Denied Entry—Or How an Expired Tourist Visa Got Me Deported

denied

Okay, it wasn’t technically deportation, but I wasn’t allowed into Spain.

In 2009, I was blissfully unaware of all things Schengen. I came over to Spain in September to work a campus organization at the University of Salamanca. Before coming over, my then-future employers had advised me not to worry about a visa, as it “had never been a problem before.”

Famous last words.

Thus, I packed up all my belongings (those I could fit into one suitcase, that is, so i had no need for moving companies, this time.) and set off for the magical land of tapas, cathedrals, and café con leche. I was very naïve and knew very little about how Spaniards actually lived, but that all changed when I met Mario in late September. (Didn’t take me long, now did it?) By October we were dating, by November I had met the parents, and by December I was already plotting ways to return after my internship had finished. Brilliantly I thought of being an au pair, a fancied-up babysitter with a better title. So I booked my return ticket for December 31—because cheap. Cheap is good.

On the airplane, the Iberia flight crew ate grapes and drank champagne (none for the peons in Economy class), while I tried, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep. These efforts were, as always, in vain because 1) I was going to see my boyfriend of three months, and 2) Sleeping on airplanes is impossible for me.

After a breakfast that incongruously included a Kit-Kat bar, as Iberia seems to think Kit-Kats are for breakfast, I set off down Barajas Terminal 4’s never-ending moving walkways until I finally reached customs. I went to the non-EU passport line, naturally.

Passport Control

Ominous music here.

You can guess what happened. Mr. Grouchy Pants Customs Officer looked at my passport very thoroughly, something Spanish customs officers are not wont to do. Then, after a few curt questions, I was sent to a room. Rather upset, I called Mario on my Spanish cell phone, who reassured me that everything would turn out fine. After all, I’m a United States citizen, and normally we aren’t discriminated against like people from other countries. (Oh, don’t you love it when stereotypes work in your favor?)

No such luck. The new customs officer, a lady this time, tried to sympathize with me, but I was clearly breaking the rules: I had overstayed my tourist visa by nine—nine!—days, and I was attempting to reenter the Schengen zone after only a week’s break. Nothing doing, she would have said, had she been able to speak English. (None of them do.)

The kicker: I wasn’t able to even see Mario, as the airport is technically no-man’s land and Mario and his father were firmly on the Spain side of that equation. That was gut-wrenching in and of itself, but the best was yet to come …

The Bunker

Next up was the bunker, where I was patted down and told to hand over my cell phone. I handed over my American phone, but hid my Spanish one, because I’m a rebel like that. Then I was set up with—get this—a social worker. For the life of me, I can’t really remember anything she asked me, but she seemed nice enough. But don’t you worry: there were plenty of not-so-nice people to make up for that.

There was a pay phone too, which brought me back to my middle-school days, and especially to that one day when Mom forgot to pick me up from practice and I had to use a pay phone. (Oh, 2001, how I won’t miss you.) I called everyone I could think of. So did my dad, who was calling the US embassy on New Year’s Day. “And a happy new year to you, too!” was exactly what I’m sure he was telling them.

I eventually stopped crying long enough to serve as an unofficial translator for a burly Egyptian man, who spoke (minimal) English and the Spanish guards who spoke no English. Although it’s extremely odd that airport employees in charge of guarding delinquent foreigners such as myself couldn’t speak English, I considered asking for a job at that moment. Afterwards I was served a lovely airline-style meal and told my flight would be departing the next day. Hip, hip hooray! I would get to spend the night in the bunker! Fittingly, the bunker was outfitted with multiple bunk beds.

After a fitful two-hour nap, I got up again, too annoyed and sad to continue the charade. I was met with curious stares from two women I would find out were Hondurans. These women had actually been deported, picked up on the streets of Spain, and they were being sent back to their home country. They found me very odd, asking me if I was from the US and why the Spaniards would do that to someone like me. I thought it endearing of them to say such things, because, due to my birthplace, I am blessed with not having these sorts of problems very often, and they, due to theirs, are.

