyone else with experience) may have.
Thank you soooo much, you really are an inspiration,
Hi, Sam —
Making a living as a professional travel blogger is NOT easy, especially today. And it takes a LOT of time. If you’re determined to become a professional travel blogger, I suggest spending a few years building the BEST DAMN TRAVEL BLOG on the face of the Earth.
Come visit me in Chicago. 😉
I’ve got a wedding there next year.
was a shock to me as a Brit to read how strict the UK border immigration is. Everyone in the UK is under the impression that we let anyone in to stay for as long as they want. A lot of people actually want immigration tightened up!
Interesting also how the border official got onto the fact that you can do your work anywhere via the net – and wanted to stop you entering for that reason.
So we have this absurd situation where more and more work can be done regardless of our location. It doesn’t take jobs away from those places, on the contrary, by letting such people in they bring spending into the economy.
Yet the border officials don’t want to let in people who work in that way! Crazy.
So can we work anywhere as location independent digital nomads?
Technically yes, but as far as these border officials and visa controls are concerned: No, they want to stop us!
Well, immigration in the UK is tight in lots of ways and not tight in other ways (no check when leaving the country, etc.). They’re behind the times. I’m sure things will be better once I can get a partner visa.
That’s so interesting that you think the UK is the strictest border! Obviously, as an American, you’ve never had to enter the USA as a foreigner. As a British citizen, who lives (officially) in the UK but is a green card holder in the USA I have exactly the same trouble as you but in reverse. My parents and brother still live in the US so I’m constantly facing interrogation just for wanting to visit my family and the place I used to live. They always want to know what I was doing in China, why I have spent so many days in the UK and where I am really living. It’s hard to explain that at the moment, I don’t really live anywhere! They are accusatory, rude and demanding even though I never outstay my welcome and I’m always coming in and leaving 100% legal. I guess that’s just a sacrifice we make to travel. Love the blog by the way. I have just come across your site and I can’t get enough! x
I have had a very similar experience with British immigration. I lived in Scotland on a fiancee visa for six months, and while the relationship didn’t work out and I had to come back to America, they have always given me the third degree at the border. I went back to Scotland on a writing assignment (four years after I’d moved back to America) and UK immigration stopped me at the border, drilled me about Scottish history (I swear), and questioned whether I was really going to leave the country if they let me in. I was nearly in tears at the end and almost missed my connecting flight!!
I have been having similar issues all summer at the UK border. I am an American and have been traveling between the UK and Germany visiting friends and enjoying the sights. Yesterday, I entered the UK from Germany at Gatwick. Even though I am under my 180 days allotted, I was told that I “should not attempt to reenter the UK after I leave next”. They did not tell me any specifics as to when or if I would ever be allowed to return and stamped my passport with a code written above the stamp “NEA 620”.
I have one more trip to Germany planned before my final flight home in September. I asked if I would be allowed to reenter the UK to take my flight and they told me I “could very likely be turned away.”
Could anyone please tell me what NEA 620 means and any advice would be most welcome. Thanks,
I realized this post is from two years ago, but I am in a very similar situation and could use some advice. I am from the US and my boyfriend is from the UK – we met 3 years ago while working on cruise ships and were able to maintain our relationship by continuing to work on ships together. Now, both of us are a little tired of the cruise life but now are faced with figuring out how to be together on land. We are seriously looking into moving to Canada as it seems fairly easy for us to both work there … but it’s proving to be more complicated than I originally thought. Anyway, just wondering if you have any more advice to offer on the subject? Would love to hear from you.
Hope all is well – love your blog.
Truthfully, Jackie, I struggled greatly with this for nearly four years. There are no easy solutions. But if you can both work in Canada, go for it.