When You Get Detained...

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...while traveling abroad! (Gasp!) What would you do if you arrived at the border of a country, stumble over a few questions at Immigrations, your inner voice nagging at you about how much you should of prepared your itinerary (what itinerary?!), and finally, get thrown into a van to be transported to the nearby Detainment Center?!?

Breathe, breathe, and do not choke on your tears.

It was right around the middle of January 2012. I had purchased a one-way ticket to Manchester, England on Ryanair, one of the cheapest ways to fly around Europe. My initial plan was to travel toward the York area of England to start my HelpX experience at a cute little English guesthouse nestled in lovely green hills paired with flocks of fluffy sheep. Unfortunately, within a matter of 10 minutes, that plan vanished into thin air and will forever play the disappearing act on me.

Once it was my turn to talk to Passport control, specifically an Immigration officer, I confidently walked up to the window and happily presented my navy blue American passport.

Officer: How long do you plan on staying in England?
Me: I'm not sure...perhaps, one month or so?
Officer: Which one is it? One month or more?
Me: Well, it depends on how much I enjoy it out there, I suppose.
Officer: Do you know who you are staying with tonight?
Me: No..
Officer: How much money do you have?
Me: $xxxx.xx, more than enough.
Officer: Where is it?
Me: In my bank account...I don't carry that much cash with me, of course.
Officer: Prove it to me.
Me: Do you have wifi internet? I can log onto my Capital One account?
Officer: I don't think so.

That was the basic gist of how awful the conversation went. Apparently, Passport Control absolutely despises travelers like myself who tend to fly by the seat of our skirts! You may be wondering why I did not initially tell her my HelpX plan? Prior to this event, my HelpX Host advised me to NOT to disclose the work exchange program because a previous girl had the unlucky experience of getting deported to her home country. Yikes! Although I followed his advice, my mistake(s) involved not fully preparing anything else. Over the next few hours of this particular episode, customs went through my bag and found my official Master's degree. I was carrying this document to pursue an English teaching job AFTER my volunteer experiences in Europe.

Boy, did that look baaaaaaaaaaad.

THE EVENING:
Immigrations searched me, handcuffed me, fingerprinted me, medically examined me (non-physically) to ensure I was not insane, and finally, arriving in the detainment center. Upon arrival, the staff was actually quite friendly...complimenting my 'willy's' aka boots, attempting to console me (I was a hot mess), and proceeding to prepare me a traditional English meal -- Fish & Chips. After swallowing my food whole (by this point, I had not eating in about 9 hours), I looked up and found myself surrounded by a sea of foreign men. With the exception of 2-3 girls in the corner of the cafeteria, the ration of men to women was something like 5:1.

I had no idea what was going to happen next. And, to be completely frank, after discussing with a few other detainees, some were detained for as long as 2 MONTHS!!! 

After eating my meal, one of the officers showed me the "Free Drink Vending Machine"...he says to me, 'You see, all you need to do is push the button next to the picture of the item you want, and it will magically appear!'...My exact thoughts were, Cathy is NOT in Kansas...or any normal place right now. Finally, an officer escorted me to where I will be sleeping that night, in a dormitory-like setting, with four other beds which happened to be unoccupied. That very night, a young woman arrived in my room and we talked passionately into the late hours of the evening about our lives...and how we even got here. I thought it was one of the strangest ways to meet a person, let alone make a new friend.

THE MORNING AFTER:
I received notification that I would need to stay overnight once again but will fly back to Paris, France the following day. As much as I wanted to believe this, after hearing some bad stories, I was still skeptical. The next few days spent at this detainment center involved the following:

1) Taking advantage of the Free Drink Vending Machine
2) Eating all traditional English meals (despite the irony that I now carry a restricted stamp to enter the UK)
3) Making new friends, sharing meals together, showing each other things on the computer (Yes, we had all day and night internet access to our email accounts)
4) Saw there was a WII Bowling and Tennis in the leisure room
5) Read the newspaper with friends

When it was time to finally leave this place (which ended up resembling a pretty nice hostel anyways), the handcuffs were placed on my wrists yet again, escorted to the plane back to Paris, and reunited with my Navy blue American Passport given to me by the Captain of the plane.

Needless to say, this was probably one of the crazier experiences I encountered along my travels thus far. There were good times and there were challenging times. To this day, I don't think I could fully describe this experience as bad but more so a very interesting learning experience!

Has this ever happened to you??


HOW TO AVOID THIS SITUATION:

1) Try to avoid buying one-way tickets. It will almost always raises eyebrows at Passport Control. However, if it is economically more sound to do the one-way route, continue reading for more tips.
2) Even if you don't truly know where you will be sleeping upon the first night of arrival, come up with something. Write down a hotel name and address.
3) Have a definite answer as to when you are leaving the country. Again, even if you don't know - give them an exact time-frame.
4) For the love of God, Zeus, Buddha, Shiva...do NOT carry your official documents with you.
5) Carry a good amount of cash with you (100-200 bucks) OR print out an accounts history page from your bank account for proof you are not seeking a job in that particular country.
6) Always research Visa requirements for each country thoroughly. Some countries require having pre-approved immigration documents!
7)  Stay calm and look at the Immigration Officers in the eye while answering those questions.

So, there you have it. Because I had planned to volunteer in England for a whole month and a half, this experience really flip-flopped my entire traveling itinerary. What's great about this is that I was able to adapt to the circumstances and continue on with exploring the world. That's all we can do - - Adapt.

Have you ever had issues with Immigrations while traveling?
Any tips you can share for other current or future travelers? 

-MsCathy.


2 comments:

  1. Wow that's a crazy story! Thanks for the travel tips- a few of those I wouldn't have even thought of.

    I guess you can say this is yet another experience- at least you learned a lot from it, and can give tips out to people like me who wouldn't have even thought about those things.

    ~C

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am happy to share these tips. Honestly wouldn't want anyone else to go through what I did. Super stressful and odd! Be wary of one-way tickets! ;)

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