Soon enough (okay, it seemed like days), I was ready for my flight back to Chicago. They personally escorted me in an unmarked van directly to the plane. Yes! No waiting around in the concourse and buying crappy $9 salads and $3 bottles of Coke! Right to the plane itself! The Iberia staff also treated me like an object of amusement, asking me what sort of crimes I had committed and laughing good-naturedly at the absurdity of the situation. One of them assured me that I’d be back; he knew it. Good thing too, because I wasn’t sure I’d ever be making the transatlantic flight again.

I spent the whole flight back listening to angst-filled music and scribbling incoherent thoughts in a notebook that Mario and I had been writing in. If I were to read those aloud, there’s no doubt that many of the words would have to be bleeped out for US television audiences. I arrived home to much fanfare (not), and found myself back where I had started, two days earlier, my home in Indiana.

I eventually was able to come back, but not after a scare: my visa was denied once, but the Chicago consulate sent it back, and it was approved! Whew! Now I’m legal and all that jazz, with a 5-year NIE thanks to my being married to a Spaniard.

Have you ever had any problems at passport control?

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54 thoughts on “Denied Entry—Or How an Expired Tourist Visa Got Me Deported

    1. I had a round-trip ticket, so they used that to send me home. My dad was beyond pissed, so the organization I was with (I was originally supposed to stay a year) paid that half back to me.

  1. I just went back and looked at your archives and your first post ever was about this. It seems like you kept it together despite the situation. I would have felt so humiliated!

    I’ve never had any problems being admited to a country. I did, however, had problems leaving France a few years ago. A French border agent thought my passport was fake and told me so. He kept asking me if I was taking a plane that day. I kept telling him that I was all the while thinking, “Duh, of course I am, I’m at an airport!”

    He let me go, but he sent somebody to follow me through the airport (I discovered this just before boarding my flight.) Of course I was pulled aside at the security checks to have my bags specially checked. I remember thinking it was strange that just at the moment the security guard pulled me aside, that another man, dressed differently from the other security officers, entered through a door and came over to perform the search. It was only when I saw the same man at my flight gate that I realized that I had been followed.

    Hats off to you for not shunning Spain despite what happened. You could have taken a “blame Spain” attitude but you didn’t.

    1. Wow! Are you especially shady looking or something? ;) Just kidding, but that’s creepy/crazy!

      I think that, if I hadn’t known Mario, I definitely would not have returned; it wouldn’t have been worth the risk. For a long while, I got very nervous when the time came to go through passport control, even though I had the proper papers and everything.

      1. I have never had that happen to me, and I have never been illegal, but I am ALWAYS nervous at passport control. Especially on the US side, our guys can be so scary.

        1. Just to add to what I wrote above: I have a passport from an EU member country and was travelling with it when I had this problem leaving France.

          So yeah, I must look pretty shady!

  2. This is exactly what I’ve been afraid of for the past year. I went home for three months last November after having been several months in Spain on an expired student visa. I originally wanted to stay in Indiana just one month but I didn’t want to risk being barred from entering Spain again. So I stayed a little over three and came back as a tourist. When I left in November, the American Airlines people quizzed me about whether I was working in Spain and why I had a return flight for December (hadn’t changed it at that point). That shook me a little as I’ve never had any problems before. I came back to Spain early March and got married a couple days before my tourist visa was to expire. Now I’m waiting on my own 5 year resident card. It’s driving me crazy too! I applied in early July and still haven’t gotten anything resolved. Online it just says it’s all “en trámite”. My husband hasn’t met my family yet and we want to go for Thanksgiving but I can’t leave until I get this sorted out. I’m a little worried it’ll be rejected because they screwed up my middle name on the marriage certificate (and then vaguely told me it’d take “a while” to fix). I turned it in anyway, hoping they wouldn’t notice. It’s such a frustrating process.

