How do I explain my international telecommuting arrangement to border authorities?
August 12, 2006 3:51 AM   Subscribe

How do I explain my international telecommuting arrangement to border authorities?

I am an American living abroad under a tourist visa. I've been abroad for the last 9 months. I am telecommuting "to" my programming job for a US university. I'm travelling from the UK to Sweden next week, my stay in Sweden will probably be the full 3 months allowed by a Schengen visa.

The last time I crossed borders I was asked "How long have you taken off from your job?" My response was an awkward attempt to correctly describe the situation to someone nontechnical. I was trying to allay thier fears that I was seeking a job in the country. They seemed somewhat skeptical, but let me through anyway. I want to avoid this situation in the future. I realize now that they might have concerns with my actual arrangement since I would be "working in the country" but not paying taxes, etc, even though it's not for any business or organization in that country.

Is there any way I can honestly answer such a question without raising suspicion from border authorities? Should I just say I'm on indefinite leave so I can travel? Any other ideas?
posted by beerbajay to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"Should I just say I'm on indefinite leave so I can travel? "

Yes - tell them you're on holiday and leave it at that. As you've tried to describe the situation to someone in the past you now know how the truth can sometime complicate things.

Their primary concern at the border isn't that you'll be working without paying taxes, it's that you won't leave. Having a source of income greatly increases that chance you'lll stay longer than legally allowed.
posted by Mutant at 4:47 AM on August 12, 2006

A little off topic, but why do you mention a Schengen visa? You should be to stay in Sweden on a US passport for the purposes of - wink wink nudge nudge - tourism - for three months. Do you hold a Schengen visa? If so I believe they'll count your time in other Schengen countries as part of the 90 days.
posted by Mutant at 5:01 AM on August 12, 2006

Response by poster: My understanding is that as a US passport holder, you are implicitly granted a Schengen visa (I haven't applied or received an actual visa), so your 90 days still only covers the whole Schengen area. Is that wrong?
posted by beerbajay at 5:15 AM on August 12, 2006

Ah, that's it. You are granted 90 days without a special visa, I knew that much from doing biz there on a US passport. You're probably better off without a Schengen as you can stay three months just by showing up at the border with a US passport. I think this is true regardless of where you came from, and you should be ok coming from the UK (a non Schengen country) but you might wanat to confirm elsewhere. The Schengen caught my eye as we had some guys parked in Germany (Indians on Schengen) and when we tried to put them into Stockholm for an extended period they got nailed as their time in Frankfurt counted against the 90 days.

Hey best of luck travelling next week! If you're not taking the ferry I hope things have calmed down at the airports...
posted by Mutant at 5:36 AM on August 12, 2006

Lie to them. They want to believe you - why make things difficult for the both of you? Like mutant says above, they just want to know that you're going to leave, and if you are, where's the harm?
posted by claudius at 5:58 AM on August 12, 2006

No, there is no way to answer the question without raising the suspicion of border authorities (unless you lie). Rules on telecommuting to a foreign firm vary by country. Sweden's rules on work permits on work permits seem very permissive: "A specialist employed by an international concern and travelling to and from Sweden in that capacity in order to work for temporary periods does not require a work permit. This applies if total duration of stay in Sweden is less than 12 months." Also from the migrationsverket site, it looks like you need a residency permit if you stay more than 3 months, so make sure you leave in 90 days.

Some other countries require a visa for telecommuting arrangements. There is a very real chance of being denied entry in many places. You should really investigate this kind of thing before you leave home.

You should definitely consider filing a UK tax return. From the UK tax site: To be regarded as resident in the UK you must normally be physically present in the country at some time in the tax year. You will always be resident if you are here for 183 days or more in the tax year. There are no exceptions to this." (emphasis theirs)

have fun, isn't working abroad a blast?
posted by crazycanuck at 6:21 AM on August 12, 2006

"You should definitely consider filing a UK tax return"

I'd be very, very careful about filing a UK tax return. Assuming OP was working legally in the UK - and it would appear that he's not - then he's only obliged to report income earned from UK sources.

I make almost as much money back in the US from passive income sources as I do from working here in the UK, but I am under no obligation to pay UK taxes on that money unless I bring it into the UK.

As far as we - and persumably the HM Revenue officials - know, OP has funded his entire trip via credit card debt in which case, no taxes would be due. Of course, in reality, trips to the cashpoint probably fund all or a large percentage of this very interesting endeavour (living abroad on a tourist visa - neat!) but filing a UK tax return will raise no end of difficult questions (what does he put down as his work permit number & expiry date?) and create several problems (aka financial liabilities) such as National Insurance Contributions, for starters. There will most certainly be a cash liability on the UK side if a tax return were filed as no taxes were deducted for this purpose from his wages on the US side.

