Surprise: No Visa No Entry

Thames in London, UK
by Anisa // 2 Comments

As Americans, we are lucky to be able to travel to many different countries without needing to get a visa.  However, you need to be careful and do your homework as this is not always the case.  Just recently, I was shocked to hear that a friend of mine, who is a US citizen, was denied entry into the United Kingdom and deported back to the US.  Normally, you do not need a UK visa for Americans to travel to the UK.  However, he did not realize that if the purpose of your trip to the UK is for business and you are staying for more than two weeks, you need to obtain a UK work visa.

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Thames - "Surprise: No Visa No Entry" - Two Traveling Texans

My friend, Steve, works for a UK company and his boss is based in London.  His boss was going on a three week vacation, so he asked Steve to come to London and fill in for him.  Nothing seemed unusual, Steve flew to Heathrow airport and proceeded to immigration.

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UK Immigration

The immigration officer asked the purpose of his trip and then how long he was going to be in the UK.  Steve told him it was for business and he would be there for three weeks. 

Red lights went off in the immigration officer’s head and he asked why it was necessary for Steve to be there for three weeks.  Steve responded he was filling in for his boss who was going to be on holiday.

The immigration officer pressed further – wasn’t there someone else in the UK office that could do that?  Well Steve didn’t know how to say it nicely but if anyone in London would have been able to fill in, he would not have come.  The immigration officer was not convinced and Steve was taken to a holding room.

Detained in Heathrow

When he was in the holding room, he met other travelers who also had surprising stories.  

One student had been detained because she was planning on doing volunteer work and didn’t have a volunteer visa.  Another woman was detained because the immigration officer had heard her husband call her honey and then figured out that they were married but she did not have a marriage visa. 

They held about five people held in a 40 x 30 foot room.  As time went by, Steve was left with no choice but to eat the unappetizing sandwiches that were provided.

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St. Pauls - "Surprise: No Visa No Entry" - Two Traveling Texans

Deported Back to NYC

After more than 10 hours, he was escorted back to a Virgin plane to fly back to New York.  Luckily, he still got a business class seat (his original ticket was booked in business).   Unfortunately, he spent most of his weekend traveling and would end up right back where he started.  Since this incident, he did obtain a business visa and returned to London without any issues.

However, the moral of this story is very clear – make sure you research entry requirements for the country you are visiting even if you are a US citizen.  You do not want this to happen to you!

Note: If you are not traveling for business, you can easily check this list of Visa-free countries for US passport holders.

A big thank you to Steve for letting us share his story! Have you had any issues going through immigration? We would love to hear about it in the comments.


Expert Tips Avoiding Visa Issues When Traveling

  • If the reason for your trip is anything other than pure vacation, you may need a visa even for countries that don’t require tourist visas.
  • Research entry requirements prior to your trip to avoid issues in the immigration line.

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Last Updated on December 20, 2022

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.