How to Pass U.K. Immigration Control (Also for Ireland)
The U.K. is notorious for having the most difficult border crossing in Europe. The border agents for the U.K. are the strictest, most annoying, and down-right ridiculous immigration control people of any country that I have been to in Europe.
I have had to endure questioning from these dolts so many times that I can’t even count; but, through this process, I have learned what they want to hear and what they don’t want to hear.
Below, I will share my experiences with you and tell you how to get through the U.K. immigration control.
This also works exactly the same for Ireland. Anywhere you read “U.K.” in this article, you can also read it as “U.K. and Ireland.”
Disclaimer: This article does not deal with illegally entering the U.K. It merely tells you how to get through the border controls, which are run by ***** on a power trip that want to screw with you and prevent you from entering their country, when you are legally allowed to enter the country and fully intend to comply with all laws, rules, and regulations. If you have a proper paper visa in your passport or an E.U. passport, this article will most likely not apply to you.
I have been through the U.K. border control maybe, let me see now, 9 or 10 times in the past year and I don’t know how many times in previous years. The writing of this article is based off of those experiences.
UPDATE: Just recently, about a week after I wrote this, I encountered major difficulties going through the Irish border control. Basically, my problem was that my answers to the questions seemed too vague according the the border man, even though they were completely accurate descriptions of what I was going to do in Ireland. I will write another post venting about the problems I had but, remember, the most important thing is to have concise, precise, and believable answers. In short, the border agent in Ireland accused me of being either a drug trafficker or a sex slave trafficker selling women in Ireland…. yea… the article about that interaction should prove quite interesting – I’ll post the link to it here when I write it.
Even if you are legally allowed to enter the U.K., you have more time left on your visa, you don’t need a visa in the first place, you haven’t been to the U.K. yet but have been traveling around Europe and are now entering the U.K., it doesn’t matter what, the border control people will grill you!
It doesn’t matter why you are coming to the U.K., if you don’t have a good or acceptable reason to be there, according to the border control, they will not let you into their country; and believe me when I tell you that tourism is not a valid reason to be there on its own.
What they Really Want to Know!
The border agents really only want to know, no, they need to believe, a few things about you before they will let you pass. They want to know that you will be leaving their country – you need to make them believe that you will only be there temporarily. This is the most important thing, and just about every question they ask will revolve around determining if you are really going to leave the U.K. or not and when.
After that, it comes down to making sure that you are not going there to use their services – healthcare, etc.; that you are not going there to have a baby; that you are not going there to work illegally; that you are not a terrorist or shady character that might commit a crime; and, that you are not going to abuse their, or other country’s, visa restrictions.
You basically need to make them feel comfortable with you. You are now selling yourself and, depending on many things – where you are from, how you look, what you say – this can be very easy or very difficult. It is very much worth it to practice answering the questions they will ask before you get to the border control, especially if you are a perpetual traveler like myself because that tends to raise alarm bells in the U.K. (and Ireland).
If you have to think about the answers to their questions while standing there in front of them, this can be a very bad thing; it may look like you are making things up as you go or lying; you may give an answer that leads to a red flag; or, you may forget to mention something important. Even if you are doing nothing wrong and you are legally entitled to enter the U.K. and you just want to be there as a tourist, they will not let you in if your answers are not to their liking.
Below, I’ve listed many questions that they will ask you, that I myself have been asked, and how to answer them.
The Questions and How to Survive them!
I will go over some common questions that they ask and how you should and should not handle these questions. As well, I will cover some questions that they ask when they find you suspicious and how to handle those questions.
These are the questions that they tend to ask every time you go through the border control and these are the most important questions that you will have to answer. If you answer these questions satisfactorily, they will let you pass; if you do not answer these questions to their liking, you will be grilled or simply not let into the country.
Why are you here?
Best Answer: Tourism
Tourism is the best, and most common answer. It is the best answer because it tells the border agents that you are going to be leaving their country after a specified period of time. There are many variations of this answer, but the best is still just “tourism” and nothing more. But, if you say this, make sure to know what you want to see or do because they may ask you to explain what you want to see in their country.
If you are there for work, its best that it is for an international company that is flying you there for a specified period of time and then flying you out. If you have a legitimate approved work reason or you have a similar work visa then go ahead and say that. But, if you don’t have the legal ability to work, don’t say anything about work. The last thing you want them to think is that you are there to work under the table.