    1. Don’t worry; I’m sure it’ll work out! I was worried too, but now it’s fine and, with the NIE I have now, all I have to do is show it, and I’m home free.

    2. Hey! When you traveled on an expired student visa, did you travel outside of Spain? Did you have any problems within the 90 day tourist exception? I am going through this now. My original visa was for 180 days and when I tried to extend it they wouldn’t let me.So I’m trying to stay here for 90 more days to finish my studies and claim I’m a “tourist” but I’m really nervous about this.

  3. wow! I’m so happy that I am a Schengen (probably mispelled) citizen since I mostly travel within Europe.
    When I was in Hong Kong I should have asked for a resident card because my visa was valid for over 180 days BUT knowing that I had to queue for over 5 hours at least twice… I decided I could live without it and with only my passport. I stupidly waited in the VISITORS queue when re-entering HK a few times until I was brave enough to LIE to the custom guard and queue at the RESIDENTS line saying “I left my card at home”. Muahahaha! It worked twice and then I left the country to never come back :)

  4. This is the very reason why I applied for French citizenship when I turned 20. I was always eligible for it, yet my parents really never made it around to making it official. Before 9/11, just having an American passport was no biggie. But when I decided to study abroad my junior year in Span and France, I refused to partake in the visa song and dance and marched off to the French consulate in Manhattan with my dad to apply for French citizenship. It was relatively stress/bureaucracy free which was surprising because French bureaucracy is no more fun than Spanish bureaucracy, I can assure you. Two months later, I had my passport and I didn’t have to suffer any NIE/visa related issues. Passport control in Spain barely glanced at me since I always gave them my French passport. I’m sorry you had to go through this, it sounds really scary and I would have been having a panic attack the entire time. I always recommend people who are eligible for dual citizenship to get it because it saves so much hassle in the future.

  5. Ug that sounds like a nightmare — glad things worked out for the best, but at the time that must have been so tough to swallow.

    No problems at passport control for me yet (knock on wood…)

  6. Wow, how you kept your composure is amazing. I guess this is more proof of the saying, “things eventually work out and if it is meant to be, it is meant to be”. :o)
    I overstayed by 2 months on an expired NIE ( real smart to have our card expired the same day our contract with the auxiliares program ended). I remembered being at the airport trying not to look guilty ha ha!
    Do you ever sit back and laugh at it all now?

    1. Hey, I have a question about your situation. When the NIE expires, cant you stay an extra 30 or 90 days as a tourist?

    2. Hey, so I have a question about your situation. As someone from the US with a NIE card, cant you stay in Spain as a tourist for up to a month after the expiry? How did your experience turn out?

  7. Europeans who stay in the USA longer than 90 days, say, 91 or 92, are banned up to 10 years, so anyone whether american or not who is able to re-enter Europe after being staying longer must thank God or the Virgin Mary for being admitted again.

    many Americans are being deported or denied entry because border policies are a matter of the EU or European Commission and laws are really severe or strong, so any country, Spain or Italy must follow the EU law, and any advantage of old is disappearing, so true, and may i add, fair.

    it is true that South Americans may be treated worse than North Americans, but this is something that is changing, and now an American can be treated the same way an Ecuadorian or Moroccan is treated, just like the US border policemen treat Spaniards like any other person, sometimes even worse.

    1. I don’t understand why so many people think that because US policies are so strict that EU policies *should* be strict as well. It seems like these people are just annoyed at American policies and assume American citizens agree with them, therefore should get the same treatment. I can bet most Americans who travel abroad (especially those who have had trouble with visas) do not agree with the US’s visa policies being so strict. A 10 year ban for accidentally overstaying one’s visa is extreme anywhere. It doesn’t mean that the EU should try to match it, but instead that the US should try to reform their policy.

      Also, my husband overstayed his tourist visa in the US by years, was able to leave and re-enter with nothing more than a short detention in the airport. So things definitely sometimes slip past the US border patrol just as they do in Europe.