I would suggest OP consider all he'd like, but NOT file a UK tax return without taking advise, and that means from an accountancy firm specialising in international taxes in general, and US / UK tax matters specifically (very complex area, I use KPMG and can reccomend them for throughness).
posted by Mutant at 7:02 AM on August 12, 2006

@Mutant, point well taken. I made the suggestion mostly because the OP seems to have a rather cavalier attitude about the regulations surrounding living and working in other countries. If he did in fact stay in the UK for >=183 days (which he didn't state in the post), probably the worst thing that can happen if he doesn't file a UK tax return and his landlord rats him out to the UK tax police is that he either has to pay up or he can't return to the UK ever. Not terrible. Same thing with lying to the border guards - being caught in a lie and subsequently being denied entry or deported means possibly never returning to the country ever. Which, I suppose, is also not so bad in the grand scheme of things. However, this situation should have been thought out more thoroughly before leaving home.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2006

Crazycanuck: Well, I think living abroad on a tourist visa is a wonderful adventure. Cavalier, yes, apparently not well planned, but what the hell - that's what life is for! If he can pull it off that's fantastic! I hope any advise we give him here helps. From reading OP's profile, I suspect he's stayed in Germany three months, then six months in the UK and now will spend three in Sweden. And, one would hope, repeat until well travelled - excellent! I just turned 50 (a week ago, not too late for well wishes, hint, hint) and, quite frankly, after residing in London since mid 1997, I'm sorta envious at OP's chance for new horizons on a fairly regular basis.

Just to bring this back on topic, upon entry to a country OP should clearly and definitively state the purpose of the trip is a holiday and if they note that he's been on a really long holiday, perhaps commenting that he's been entering and leaving countries just about when his tourist visa runs out, well, be nice (always!) and just play up the global vagabond angle. By not overstaying his welcome, he's not broken any laws that Immigration Officials anywhere would be concerned with. The Tax People are a completely different department, and I doubt they exchange much information in any country.

In terms of lying to border guards: I've done it, I bet lots of other folks here have as well, so my advise is keep the story simple, believable and stick to it. Works even better if you can poke fun at yourself; border guards are people too, and they don't have the most thrilling nor easy job to do. Approach the desk purposefully, make full eye contact, speak clearly and be polite - "Yes sir" / "No Mam" (I'm a country boy so this is a 24/7 practice for me) - and OP will be fine.

Of course I'm not advocating breaking any laws mind you, but based on the information we have to hand OP clearly has not broken any either.
posted by Mutant at 9:40 AM on August 12, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the helpful comments. A couple clarifications:

I have not worked for any European-based organizations or businesses, and the purpose of my visit is an extended holiday of sorts.

I'm not here "to work" for my employer or otherwise; my employer would have been happier with me in the US, however, I am working... if you get my distinction.

I stayed in Germany for 3 months, the UK for 6, and now off to Sweden =)
posted by beerbajay at 10:03 AM on August 12, 2006

Yeah I'm thoroughly jaded by my experience with the US border officials, and have no experience with European officials of any stripe. And I am also jealous of his holiday and wish him all the best. :)

However, do try to understand the border guard logic: beerbajay is not compelled (by return airfare, job, studies, or any other reason) to return to the US any time in the near future. How do they know that he won't overstay his tourist visa? Some cranky border guard could figure that he's trying to come to Sweden to live illegally without a permit (while earning foreign income), and that's the end of his adventure. Nobody has a right to enter a country unless he/she is a citizen of that country, and the granting of entry into a country is basically at the discretion of the official at the port of entry (in accordance with the rules of the nation in question).

Granted, it is quite unlikely that there will be problems, and I am drawing here from my experience with US border officials (who are much more likely to be total assholes about anything that involves work). I'm just saying that there are no magic words to prevent hassle at the border. It would be best to have a proposed exit plan so you can say something like "I am coming for X days and plan on going to Y country on Z date". Even better if you have the next ticket bought in advance. Then it looks more like a holiday.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:01 AM on August 12, 2006

Response by poster: The Swedish authorities didn't bother to press me about my working arrangements. Possibly because I was on the last flight arriving for the night. Possibly because I flew to one of the budget airline destinations. Yay.
posted by beerbajay at 12:53 PM on August 16, 2006

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