Staying Forever – Living in Another Country: Day 10 of 30w30d

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.

30 ways in 30 days, expat, bad advice, visa, all around the world

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  Or worse, things that sound correct but are outdated.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):

  1. If you overstay your visa, try to leave the country via boat and avoid border control.
  2. 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.
  3. If you get caught, just pretend like you don’t have the money to pay the fee.
  4. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

Homework:

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!)

Additional Reading:

Examples of a really good expat sites (for Greece) http://livingingreece.gr/ (for Spain) http://www.spainexpat.com/


23 Comments

  1. Pingback: 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World | AlmostFearless.com

  2. Big fan of this post. I don’t always follow the straight and narrow, but when it comes to rules of travel I do stick to them. I’ve never seen the point of risking your travel future and complicate things by living abroad or traveling abroad longterm without have the appropriate paperwork.

    Many times I think people find a place to go and want to go NOW. Unfortunately it takes time. Lots of it. We had a ton of help from my husband’s employer to move to Brazil, but the paperwork (lots of it, asking the same types of questions you mentioned) was in the process for over a year. We moved down on a tourist visa for me, and temp work visa for my husband, and then a couple months later we had to go to DC for a week to get the temporary visa that would allow us to stay for two years. It was a mess – long lines, costly (especially if you don’t have company support), dealing with superior attitudes, but in the end we were successful. It’s a lot of work to do it right, but for me, that is the only way to do it.
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..Quick Chickpeas in Curry =-.

  3. How nice of you to mention me! :) I make a rule to not publish information unless I have official documentation and significant personal experience to back up my credibility. Many do not follow this standard, plagiarize me or relay stories from forums, which is never a good idea, and this is why I don’t recommend them.

  4. Kat … plagiarism on the Internet? Say it isn’t so.

    “stealing from one source is plagiarism, stealing from many is research.”

  5. You are so right that moving abroad is not just something you do on a whim. It takes a lot of planning to both figure out paperwork and be legal. Your suggestion of networking with the local expat community is right on – we’ve found that expats are willing to share their experienced and help you figure out how to jump through all the loops. Legal do requirements change all the time, so try and find someone who went through the process recently. Finding a local company to help take care of paperwork is usually worth its weight in gold as well. They will tell you exactly which stamps are needed, what wording is required and how to keep your sanity along the way.

    When my husband and I moved to Central Europe in 2001, one of the important questions was, “How easy will it be to get a job and visa?” It’s one of the reasons why we chose Central Europe – Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, etc. were not yet in the European Union and visas were easier to obtain for US citizens than in the traditional European countries (Spain, France, Germany, etc.). We spent a month in Central Europe networking and interviewing in seven cities and from all that data, we chose to move to Prague, Czech Republic.

    We both found jobs after two and four months, which took care of our work/residence visas. After a few years, my husband decided he wanted to go back to independent consulting so we set up a Czech LLC -this essentially allowed him to work freelance. Although expensive and a bit of a pain, we still keep this company alive and return to Prague every 2 years to renew our residence visas so that we have the option to return legally one day if we choose.

    Some American friends just went through the same LLC process in Budapest, Hungary. Setting up a LLC has some upfront legal costs, but it will allow you to work freelance in some countries and take care of your residence visas. It’s a good option to look into for certain countries.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..The Golden Plaintain Awards: Best of Central American Food =-.

  6. I agree 100% to speak to the people in change and not rely on internet advice.

    One point I would like to add from my own experience as an expat in Belgium is – get everything in writing. Even when you are talking to someone ‘official.’

    We had spoken with the Belgian embassy in Canada and the Canadian embassy in Belgium before we moved and had multiple different answers to our questions. At the end of the day when we arrived in Belgium, we were given totally different information from the officials in our town.

    Print and save your emails and get names if someone promises you something but know that in the end, the person who stamps your paperwork is ultimately the one who is ‘right’.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Canada Comes to Brussels =-.

  7. Considering my dream is to live in England, work visas have been the bane of my existence. They make it more or less impossible to immigrate without a firm job offer (and even then they aren’t happy about it). I went over and worked for 6 months via BUNAC (an organization I would recommend if you are a recent graduate) but I was terrified to stay even one day pass my visa and risk getting kicked out forever. At this point I’m going to have to find a dashing Brit to marry if I ever want to get in permanently. Taking volunteers by the way….
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Wednesday Postcard: Recife, Brazil =-.

  8. Stephanie– Are you asking me to send out a tweet to my 30,000 followers? Because I’d guarantee you’d get at least one offer. 😉

    –Christine

  9. Good advice here. Many sites advocate leaving the country every time your tourist visa expires and coming back. While that may be good advice for a temporary traveler, it is not really a solution for people wanting to make a longer go of a new country.