  8. I have had problems at passport control! (that I had forgotten about until this post! :-))
    When I studied in Mexico, I had a student visa. Apparently I was supposed to get it stamped when I left the country to go home for Christmas break. (I knew this but assumed it would be an obvious part of the process, not something I had to seek out.) I didn’t get my visa stamped, so when I came back to Mexico, they pulled me to another room. Fortunately, after making me wait a bit, they let me go on to my destination, but I had to go and pay a fine at a later date in the city where I was living. (I remember panicking when they told me the fine would be the equivalent of 20 days of minimum wage or something like that, but then it was only like 50 dollars…)

  9. And now we understand why you so strongly advocate the autorización de regreso! Better safe than sorry, always. At least now you’re truly “free to roam the country.” ;)

    1. Yeah, I mean, if people want to risk it, go for it. But you should know that it CAN be more than some “silly paperwork.” :) Yes, it’s nice to be legal!

  10. I remember you mentioning this before, I’m glad you decided to tell us what happened. You kept your composure better than I would have.

    When I left Seville in March 2012, I had overstayed my 6-month student visa by about 3 weeks (the visa also started about 10ish days before I was planning to be in Spain, but yeah). When I applied for a visa for the Auxiliares program last month I was a little nervous that it would was going to be held against me. My passport hadn’t been “marked” by border control when I left Spain, but as you well know that didn’t mean that something wouldn’t go amiss. As I’m typing this from Madrid, obviously everything turned out okay in that regard, but it is definitely a real concern.

  11. I am an Auxiliar right now in Málaga and overstayed my original TIE for a few days (and it was hard to get in the first place because I only had my passport stamped in Amsterdam, not in Madrid) but I was waiting for confirmation that I’d been accepted for a second year. I went to the Oficina de Extranjería in June and turned in all my paperwork and was told to wait one month for a letter to take to the police station. So I was afraid to leave the country in case something got messed up and they didn’t let me back in. Of course, I moved during the summer and kept going back to check the mail at my old place with no luck. Finally, I received a text message saying to contact the Officina de Extranjería. Phone calls were unsuccessful and gave me wrong information. I went yesterday and waited 2 hours for my letter, which, I was told, they had sent out Sepember 12th. One month….or three…the same thing. But now I’m legal, back to work and happy! (and so is my boyfriend!)

    I HATE customs, border control, foreigners’ offices, police stations, etc – I always feel like I’ve done something wrong!

  12. I am brazilian/italian and had a problem in France.
    It was my second trip to Paris (2006), but they didn’t stamp my passport when I left (the first time, in 2004). So, they brought me to a room and asked if I was living in France or something for the last 2 years. But i had the new ticket and everything was fine.

    PS: I found you in “Rachelsrantings’ today and really liked your blog.

  13. I’ve never had a visa problem, but just had to add that as of last week Iberia is still giving out Kit-Kats for breakfast…totally ridiculous (and yet I wolf it down every time). Three years later Spanish ideas of breakfast still make me laugh out loud!

    1. Lol….me too. They always talk about our unhealthy food habits in the states, but I think oatmeal, eggs and fruit is a much healthier option than cookies and chocolate milk. My husband is Spanish and we argue all the time about this for our 4 year old.

  14. Hi! Loved reading your story. The first time I went to spain was three years ago and stayed the entire summer with my family.. I met the love of my life;) and have been back ever since.. this year I decided I wanted to spend Christmas with my guy and his family.. that being said (I stayed 5 weeks Dec-Jan) I’m trying to plan my summer vacation and was thinking about leaving sometime Mid-May since I have a wedding in spain end of may etc etc… now I am honestly terrified of Denied entry, always am for some reason.. and I’ve never had any problems… I go on a tourist visa, have round trip tickets, and proof that I am a full time student and have a job waiting for me once I return, I also have addresses/phone numbers of family, and can prove that I can financially sustain myself the 2.5 months I’ll be visiting…. This entire 90 days of 180 confuses me… My 180 mark day would be June 4th? (from my december trip) But I’ll be leaving first days of aug… anyways I’m extremely confused and would appreciate any advice!!

    xo
    P

  15. I have a question for you. I am an American currently in Spain sin papeles. Do you think it’s too risky to travel within Spain? For example a flight from Madrid to Barcalona? Is a train less risky? Thanks!