Another thing that you can say is that you are visiting friends or family. But, this has been hit or miss for me. One border agent even told me, at the end of all the questioning, that I should have just said that I was there to visit my friends, which I was. But, previously, another border agent told me that that was not a valid reason in-and-of-itself to come to the U.K. The most important thing with using this answer is that you will need the names and contact information for your friends; it behooves you to get some information about your friends before you reach the border control. You may even need to know what they do in the U.K. and why they are there in the first place. As a traveler, this can be difficult since we meet other travelers who invite us to visit them when the only thing we know about the person is that they seem cool and are also a traveler. Preparation here will save you a lot of frustration.
There are many other answers you could give to this question but don’t be stupid, work or tourism is the best answer depending on your situation. For instance, if you can only stay in the U.K. for 3 months and you have family there and you tell the border agents that you are going to visit, stay, or live with your family, that may raise red flags, especially if you are not allowed to work in the country and even if you don’t plan on staying in the U.K. for long. Once again, the reaction to this answer depends on your specific country of origin and other factors, like if you have a return ticket or not. (return tickets are king!)
How long will you stay?
Best Answer: Something under the limit of how long you can legally stay there but, at the same time, short enough to fit with your above answer. So, a tourist usually stays in the U.K., mainly London, for a week or so; if you plan to stay in London as a tourist for 5 months, even though you are legally allowed to do this, this might raise some red flags and be the impetus for a lot more questioning.
This is where you do NOT want to say “I don’t know how long I will stay.” This seems like a no-brainer, but, as a traveler, it is a very easy thing to say because, often times, I don’t know how long I want to stay in a place until I get there. If I like a city, I stay longer. The idea of setting a hard date for leaving a place does not appeal to me. But, I’ve learned that, when going through border control, you need to have a set-in-stone date in order to please them. So, for me, I usually say two weeks; it is a good hard number for them to munch on and it’s true; I usually plan to stay for two weeks, but I can always change my mind later and stay as long as my visa/passport stamp allows for me to stay there.
Answering this way allows you to tell the truth and get through security more easily.
A tip here: purchase a ticket out of the country, even if you don’t plan on using it. This will allow you to stay as long as you want, as long as you are under the legally allowed time, and you will get through the border security much much more easily.
Where are you coming from?
Best Answer: Your home country.
Your home country is the best answer because of the way most people travel – the more common your answers are, the more boring and typical they are, the less trouble you will have with the border agents.
Most people leave their home country and visit another country as a tourist and then fly back to their home country. They tend to have a round-trip flight and have hard and fast dates for arriving and leaving as well as having pre-booked accommodation.
As a traveler, you cannot usually say that you are coming from your home country. But, to be honest, you don’t have much, if any, leeway with the answer to this question. The border agents can see or request to see which flight or ferry or train (chunnel) you took to enter the country. The only leeway that you have is to say either a specific country’s name or a region – i.e. Slovenia or Europe or Mainland Europe.
If you are worried about the country in which you were last staying, just state the region instead of the country and that might be all they want at that point.
Where are you going next?
Best Answer: Your home country.
They want to know that you are just another normal tourist going home. But, as a traveler, we usually can’t say that we are going home and this brings up a whole host of additional questions.
Unless you are going to another country to continue working for a multinational firm or you are heading home very soon after you visit the next country, you will probably be grilled.
This next advice applies to travelers like myself. I have found that it is best to be upfront with the border agents with this question, but know that, almost whatever you say here will lead the U.K. border agents to grill you even more. The best response is that you are traveling Europe or the World or wherever and that you are going to this place then and the next place then and the next place then; after this, you plan on going home. Replace “then” with dates if you can! Remember that they like planning and concrete dates a lot.
But, be careful not to mention too many places because, and this is a big one, they will start to ask questions about finances. Now, know that when they ask questions about your finances, it is for one reason and one reason alone, to determine if you are coming to the U.K. to work illegally and earn enough money to continue your travels or to use government services for free. I will write more about the finances issue under the appropriate question below.
My main advice here, for us travelers, is to state concrete travel dates for a few countries that you plan to visit. It doesn’t matter if you don’t plan to be there on those dates or if you don’t have tickets yet; you can simply tell them that that is your plan. After those countries, you plan to go back to your home country. Once again, it doesn’t matter if this doesn’t happen because it was just a plan and plans can be changed. But, by the time you change your travel plans, down-the-road, you won’t be in front of the U.K. border agents.
