Trouble at the Border

I knew I would have some trouble with British customs but didn’t realize it would generate that much of a fuss.

Upon being called from the long line of non-EU passport holders I wished the customers officer a good morning and handed him my landing card and passport. Our conversation went like this.

“What is the purpose of your trip?”
“Tourism, traveling, sight-seeing.”

“How long do you intend to spend in the United Kingdom”
“About 16 days.”

“Are you travelling alone?”

“Do you know anyone in the UK or EU?”

“Do you hae a return flight.”

Now this is where it all started to go downhill. My travel itinerary for this backpacking trip is very open-ended. I don’t like planning things too far in advance because I usually end up changing my mind and have regrets about the whole thing. I showed up in Manchester with a hostel booked for only two nights.

After hearing that I did not have a return flight, his facial expression turned from neutral customs officer to irritated customs officer. To attempt to ease the tension I offered a bank statement showing that I could purchase a ticket home.

“Where do you work?”
“Umm, well I’m actually unemployed at the moment because I’m travelling.”

“Why did you say you were a Software Engineer on the landing card if you’re not employed.”
“Well, that’s my profession – that is what I am trained to do. I just recently finished school.”

“So you’re a student then…”
“Well, no, not anymore.”

“Have you worked as a software engineer.”
“Not professionally, no.”

Big mistake. I should have said yes, due to the fact that I did make money as a co-op student and technically was a software engineer but I had thought he was referring to post-grad work. By saying I did not work professionally I meant that I was not a professional engineer – that would require four years of experience among other things to get the ability to call myself an engineer. My inability to give basic, straightforward answers was impeded by suffering from jet-lag, lack of sleep and previous intoxication.

“Where did you get this money?”
“I earned it.”

“You said you were unemployed.”
“I earned it while going to school.”

Now he takes his glasses off, leans back in his chair and crosses his arms. At this point, I’m quite a bit flustered. Not only am I worried about being denied a VISA but I’m also panicking, trying to figure out how to explain to him how the co-operative education system in engineering works.

He says “Explain your itinerary in detail.” Another problem, my adventure style itinerary consists of me doing whatever I feel like as I go – but there was no way he would buy that. I told him what loosely resembled my UK itinerary and said I would be leaving by train to France. He was very disappointed I didn’t have any accommodation booked. His interest then went to my family, who there were, where they lived – pretty much all in Canada of course.

His final questions were: “Do you have any job offers? Have you applied to any companies in Canada.”

It appears that he was thinking I finished school and was going to illegally work in the UK and steal jobs from his countrymen.


Visa approved.