London calling; can I answer?
December 11, 2008 4:17 PM   Subscribe

The documents that the UK wants from me for a visit are extensive and horrifying. Will I be able to get into the country?

I'm planning to visit my girlfriend, who is currently in the midst of a nine-month working gig in London, for a week (spring break) in late March. Looking over the list of documents they expect from me is horrifying.

I get the feeling they're going to think I'm a bum. I have no property, and my bank statements will show that I have a habit of not having much money at all. My employer is my college's cafeteria. I'm going over spring break, so there's no work to be excused from. I own no property. If it weren't for my parents' generosity, I wouldn't have the funds to make this trip work.

Are they going to stop me at the border? Do I really need written proof from my college that I am on spring break? Is this whole thing really as rough as it sounds?
posted by punishinglemur to Travel & Transportation around London, England (26 answers total)
Will you have a return ticket? That's what they're most concerned about.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:20 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you're not really coming here as a "general visitor", you're clearly a tourist. That document is, like a lot of British law, designed so that the book they can throw at you is heavy and nasty. They aren't likely to throw said book at a US student with a week-long return ticket.

That said, you will get a grilling, especially if you land at Heathrow. Be prepared to explain all about your girlfriend, even if love her, talk about your plans for your time in London etc. Have some student ID handy. And don't look like a bum.
posted by bonaldi at 4:27 PM on December 11, 2008

No, it is not as rough as it sounds (who have you been listening to?). Just have a return ticket and a passport. What else is there, besides clothes and money? Oh, and a place to stay. They might ask about that.
posted by rhizome at 4:28 PM on December 11, 2008

Are you comfortable with telling us your nationality?
posted by gimonca at 4:29 PM on December 11, 2008

You need a return ticket (or an onward ticket if you're not returning to your country of initial departure), an address and evidence that you can support yourself (a credit card usually suffices).

You're USian. We like you lot. It's all the countries that have people that may come and try to work here that we don't like. (Just a little introduction from the British tabloid press for you.)
posted by i_cola at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2008

Yes, we need to know your nationality to give a proper answer.

You are a US citizen, right, as opposed to a national of somewhere else living in the US ? Assuming you're American , you really just need a passport and ticket home. The other stuff is for people who want to work or study as opposed to tourists. But you travel agent should be able to advise.
posted by plep at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2008

When I went a few years ago, all I needed was my passport and a return ticket. They never asked about the other stuff. (I am American)
posted by SisterHavana at 4:54 PM on December 11, 2008

(as with the US, the Uk may require visas for citizens of certain countries. US tourists are not one of these groups as thousands upon thousands can testify).
posted by plep at 4:56 PM on December 11, 2008

They will ask questions, but the main thing is to show your ticket home and adequate savings for your trip. They want to be satisfied that you will not overstay.

FWIW, Americans and Australians are known as being the most likely to overstay, so don't get frustrated if they do ask more questions than you expect.
posted by wingless_angel at 5:01 PM on December 11, 2008

I can't say I've ever had to show a return ticket in any UK or Schengen country in the last few years, even. They may ask, of course. The US grilling was more substantial, though the interview for my last trip was simply asking the countries I visited.

My passport was checked going into Denmark from Germany, but not otherwise (including the reverse).
posted by kcm at 5:01 PM on December 11, 2008

US passport holder here. I usually get asked more questions on my way back into the US than on entering UK. Most common question I get in Heathrow is "how long are you staying".
posted by clark at 5:09 PM on December 11, 2008

Those documents aren't as difficult as they sound. Most of them you just write yourself - a few sentences, probably not even a paragraph - then ask the person to print and sign (on letterhead if they have it).

"To whom it may concern,
This letter is to confirm that Punishinglemur has been employed as Ace Dishwasher at CafeSupreme since X/Y/Z, and currently has leave of absence from A/B/C until D/F/G.

Yours Faithfully
M. Y. Boss"
posted by -harlequin- at 5:17 PM on December 11, 2008

There a tit-of-tat aspect here too. The US tightened up it's visa/travel docs requirements (took away the visa-free entry option for UK travelers I think) - so the others do the same ("if you're going to give our citizens a hard time, we'll do the same to yours").

If you're a US passport holder and don't smell-bad/look scary, you'll be fine.
posted by Xhris at 5:33 PM on December 11, 2008

Response by poster: I am a US citizen, and I will have a return ticket, or evidence of one, with me. I'll also have the address of the place I'm staying, a credit and debit card, student ID, passport, and US drivers license.

So it sounds like I shouldn't have to worry. Good to know.
posted by punishinglemur at 5:40 PM on December 11, 2008

Oh, and a place to stay. They might ask about that.

Got tripped up on that point last time. We were planning to stay with a friend but failed to bring the address along (she was meeting us at the airport). Not only did the customs guy officially furrow his brow at us but we realized in horror that we had no way to contact said friend if she failed to show.