How are you getting there?
Best Answer: Plane. Have a date and ticket!
As a traveler, I almost never have a hard date for leaving and, as such, I usually don’t have a ticket to leave the country upon entry; I don’t know how I am getting to the next country.
But, you never ever say this to the border agents. Remember that you are convincing them that you will leave their country. You don’t want them to know that you don’t know how you will leave their country because that may cause doubt in their mind as to whether or not you will actually leave the U.K.
If you don’t already have a plane ticket, I suggest you tell them your plans. Have a good plan. Though I don’t have a ticket, I say that I plan on purchasing a plane ticket from here to wherever. If I want to go to Ireland next, I say that I will buy a ticket on the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. That is good, and true; I usually plan on doing this when I go through London. The reason it is good is because the ticket for the ferry is only around 45 pounds, including the train from London. And, since the price is so low, you can say that you don’t have the ticket yet because it is so cheap that you will buy it the day you leave. This doesn’t always please them though, but it is better than nothing. It is harder to do this with plane tickets because they are more expensive.
Take note, if you say that you already have a ticket out of the country, they may make you produce that ticket right there and then.
You really need to be careful here when you talk about plans and tickets because they may actually make you purchase a ticket out of the country before they let you into the U.K. Here, you are really engaging in a delicate dance, the goal of which is to make them believe that you will leave the U.K.
Usually, this means that they are not sure they want to let you into the U.K. At this point, you need to have the right answers!
Where are you staying and with whom are you staying? (not always a red flag question)
Have an answer for this!!! Many travelers like to just show up in a city or country and find accommodation that day. It is a bad idea to do this when entering the U.K. These border agents want to know everything!
So, know where you will stay and with whom you will stay. It is best to have an address and a phone number for the place or person with whom you are going to stay. If it is a hostel or hotel, definitely make sure you have their information written down so you can give it to the border agent.
Also, just in case they decide to verify a hotel/hostel accommodation, make sure you already have a reservation for that place. If they decide to call the hotel that you are supposed to stay at and there is no record of you in the booking system, this will cause a problem for you.
How much money do you have?
Have enough money to be able to live in the U.K. for as long as you will stay there. Remember that London is very expensive. I would recommend having $3,000 usd for each month that you want to stay in the U.K. unless you have permission to work there. But, that is the bare minimum. It may not cost that much to stay for a single month, but having a buffer is a good idea, especially from the perspective of the border agents.
The goal of this question is to figure out if you will be working in the U.K. or if you have enough money to sustain yourself. You want to convince them that you can afford to do everything that you want to do while in their country. They are really worried about people coming to the U.K. and working illegally and this is a big problem with travelers.
Many travelers come to the U.K. to work legally or illegally in order to earn enough money to travel around Europe. As such, when they hear that you are a traveler, they immediately start to wonder whether or not your intention is to work in the U.K. This is why perpetual travelers receive extra scrutiny when they go through the border control for the U.K., especially young travelers 18-30 or so.
Also, note that, almost no matter what you say for this question, they will question it. When I went through the border controls the last time, they asked for a bank statement, which I produced. After showing the woman the bank statement, she replied “you could have made that on your computer, how do I know it’s real?” WTF!!! There is no way to prove to her how much money I have in my bank account where she couldn’t use that retort. This is just another reason the U.K. border control people are crazy.
And yes, if I didn’t mention it, have proof of income or proof of funds, though that does not at all mean that they will believe you!
How did you get that money?
I hate this question. The first time I encountered it I said “that is none of your business.” They did not like that! 😉
You just need to tell them the straight truth. If you work, state the name of your employer or that you are self-employed or that you used to work for xyz. But, don’t hesitate when you say it or they may think that you are making this up.
My dilemma is that I did a lot of different things to make money before traveling and they are difficult to classify; so, I used to give a long drawn-out explanation of everything, and they did not like that. After I learned this, I stopped giving a long explanation of what I used to do and just cut it down to a vast generalization that they actually seem to prefer to the more thorough explanation.
If you got your money from your parents or family, just say this. This is not a bad thing and, honestly, sometimes I think that it would be the best thing for me to say to avoid explaining everything that I used to do. If you say this though, they will ask what your parents do, so have a simple and short answer for that that makes sense to a monkey with a mental capacity that has been significantly retarded.
What do you do for work?
