This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.
You want to travel, but you’re not satisfied with spending the 30, 60, 90 or 180 days allotted to tourists by your country of choice. What should you do?
Whatever you do, don’t believe everything you read.
I was doing some research for this piece, and I found a post that I find to be emblematic of some of the advice available online (but not all). The #1 search result for a certain visa topic suggests that getting a legal visa to stay longer than 90 days is too much hassle. The author begins,
Lots of travelers in Europe do not abide by that stupid 90 day in 90 day out restriction, and most countries that are supposedly a part of the Schengen region do not seem to acknowledge it.
He gives an example of one non-EU traveler who overstayed for a year, left, had a layover in the UK, they noticed that he had overstayed, sent him back to the EU for “punishment” and when nothing happened, he then spent another year there illegally. One story and he’s advising people to not bother dealing with the hassle of getting a residency permit.
I won’t link to the site, but if you had read through the 46 comments, you’d find that about 5 months later, the author does a complete 180 on his position. Why? Because he was talking out of his butt! And because people who had taken his advice were getting caught. They were given fines or banned from returning. By the end he says in response to a traveler who overstayed her student visa by 4 months and was worried about being fined or banned (I’d like to point out that 5 months prior when she was still legal he would have advised her to stay), “I don’t understand why you think you did nothing wrong: You overstayed your visa by four months. I am sorry but I have nothing positive to tell you.” Complete 180. Unfortunately a little too late for the reader.
Lesson #1: Don’t take advice from people online. Even folks billing themselves as “experts” are often dead wrong. Forums? Fact, gossip and rumor (which one will you get?). Or worse, things that sound correct but are outdated. You may even be able to confirm these details with other sites (incorrect information tends to flourish). Ultimately, take everything with a thick grain of kosher salt.
In the vein of bad advice, here are some other cringe worthy suggestions (all from various threads of Lonely Planet’s Thorntree forums):
- If you overstay your visa, try to leave the country via boat and avoid border control.
- Or, if you overstay, pretend like you lost your passport and get a new one from your embassy. Without a stamp they’ll never know.
- If you get caught, just pretend like you don’t have the money to pay the fee.
- If you get caught and they ban you, just go home, change your last name and get a new passport issued.
The main reason why all of these things are a bad idea? You can’t predict the outcome. Even if you hear 100 stories about people who got away with these or any number of schemes–you will still only probably be okay. Why?
- A certain number of people get busted but there’s no way to know percentages. Anecdotal information is largely skewed towards positive results– everyone loves telling and spreading a good story. The “I’m an idiot and can never go back to Indonesia” story just doesn’t play as well at parties.
- Times change. Policies can become more strict starting today. There’s no way to tell when it will become unsafe to break the law until enough people get busted and rumors spread, and word gets back to you–possibly too late.
- Computer systems change. Even if they don’t look at your stamps and do the math, does scanning it tell them? What if that changes? Can they link your old passport number to your new one? How would you know, until it’s too late?
- Trying to get out of trouble by skipping the border or lying could massively backfire and compound your problems.
What can happen if you overstay?
- Probably nothing
- You’ll pay the guy a bribe and he’ll stamp your passport and let you go
- Big fines and they’ll hold you until you pay them
- A “black mark” that will prevent you from ever getting a residency or work permit
- Jail until you’re deported or pay fines
- Banned from the country until you pay fines
- Banned from the country for a set period of time (think years)
- Banned permanently
- A combination of any number of the above depending on where you are (not all apply everywhere)
Probably everything will be fine, but depending on where you are or your luck, you could have a lot of problems. If you’re serious about staying somewhere long term, wouldn’t it be horrible to be locked out of the country as you take a short trip back home, all of your things left behind and unable to come back for 5 years?
Do it if you must, just be aware of the consequences (and realize one positive story doesn’t mean you’ll be all set).
How to really stay in a another country long term
There are no short cuts. Asking how to get a residency visa or work permit is like asking how to get into college. It depends on where you’re from, where you want to go, what qualifications you have and how much money you have. And like college it’s a pain in the butt but lots of people make it work. It takes time. Money. Patience. Lots of forms. Creativity.
My husband and I are going through this process now. Some of it seems down right draconian (give a police report for every town you lived in for the past 5 years– um what! for us, we can’t even remember everywhere, never mind track those places down.) but every year people manage to get the legal permission needed to move abroad– you can too.
Here are some things to be aware of:
There are multiple ways to qualify: being a student, having independent means, being self-employed, having family in country, having a grandparent or parent born in that country, making a substantial investment in the country, being a researcher, having an employer sponsor you and many more. The options vary widely from country to country and I only offer these items to illustrate that there is often more than one way to find your way into the country long term.
Some countries won’t let you stay or they’ll make the qualifying criteria very narrow (like being married to a citizen or investing huge amounts of money).
The general rule of thumb is to get your paperwork dealt with before you leave. There may be countries that allow you to extend your stay once you’re there, but it’s always better to at least research before you go. For example, many places in Europe require you to get your residency visa from your home country’s embassy, a task that requires you be in your home country.
Getting permission to live somewhere and work somewhere are often very different things. The latter will often require (but not always!) an employer to sponsor you. It is possible to get the residency permit first, move abroad and get the work permit after you arrive– depending on where you are. Keep that in mind as you research and plan.
It could take a year or longer in some cases to get approved. You could also be denied. You know that saying about eggs and baskets? It applies here.
Where to start researching?
I would look for the embassy website in your country for that country. For example, if I wanted to move to Spain, I’d google “Spain Embassy New York.” There will be a million of websites that offer visa submission services– something you’ll want to avoid. Sometimes they get a little clever and make their site look like an official website, so be careful. The official embassy will never charge you to download forms or to read the rules.
When it is a good idea to read forums and take online advice?
After you’ve found the official application and guidelines for your country, it’s not a bad idea to talk to other expats who have gone through this process about specific steps you have questions on. Good questions get better answers– for example, “How do I get a residency permit for France” isn’t very good, but “I have a question about the bank statement requirement, does it have to be on official letterhead?” much, much better. I would always double check their advice with someone official, but they may be able to give you ideas on how to satisfy certain requirements. You’ll want to try to find an expat-specific website/forum since general travel forums can be chock full of really misleading information.
1. Find the embassy website for the country you want to move to.
2. Determine the path towards residency you’ll be pursuing.
3. Begin the paperwork, but don’t be afraid to ask real expats about certain items. Always fact check any information you get with officials, but expat forums are a great place to start. (Don’t forget to ask how long it’s been since they went through the process, things can change on a yearly basis).
4. Tell us if you get stuck. I can help you find someone living in that country or put out a tweet to get you the contact you need (the readers here are also incredibly resourceful and helpful, so post a comment!)