Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…done with border guards for a while

Border crossings aren’t always fun, but there’s certainly not always painful or stressful. The old thingy ‘you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression’ is something America might want to take into account.


When I first entered Australia, overly ready with a printout of my visa confirmation, my bank records and anything else that could possibly help me get into the country (which weren’t asked for), I simply walked up to a border guard, who was clearly frustrated by the people before me who couldn’t speak English, waited a few seconds while he flicked through my passport and stamped it, and went off to wait for a bus for a while.

Things weren’t so easy in America. I’d never crossed a border with passport checks on a train before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There was none of the huge security hassle or huge lines (belts and shoes off, laptops out — learn this already), but there were some people with uniforms who thought they were incredibly important. Sadly, for my situation, they were.

The Americans weren’t the most threatening or scary in terms of border guards, that award goes to their friends in Israel, the Americans are mainly just the most ignorant and clueless.

Israeli border guards

Leaving Israel was my most traumatic airport experience. After getting on a train (where young men in jeans were wakling through the metal detectors with automatic rifles slung round their shoulders) to the terminal I thought I was flying from. I was immediately put on a bus to another terminal about ten minutes away.

There I joined a massive queue of people waiting to have their luggage scanned. In the queue a massive, shaven-headed security guard asked to see my passport and asked all sorts of questions that felt like a wrong answer would see me imprisoned — why did you come here, who did you speak to, do you have a bomb in your bag, etc. After satisfying him I put my check-in luggage through a scanner and then waited in another line to have my hand luggage scanned. The lady being checked at the time was in tears.

At the desk a young attendant took most of my possessions out of my bag, scanned them, and swabbed my bag numerous times. Once he was happy that I had no drugs or explosives, I got to re-pack my bag and follow him to a guarded room. This room looked like a changing room in a department store. He led me to a cubicle and made me put all my valuables on a small table while asking for me to take my shoes and belt off so someone could scan them. Also in this cubicle was a stool with a box of rubber gloves. I was worried.

Thankfully nothing happened with the gloves, he simply ran a hand scanner over me a few times and then patted me down as people in airports are wont to do. His friend came back with my shoes, worried about an electronic device I had attached to the laces. Thankfully the guy who I almost became intimate with knew about Nike+ because my stuttering explanation wasn’t making things very clear.

My new bestie then took me upstairs, past a security check point and into a departure lounge. We all waited there for a while before getting back on a bus to the main airport. Apparently that area was set up purely to get potential terrorists away from the planes.

My main thought after all of this was ‘if I was going to blow up Israel, wouldn’t I do it on the way in?’ There was nothing as rigorous in Luton.

When I told my dad about all this he told me about trips he used to take to Israel where he was told that they’d be making a stop in Athens or somewhere on the way, only to find out when they touched down that they were on a direct flight.

American border guards

So although the Americans didn’t have the same level of intimidation, they still weren’t great. I was sent to a separate kiosk to my girlfriend because we aren’t living together at the moment, we’re not married or anything along those lines. The girl I spoke to could simply not get her head around the fact that I was planning to travel across America for three months. She couldn’t comprehend that I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have a permanent home address (“I’m not asking about your parents, I’m asking about you”) and that I was intending to make full use of my 90-day visa. She had a little conference with the guy who was speaking to S, and I was sent down to join them.

For Brits (and Aussies) tourists are allowed 90 days in the country. You can also apply for a five-year visa or something, but that’s expensive. To be on the safe side, after I overstayed my Thai visa by one day because of a mathematical error, I’d booked a flight to London from New York on day 88. However, as some of you may remember, I visited Hawaii for two days on my cruise. I asked the guard there and she said it would be no problem, I’d get my full 90 when I crossed over from Canada.

Apparently this isn’t true. It’s completely up to the border guard on the day and, as I’ve hinted, this guy was a jerk. Again, he couldn’t understand that we didn’t have a mortgage and that we weren’t working full time. Both of these people said they were worried that we were trying to get into the country to work illegally and stay there past our visas. I didn’t want to mention how much better paid work is in Australia than a regular job in USA, nevermind the treatment you’d get if you were working illegally. (Plus, just one week of vacation a year?)