    I know that in Japan, multiple re-entries on a tourist visa can have you deported. I had a friend that tried to come back for the third time and he was detained for 4 days in the airport. They wanted his bank information so that they could buy a ticket out of the country as soon as possible. Luckily he had a Japanese sponsor that lied for him and said he was not working so he was freed. However, he left Japan shortly after. One experience like that was enough for him.

    Most countries still take visa infringements very seriously. Jail, fines or being banned from the country are not uncommon.

    Visa rules also change regularly so thoroughly do your research and don’t really on the advice of one person’s experience.

    One other piece of advice is to try and find a slower visa office in a smaller city. In Osaka, there are huge line ups and the visa people are pretty cold and unforgiving. The Nara office never has any waits and the staff almost seem friendly. I can’t say that you are guaranteed to get your way, but I feel they may be a little more flexible.
    .-= John Bardos – JetSetCitizen´s last blog ..What is a Great Lifestyle? =-.

  10. Moving to Croatia, it took about 7 months to get my work visa approved, and then once we arrived, it took a few more months (and many obstacles) to get my husband and mine resident’s permits. My best advice is to just know that nothing will go as planned, but don’t get discouraged. Do your research and keep at it when things seem hopeless. It may work out in the way you least expected.
    .-= Pond Jumpers: Croatia´s last blog ..learning about the siege on Sarajevo =-.

  11. So glad I found this blog! I have been wanting to relocate and have NEVER known where to start and every few months I am hopelessly searching the net for answers on how this can be done without employee sponsorship.
    Can anyone recommend any books or websites that will allow me to get a better Idea of how to do this to begin my planning?

  12. Melanie-

    Do you know where you want to live? What country are you coming from? There are lots of websites/books, but the best ones are country-specific.

    –Christine

  13. Hi Christine
    Thanks for responding. I was looking at London area, Amsterdam, or Toronto as places I want to live for at least a year but don’t want to overstay my tourist visa. Also, If getting ANY employment at all so that I can have money to live on is an impossibility, then I don’t see how I can even stay that long. I was once told to become a live-in nanny and this was my only option but I must admit I am not partial to children nor am I thrilled about being under someone’s thumb by living under their roof. Any suggestions?
    Thanks
    Melanie

  14. Melanie-

    You didn’t mention your citizenship, so I’m assuming that you’re American, based on your IP address location.

    For the netherlands, here is the official page, a good place to start:
    http://www.netherlands-embassy.org/printerfriendly.asp?articleref=AR00000399EN#exceed

    For the UK you can try this site:
    http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/ukvqr?redirect=true&promoId=1910262&reason=Work&nationality=United+States&location=United+States

    Which details the requirements for a working visa (you can apparently work in the UK for 6 months without a visa)

    For Canada, they have a lot of options for temp work permits. http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/new_york/imm/permit_work-travail_permis.aspx?lang=eng

    I know you didn’t mention Australia, but if you’re between 18-30 yu can get a working holiday visa that lets you work and travel for 12 months.

    http://www.immi.gov.au/e_visa/working-holiday.htm

    Regarding working abroad WITHOUT a work visa, you can work for yourself as a freelancer, start a small business (online) or work under the table. I have articles on the first two on this site, if you search for “digital nomad”. There are definitely a lot of options besides wiping snot. :) I don’t know your employment history, but I’d also check monster for jobs overseas. You might be able to snag a gig with a US corp that has a Toronto or UK office.

    I know that this probably won’t answer all of your questions, but hopefully that will get you started. Good luck!

  15. That sure does get me started Christine. Thanks a lot!

  16. Pingback: Best of the Blogs: Articles to Hold in High Regard « AirTreks Blog

  17. Rule #1: Don’t take advice from people online.

    Like you? Or are you the one and only exception. Publish a blog when you’ve actually done something beside plan from the comforts of your home.

  18. Laura,

    Exactly. Don’t take my advice either! That’s the point. I don’t tell ANYONE how to get a visa, I try to point people towards resources that will help them do their own research.

    Also, read my about page, I’m not sure where you got the idea that I don’t travel.

  19. The other day, while I was at work, my sister stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  20. Great advice here. Just because someone got lucky doesn’t necessarily mean that you will, and customs officials are usually not the nicest of people.

  21. Thanks for the post Christine; thoughtful as always. I have had one other experience that suggests legality when traveling abroad: needing to quickly return home for emergencies.

    At times we, or more often the families and friends we have left behind in our countries of origin, have health emergencies which require us to quickly return. Should we have overstayed our legal welcome, we might find it hard to exit expediently. In foregoing the hassles of legal residence, a person drastically reduces his/her choices, and I would always choose to be able to return to my loved ones in their times of need.

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