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*Update December 2012: Dear reader, I apologize if your questions and my answers are some of the 20 or so lost during a technical malfunction I noticed on December 11 2012. I was not able to recover them, but the site is now working well again.*
What should you do if you’re in a country on an overstayed tourist visa? Should you apply to the authorities for visa renewal or keep your head down and hope for the best? These are questions that have confronted many travelers over the years and the answers to them will largely depend on individual choice as well as the country in question.
Visas come in all sorts of sizes and formats, but the most typical is a passport page size paper with the travel permit. To enter Vietnam you have to have your visa ready prior to arrival, or requested and waiting for you.
You might think that the European Union has a single policy on passports and visa requirement s but this is unfortunately not the case. Twenty five members of the EU have signed the Schengen Agreement which allows free movement without passport controls or the requirement for a visa within what is called the Schengen Area
(three more might join the list in July of this year 2012) Update: this did not happen due to opposition from The Netherlands and will not materialize until 2013 at the earliest. Ireland and the United Kingdom are the only EU countries outside the Schengen Area, which also includes four countries outside the European Union—Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland (Ireland and the UK have their own common travel area).
So what happens if you find yourself in a Schengen Area or EU country saying “I overstayed my tourist visa!” And more importantly, what should you do to avoid problems now and in the future?
The answers will vary from individual to individual and from country to country. It can also depend on how long you have overstayed your tourist visa. Many travelers from North America and the European Union inadvertently find themselves in countries on an overstayed tourist visa simply because there is no requirement to obtain a visa before you enter. It can therefore be very easy to overstay without even realizing that you are doing so.
In other cases, you may not notice that you’re living in a country on an overstayed tourist visa for quite some time. It is normally only when leave and try to reenter a country that problems arise, usually at passport control. Turning up at passport control when you’ve overstayed on tourist visa can lead to either a refusal of entry or having to pay a large penalty fee depending on the country you’re visiting. It can also lead to further problems if you try to visit that country (USA) or another in the EU/Schengen Area in the future.
Many US travelers end up on an overstayed tourist visas because they don’t realize you that you can only be in the Schengen area for 90 days out of each 180 before you need to apply for visa renewal. Even if you’ve previously remained in a country on an overstayed you may still be allowed reentry if you’ve got a return ticket, a valid reason for entry and the period you overstayed on your last visit wasn’t more than a few weeks. Having said that, it is obviously still better if you don’t overstay in the first place and if you do overstay apply for visa renewal as soon as you realize that you need to.
Outside of the European Union, the procedures for dealing with travelers with overstayed tourist visas vary considerably. Many North American travelers think that they can overstay a tourist visa in South or Central America without it leading to any real problems. While you may only have to pay a small fine – for example, fifty pesos ($12) in Argentina – it can still lead to problems with reentry in the future and it is far better to apply for visa renewal when you still have the opportunity to do so. Similarly in Southeast Asia, the cost of overstaying a visa may be initially just a fine of a few dollars but could be an issue if you want to return to the country in the future.
Passport stamps are not visas, but they are the only proof you’ll have the you have entered the country legally. Make sure you request the officer to stamp your passport if he appears to forget doing so.
It is only if you’ve overstayed a tourist visa in the past and then have to apply for a pre-entry visa – for example if you want to travel to a country to work or study rather than as a tourist – that you are likely to experience more than routine problems obtaining authorization.
If you do remain in a country on an overstayed tourist visa, you may however still be denied reentry depending on the discretion of the passport control officer. Thus smile, be polite, and patient. You may also be denied visa renewal or a pre-entry visa from the country’s embassy in your own country on the same grounds. At passport control, this can be a matter of small things including how closely your passport is inspected, the time of day you arrive, the person in front of you and what you look like.
So to reiterate, the best advice is simple: check how long your tourist visa allows you to stay in a country (or, if you are visiting the European Union outside the UK and Ireland, in the Schengen Area) and stick to it. If you’re overstaying for a few days only, you’ll probably be OK. If you know you won’t be returning to the country, you might want to take your chances. But if you want to stay longer than you had intended in the country you are visiting, it is always much better to apply for a visa renewal than to remain on an overstayed tourist visa. That’s the only way to ensure that you won’t be denied entry or encounter other problems on your travels round the world in the future.
Useful links for immigration related questions
After receiving many inquiries from readers I have decided to share the following links to some of the countries’ immigration websites who’s policies many of you are asking about. Remember that these are official statements from official websites but the information in them might not have been updated in a while and your best bet it to actually call them.
United Kingdom Border Agency
Immigration in Spain
Immigration in France
Schengen fact sheet by the US Department of State
Department of Immigration and Citizenship in Australia
Have you overstayed a tourist visa? What did you do or are you going to do? What happened to you? Share your story with us in the comments section below, ask any question you might have, and please share this post if you liked it!
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