    1. I think by-land travel is probably safer, but it’s not guaranteed either. Officials can ask to see your papers. However, if you stay in Spain you’ll probably be okay. Sorry, it seems that everyone is different here so it’s difficult for me to give advice.

  16. Hi! Im currently living in Mallorca and was planning on being here 6 months. I am a US citizen and I’m curious about when I leave could there be a problem? I have no plans of coming back into the country within the next year so I’m not worried about a re-entry. I’m only concerned about leaving the country. Also, I have a 28hr lay over in Zurich in which I planned to see the city. Will I be denied entry into the city? Could this be a problem for me? Any thoughts are welcome. Thanks!!!

    1. Hi there! I doubt there will be a problem upon leaving. It honestly will not be a problem 99.9% of the time. I say, if you’re not planning on returning, don’t sweat it.

      I highly doubt you’ll have problems in Zurich, but I can’t say with 100% confidence either.

  17. This was helpful to read! I have a story too. Note about Switzerland, is now a Schenegen country too. Bastards.

    So I fell in love with a German man while on American soil. We decided to get engaged and have me move to Berlin. One problem: He and his ex wife never got divorced after 9 years. They retained the same attorney, had all of the paperwork in place and full agreement. She has been super cool and supportive the entire time, so its not as sketch as it sounds. They have two kids and it was more to work to separate the legalities even tho the rest was separate. hey submitted the paperwork together shortly after my arrival and their lawyer told them it would take two months to become final. The plan was we’d get married immediately, show up at immigration, and Voila! 3 year permit. In the meantime I’d take three months off of working, since I never had more than a week vacation very 5 years and it had been 15 years of constant working. Then start networking, and then a job 2-3 months later. Voila, life anew! It was truly the happiest time of my 40 years.

    Except it will have taken 8 months.

    We would call the divorce lawyer every week and ask what is going on. He would string us along, any day now, any day now. Fiance was adamant I not leave, how could we be apart? At 6 weeks overstay I started to deeply freak out. We got an immigration lawyer, who advised if we wait another week or so and see if we can get married shortly. Then his idea is we get married, then take the paperwork and appear at the German Embassy in the US to submit. Husband flies back, I wait it out. We call the divorce lawyer back and find out two days later that the divorce isn’t final for another 2 months. With the wait time to get married (processing marriage licenses take awhile in Germany), it would be 3 months. No way we can risk that.

    So, I begin packing. Mere days before my flight I’m offered a job!! A dream job!!! They quickly get all the paperwork together. We call the immigration lawyer who tells us to continue the process of leaving and submit at the German Embassy in the US. Okay, done. 82 days over stay.

    Thankfully upon exit, the Parisian border guard just gave me a look of “wtf” and stamped my passport. No fine, no signing anything, no black mark on my passport, no scanning into any system, no detention of any sort. I realize I’m blessed on that count.

    I get to the Embassy and the lady was like “Yeah….. no… you shouldn’t have left. Even if illegal. Yeah… we can submit it but it takes at least 4 months and no… you should find an alternative way to go back. Call Immigration and see what you can do.”

    What??

    First, Immigration will not call you back. Second, alternative way in? Are you kidding me? Third, what about the rest of the documentation on your website that this is the right thing to do?!?! Fourth, why did my lawyer tell me to do this?!?!

    At this point my job has a different office in London and I have to fly there to work. It’s not the division I need to be in but they need me to start immediately. UK has a generous 6 months, fine. (I’ll get around to the work visa shortly) Unfortunately I’m not able to enter Amsterdam or Switzerland for where they alternatively need me due to the over stay.