He went on to tell us that it was up to him whether we’d get our full 90 days, hinted that we would and went on to type something in his computer for a good 10-15 minutes before telling us that, actually, he wasn’t extending our visas. And the worst part is that it’s not just the two days we spent in Hawaii that were taken off, but the five days in international waters and the weeks in Canada as well, meaning our plans had just been shrunk by about a month.

It didn’t seem to matter to this guy that we had flights booked out of the country or that we were staying in most places (with travel and accommodatino for the next city already booked) for between three days and a fortnight (it takes me much longer than that for me to ever find work) so what was going to be a luxurious second leg of the trip along the east coast has been minimised into visiting just two cities. If they didn’t want our tourism money, they could’ve just said.

There could well be trouble with this in the future. Because it’s so expensive to change our transatlantic flights, we’ve decided to leave the USA for roughly a month and then fly into JFK the morning of our flight to England. I’ll be back to being overly prepared for that one, but won’t be surprised if they have a problem with me walking through their precious airport. Still, what are they going to do? Send me back home? Oh.

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Filed under: annoyances, north america

5 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    Totally bull pats. I’ve never been treated that badly (so far, there’s always hope), I think Australia was even easier with me. It’s like the guy was consciously trying to show off about how lax they are by just opening a random page and stamping it. The electronic visa sorts it all out.

    On s recent bus trip from Malaysia to Singapore, we were singled out (maybe because I looked scruffy? There were other foreigners to choose from) and taken to a room where a booth puffed air onto me – some kind of drugs thing? It was fine.

    I encountered Israel hostility too, but that’s mostly because I was hanging around the airport trying to find an ATM. I didn’t have anything like you or the sobbing woman. Probably the most annoying was being interviewed by Japanese border guards who couldn’t really speak English and read through my notepads, because I was the only caucasian on the boat from Korea and that’s just WEIRD. There was also the really young immigration guy in Malaysia one time who was laughing with another young woman and asked “where’s your girlfriend?” which annoyed me more than it should have. I had a girlfriend at the time, but why do I HAVE TO? One of many times in these countries I’ve thought about openly stating that I’m gay actually, just to shake up the little TWAT.

    • Oliver says:

      My brother also had fun with American border guards recently. He got into New York with no problems then went up to Canada to see Niagra Falls and come back down. For whatever reason they couldn’t find the ESTA (visa type thing) he had electronically stored on his passport so he was told to fill out another form. He did that and went to another guard and he told him that he’d also have to pay for another visa. My brother asked why he had to do that considering it was their scanners that were broken and was helpfully told ‘Ask Obama’. He eventually got through with just the one payment when he pointed out he’d already been through New York and they were good enough at their jobs to know that he was allowed in the country.

      You know how loads of airports have random checks for explosives or drugs or something just after the normal security check point? I get randomly selected on an incredibly high basis.

  2. Kermit Watts says:

    New Minister was appointed to Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and new visa procedures are in place making travelers ever easier to get Visa on Arrival.

  3. Karen V. Cochran says:

    The proper channel is to apply for a visa at your nearest Japanese Embassy. I’m surprised you didn’t ask or weren’t told while you were there. If you’re scheduled to arrive in Japan by the end of this month, however, there may not be time to apply for and receive a visa. The last I knew, you couldn’t extend a temporary visa but I’ve since been told that in some cases you can. If you have a legitimate reason for being here, it’s certainly worth a try. The place to go to find out once you’re here is the Immigration office near Shinagawa. Worst case, you take a quick trip over to Seoul for the weekend sometime near the end of your 90 days and when you return you get a brand new 90 days. I’m assuming, of course, that you’re getting no money for this rescue venture. If you’re paid, the Immigration officials may count that as work and you’re not allowed to work as a tourist. If you’re already working and being sent here “on business”, a temporary visa is probably OK. As for proof of exit, I assume you mean proof of either a return or onward flight (that is, some proof that you’re not intending to stay here long term). In that case, a plane ticket is perfect. It doesn’t have to be a ticket to return to your home country or even to where you’re coming from — it just has to show that you intend to eventually leave Japan. However, a flight four months after your arrival may raise some eyebrows.

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