The answer to this was pretty much explained in the last question above. Tell them what you do or what you did but keep it simple. Long descriptions of what you do tend to cause them to question you even more; but, a simple and concise answer tends to satisfy their desires to pry into your life.
Traveler Specific Questions
If you are a perpetual traveler, you may get more questions, like the ones below.
Why are you traveling?
Oh my god I hate this question! “Because I want to travel!!!” Though, they tend to want more information than this.
Once again, come up with a short and concise reason for traveling that is easy for a 5 year old to understand. You quit your job and took a year off to explore the world and get a change of scenery; you just got out of a long relationship and need a break from life; whatever. Just have a simple one sentence answer that makes sense!
As you may be able to tell from how I write, I tend to say too much and go into too much detail with explanations; this is a bad way to approach answers to the border agents in the U.K.
How long will you be traveling in its entirety?
This question should tie in with the one above. Have an answer! I used to say “I’m not sure” and boy oh boy did they not like that. Say a year or two years, but say something concrete. Here, it is not as important what you say as it is that it seems like you have planned it out and that it is apparent that you aren’t planning on moving to the U.K.
Why did you go to this country on your travels?
Haha, this question brings back good memories. One time I said that I was going somewhere to “go to a festival and drink and party” and the border guy loved it! He immediately stamped me through and told me to have a good time; but, this was also in Scotland. Down south, in England, is where they are real agents about everything.
Sometimes an answer like the one I gave above works quite well, especially if it is for a festival that has a set beginning and an end; remember, they want to feel confident with the idea that you will leave the U.K.
To be honest, this question used to trip me up because I usually go to a country because I have never been there before and I want to see what it is like. But, I have found that it is better to have a more concrete reason to visit the country; once again, something revolving around tourism works best, especially if you can mention some sites that you would like to visit.
How long have you been in Europe?
The U.K. border agents love this one. You need to be careful here. I don’t have a set answer for this except to say that the less time you have spent in Europe, the better your answer will be for this question.
If you stay in Europe for a long time without getting a long-term visa, say 3-6 months or more, the U.K. border control will most likely grill you. Now, you can plan your stay in Europe such that you are completely legal and violate no laws or treaties and don’t need a visa to stay longer than 6 months but, it requires a small to fair bit of moving around and planning. Typically, most people are allowed to stay in Europe for 3 months before they need to leave (schengen agreement).
Once you cross this threshold, the U.K. border control starts to become suspicious about what you are doing. They start to think that you are working illegally in Europe or that you are trying to evade the immigration control of mainland Europe.
I even had one border agent tell me that she was worried that I was coming to the U.K. for a week just to get a stamp and then head back to mainland Europe. When I asked why that would worry her, she said that it was called the “schengen shuffle” and that, once I got the U.K. stamp, my time in the schengen zone, basically mainland Europe, would reset and I would get more time to stay there. This made my blood boil because, based on everything that I have read, this is NOT possible.
So, if you must state that you have been in Europe for a long time, include a brief and simple explanation for what you were doing there and how you are just a tourist (or whatever you are) – don’t say tourist though, just mention things that you did that only tourists would do and make it seem natural, which it will if you practice it beforehand. Practicing what you say is key so that you don’t get too nervous and then forget important details about where you were and why you were there.
Going through the U.K. border control is like being in an interrogation. It is nerve racking and unpleasant; you are being treated as a guilty person even though you are not and you feel totally out of control of your situation.
But, you are in control of your situation. What you say and how you say it is what determines whether or not you will get past the border agents. This is why you need to be prepared for the questions that they will ask you and you need to practice your answers.
This is a test! Brush up on what you have been doing while traveling and practice the answers to the above questions. Make your answers brief, concise, and easy for a 5 year old monkey with a significantly retarded intellect to understand.
You are not lying here; you are telling the truth. But, you need to tell it in such a way that you seem believable because, as I mention above, even when you tell the truth, they don’t believe you. And, to have the best and most believable answers, you need to practice.
If you don’t practice your answers to the questions, when you are being grilled by the border agent, you may start to get nervous and to forget things that are important and that could help better explain your situation.
What to Bring to the ‘Interrogation’
- passport (duh!)
- any necessary visas
- copy of bank statements – certified by a notary public is best
- tickets to leave the country – plane, train, bus, ferry, whatever you have
- proof of health insurance – this is only sometimes requested though
So, to you, I say good luck! 😉