What should you do if you’re in a country and you overstay a tourist visa? Should you get in touch with local immigration for a 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.
UPDATED JUNE 2019 : With the recent happenings in Europe and after receiving so many comments and emails asking for more help and info regarding overstayed visas I've updated the post significantly with a lot more general information as well as country specific details which you can find at the end. Still, if you have doubts and questions about a visa overstay simply get in touch in the comments section. Also, if you have dual citizenship read this post on how to travel with two passports to avoid any problems you may have.
What is a Visa?
Before explaining how to deal with an overstayed visa, let’s start at the very start: what is a visa, anyway? First, no, a visa is not your credit card! Rather, a visa is simply some kind of document proving authorization for entry to a specific country. For anyone wondering, the word itself comes from the Latin charta visa, which just means “a seen paper”. Throughout history, visas have taken all kinds of different forms, ranging from small stamps to massive, full form letters. Nowadays, most visas are stickers placed inside your passport by immigration or diplomatic officials. The image above is a perfect example of a typical, full page sized visa. However, it’s worth noting that not all visas look like this. As mentioned earlier, some can be nothing more than a small stamp. Yet just because someone stamps your passport at an airport it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a visa. For example, most countries will stamp your visa when you enter and exit – but neither of these stamps are visas, they’re just records of your comings and goings. Confusing, right?
Generally, most countries you visit will require a visa. Some of these might be automatically granted on arrival, others might require a small fee on entry, and others still could require extensive application processes before you even leave your home country. For example, the small Gulf state of Qatar will happily sell you a visa on arrival, and just charge the fee to your credit card. On the other hand, US travelers bound for Bolivia can get a visa on arrival, but need a hotel reservation and evidence of solvency. On the other side of the world, Algeria has somewhat stricter policy, where you’ll need to apply before leaving home, and need supporting documents including a letter from an Algerian endorsing you. Meanwhile, China also requires US visitors apply for a visa before departure, and failure to do so could mean Chinese officials will pretty much turn you around on arrival. Yet one country over, US travelers can stay in Japan for up to 90 days without any visa whatsoever!
Put simply, no two countries are the same. Many common tourist destinations do offer visa waiver programs, others will sell visas on arrival, and other countries still will require lengthy application processes ahead of time. The lesson here is to never assume anything; whatever country you’re visiting, you’re going to have to play by their rules.
You might think that the European Union has a single policy on passports and visa requirements but this is unfortunately not the case. Twenty six 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. 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).
What is a Tourist Visa, Specifically?
This brings us to another important question: what is a tourist visa? As we’ve already mentioned, visas come in all shapes and sizes. However, they also come with different benefits and laws attached to them. Common categories of visas include work, transit, temporary/ permanent residency, humanitarian/ refugee, and of course, tourism. Each of these visas has a very different purpose. For example, a transit visa might only allow a traveler to remain in a country for a very short period of time, such as 24 or 48 hours. A temporary residency visa might allow a much longer stay, but limit a traveler’s ability to work.
Generally speaking, tourist visas give visitors free movement within a country, but are restrictive in terms of work or other activities. Think of it this way: the host country is effectively offering you the privileged to engage in tourism, and that’s pretty much all. So, don’t assume you can work (paid or unpaid), do anything political, teach, or participate in any activity in an official capacity. Some countries are extremely relaxed about their tourist visas, and in reality won’t mind if you do some volunteer work or take up some study during your trip (such as a language course). On the other hand, other countries can be extremely strict. Again, the point is to remember every country has its own set of rules. Having said that, there are some general trends when it comes to tourist visas. Most tourist visas (and visa waiver programs) grant travelers somewhere between 30 and 90 days of entry. It’s also safe to assume you won’t be allowed multiple entry/ exits on the same visa, meaning you’ll have to get a new visa each time you cross an international border.
What Happens if You Overstay a Tourist Visa?