    We find a third party broker, who gives me even more paperwork to fill out and then says he can’t help. Go to the German Embassy in the UK. Except the website say they will NOT submit paperwork from non UK residents!!!!! He tells me to go anyway. REALLY? Appointment is on Tuesday.

    So, I can’t find anyway to submit the paperwork except to be in Berlin itself and I can’t get to Berlin. Immigration lawyers work differently in Germany than in the US or UK so they can’t submit the paperwork for me. When the divorce goes through on April 30, fiancee will start the marriage license paperwork.

    What is also frustrating is I’ve been told different things about how long I need to be out. The lawyer says its 90 days + length of overstay. The broker said its just 90 days. If I get nothing else out of the German Embassy in London, hopefully I will learn how long I have to be banned.

    At some point I have to let go with receiving double the bad legal advice. And while being exiled in London isn’t the worst thing in the world, the apartment I’m staying in is slumy to say the least. I just want to be home and married, with a job I love. Instead I’m wandering about not knowing what to do or who to listen to. Those I thought I could trust I learned I couldn’t.

  18. I was denied entry back into Spain, because I overstayed by some 27 days, and trying to re-enter 10 days later. My question is…I plan on returning some 94 days after my departure stamp in my Passport, will I have trouble re-entering. There is nothing in my Passport that indicates I was denied entry, so will they bother me. Also, I will be flying on a one way ticket (I’m well off financially and have the means to buy my ticket back the the US, after I get there) from the US to Dublin, and then on to Madrid…is there something I should know regarding re-entering Spain?? Thanks

  19. Hi kaley,

    My question is that I had to overstay because of a court summons I received. I was told when I departed that I would be banned for 3 years to renter Spain, and I needed to fix my issue in the USA. Where and how do I do this? I am also married to a spaniard and my daughter is in Spain. Any advice on who to contact?

  20. Super interesting read, thanks for sharing! I have a question… I’ve been living in Spain on a student visa for the last two years, and now my TIE expires a few days after school ends in June (since the card uses the expiration from the year before). I was also planning to stay an extra month with my boyfriend here. Do you know if that is legal, and if the 90 day tourist visa automatically kicks in? I haven’t been able to find exact information for the life of me!

  21. Hi,

    My 3 month Schengen visa expired last month and I want to travel to Gibraltar in two weeks to see my boyfriend. Gibraltar is UK territory and I don’t know how the border control will be. I have an American passport.

    I’m planning on flying to Malaga then taking a bus or walk across the border. What do you think?! Will I have a problem going in to Gibraltar or coming back in to Spain?? or any advice you can give.

    Thanks a lot!

    1. It really isn’t easy for me to tell you, as it depends on which border guard you get, among other things. It isn’t likely that you’ll be stopped; however, it is possible.

  22. I am currently also living in Salamanca and have a student visa. It expires at the end of May, but i’d like to stay here until the end of July and then travel to Germany and Austria for a few weeks in August until finally flying back home to California at the end of August. Do you know if my 90 day Schengen tourist visa applies after the student visa expires or if I must leave schengen zone and re-enter the country with an official stamp to start off the 90 day tourist visa?

  23. Author, how does your situation differ from an actual deportation?

    And does anyone know:
    What are the reasons for deportation at airport?

    Is your passport invalidated until you pay back the flight cost (if you don’t immediately have the funds)? For how long?

    Where are you deported to? State of last legal residency in birth country? For example, I’m American but haven’t been home for years, & consider Mexico to be my ‘home’.

    For those of you deported for overstaying, what was the time frame they gave? I wonder if they consider if you have a ‘family here’ (serious relationship, familial bond, etc)

    My visa is expired while waiting paperwork. What’s the likelihood I’d have a prob flying within EU? Flying OUTSIDE EU? And returning from an EU country? from non-EU? Personal experience welcomed. I was told my paperwork would take all year maybe more, & I need to travel in that time. Fortunately I’m a beautiful, wholesome looking girl who usually gets treated very well in immigration lines, even in strict passport countries. But that can’t always work!

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