He let us through anyway, however.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:43 PM on December 11, 2008

I am a US citizen, and I will have a return ticket, or evidence of one, with me.
yeah, that'll be easy.

my buddy was in your situation not too long ago and the customs folks at heathrow grilled him pretty heavily because he had his laptop and external hard drive on him (he's a graphic designer). they thought it was evidence that he intended to work. I think it took three or four hours during which they called his college to see if he was still enrolled (not much luck there as los angeles was sleeping). they eventually let him in because he had a return ticket and not much luggage on him. I remember him grunting many times what dicks the british customs people had been and he didn't like that they read his emails but alas, customs folks are nasty everywhere when you're a foreigner these days.

but yeah, you're gonna get in. drink a beer outside on the street once you make it through and celebrate that the cops can't touch you for it.
posted by krautland at 7:09 PM on December 11, 2008

A buddy and I showed up in London with no cash on us (but some in our bank account) and no return ticket. We were held for hours as they went through all of our stuff, and the only thing that got us off of the hook was a handful of letters written to us by loved ones that had phrases like "Ill see you again in a month".

They basically want evidence you wont just hang around and be a bum, or even worse: work.
posted by Blandanomics at 7:35 PM on December 11, 2008

um, so long as you have a passport and a return ticket you will be fine. I went to london for 2 weeks this summer and thats all i had (along with a duffel bag). i was kind of free-wheeling it around and didn't have plans. yes, i got grilled at Heathrow, but they will give you the stamp, trust me.
posted by slograffiti at 8:35 PM on December 11, 2008

The rules for general visitors without a visa are such that:
* you intend to visit the UK for no more than six months;
* you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit, and
* you have enough money to support yourself and live in the UK without working or needing any help from public funds.

If you're coming for two weeks, a passport, return ticket and credit card, along with contact details for your girlfriend on arrival should be ample.

If you're planning on staying for 6 months, the documentation evidence to prove the above is more extensive.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:30 AM on December 12, 2008

You can see the precise rules here.

In short, the immigration officer must be "satisfied" that you (1) Intend to leave the UK after your visit; (2) That you aren't planning to take a job or study (there are forms to fill out for those); (3) That you can clothe and feed yourself for your stay, without needing needing public money, and (4) that you can get yourself home without needing public money.

If you're staying with someone you've got (3) sorted and if you've got a return ticket you've got (4) sorted. For (1) and (2) if you just look like a tourist that might be enough, or if you want to be prepared you could get a letter from your college saying you are registered and the dates of spring break.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:52 AM on December 12, 2008

Xhris - no, visa-free travel to the US is still fine for most western Europeans, Japanese and some other nationalities,eg Brunei. It's actually about to be extended to some other nationalities, such as the Czechs,I think.
posted by plep at 1:59 AM on December 12, 2008

You can check out the requirements from the US side here.
posted by jourman2 at 4:28 AM on December 12, 2008

Nthing that a college-aged person with student ID, a credit card, and a return ticket for one week should not have any problem going through UK immigration. If you're still nervous, dress extra-neat (and square). Not a full suit, but perhaps "office casual" (non-blue jeans, button-down shirt, blazer).

And just as you would never even say the word "bomb" within earshot of anyone at an airport, do not even make a joking referrence to overstaying, working, or getting married while you're there.
posted by K.P. at 4:45 AM on December 12, 2008

If you say you're visiting your girlfriend, they'll ask if you're going to be getting married while you're there.

They asked me that, and I blinked a few times before going "I don't think so...he wouldn't surprise me like that."

So, you're here to visit, you have a place to stay, you're not going to be staying any longer than your return flight, and you're just here to see your girlfriend, who you're not going to marry while you're in the country. The end. They stamp your passport, you go through, and enjoy your week!
posted by Katemonkey at 5:36 AM on December 12, 2008

That list is bizarre.

Maybe things have changed since I moved to the UK in 2004, but before that, on my many multiple visits to the UK, I never had any of that stuff and didn't even realise I needed it. All that paperwork is the kind of stuff I needed when I applied for a visa to live here, but I was never asked for it on any of my visits.

The only important things I think you need are your return ticket, passport and address of where you're staying. One of the first times I visited the UK, I had the address of my hotel in my suitcase and didn't have it memorised and therefore got totally harassed by the border people, who ended up calling my friend in London to verify that I was there to visit him and wasn't staying and what else? I have no idea. It could have been avoided had I had the address of my hotel on me.

Also, when I returned to the UK from a visit to the US in September, due to problems with the temporary passport I had, I was forced at Manchester airport to sit in the glass room of shame next to the customs guy until he was finished questioning all the people in line behind me and he didn't ask any one of them to show these types of documents. Just the stuff I've already mentioned. Have all your travel docs and itinerary on your person, be respectful and presentable and you'll be fine. Have fun!
posted by triggerfinger at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2008

If you are visiting a girl/boyfriend, be prepared to answer a lot of questions about your relationship: when and where you met, do you plan on getting engaged or married, will you marry in the UK, how often do you see each other, who pays for the visits, and so on.

Once you mention that you have a partner in the UK, they will automatically assume you're there to get married and/or to stay illegally and the worst sin of all -- work.

We've found it helpful (both for one partner entering the UK and also when the other one enters the US), to print out an email saying something like:

"I'm so happy that you are coming to visit. Too bad it's only for *length of time*! Here's my address and phone numbers, in case you need them. See you at the airport!"

This is so they have proof that: your trip is a certain period of time, you have someone picking you up, and they are confirming their address.
posted by Choppy at 10:21 AM on December 13, 2008

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