Most people are law abiding and have perfectly good intentions, but sometimes life has a way of complicating things. There’s all kinds of reasons why a traveler might overstay a visa, ranging from a missed bus trip to a serious injury, or just plain old complacency. In other cases, you may not notice that you’re living in a country on a visa overstay for quite some time. It is normally only when you leave and try to reenter a country that problems arise, usually at passport control. Turning up at passport control when you’ve overstayed a 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 in the future. For example, overstaying a visa in the US can make it extremely difficult to return. Likewise, wearing out your welcome in an EU/Schengen Area country might make it difficult to visit other countries within the same bloc.
Penalty for Overstaying a Visa
The penalty for overstaying a visa can have lifelong consequences. In some countries you may face prison (India), huge penalty fees (most countries) or being banned from returning (USA). What happens at the end of the day though depends mostly on how you fix your situation, and the smallest detail of your behavior will impact the final outcome. This leads to an often asked question: is overstaying a visa a crime?
Overstaying in the Schengen 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 usually leads 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 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.
Overstaying Outside the European Union
Outside of the European Union, the procedures for dealing with travelers with overstayed tourist visas vary considerably. In some cases, penalties can be minor or pretty much non existent. In other cases, an overstayed tourist visa can become a nightmare. In general, there are three main types of penalties you can expect to encounter if you overstay a tourist visa.
The first is simple deportation, which isn’t a big deal. This is because as mentioned earlier, visa problems typically arise during arrival or departure. So, if you’re already leaving a country, then deportation probably doesn’t sound all that scary, right? Under most circumstances, it isn’t, though things can get complicated quickly. The biggest question is often who will pay for your flight? This varies a lot depending on the country, but again, there’s a few general rules. If you get denied entry on arrival, it’s typically the responsibility of your airline to get you off the country’s doorstep. The company might just put you on the next flight home, or charge you an additional fee.
Under most other circumstances, a country will do everything it can to make the deportee pay the cost of their flight home. If you can’t pay, they’ll attempt to contact your family, and make them pay. When all else fails, it’s possible the country will just buy you a ticket to get you out of their hair, but this shouldn’t be relied on. In some circumstances, if nobody can pay, then you might face prosecution. In other extreme cases, you might simply be thrown across the closest border, and left to fend for yourself. This is actually more common than you may think, and even countries like the US have done this to people in some unusual cases.
Other countries might impose fines. These usually aren’t too onerous; for example, fifty pesos ($12) in Argentina. 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. Many countries might also charge additional fines for every day you overstay. So, a one day overstay might not be a big deal, but a few months could seriously hurt your bank balance.
Even after you’ve been removed from the country, you might still face penalties down the track. Many countries will impose future travel restrictions on travelers who have a history of overstaying visas, meaning you might struggle to return in the future. An overstayed visa can also make it extremely difficult to apply for different visas, such as a work permit or residency.
Arrest and Prison
The highest penalties for visa overstays include arrest and prison time. This is extremely unusual for short overstays though, and normally only an issue in the most highly strung of countries like North Korea. However, extremely long overstays can still be a problem in even the most welcoming of countries. While an overstay of one or two days might earn you nothing more than an understanding smile at departure, months or years of living illegally in a country will almost certainly land you in a questioning room. Authorities will want to know what you’ve been doing, and why you’ve overstayed your visa for so long. If you don’t have any good answers, then don’t assume you’ll be let off easy. Countries like India are known to become a nightmare for long term overstaying visitors.
Typically though, if you do the right thing, nobody will give you any problems. Under most circumstances, 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.
One important point to make is that resolving visa issues can often come down to the discretion of border or diplomatic officials. So if you are caught overstaying a visa, be polite and patient. Acting reasonably and calmly can go a long way, especially if you’re trying to convince a border official that your overstay was just an honest mistake.
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.
Country Specific Recommendations
To further help you out I've created the following sections for some specific countries. I've obtained the information from official government pages and in some cases I even called consulates to get first hand info.
What to Do if You Overstay Your Schengen Visa
The Schengen zone is great for travelers, but thanks to its somewhat complicated rules it can be all to easy to accidentally overstay your welcome. This typically happens because of a simple misunderstanding of how the zone works.
Generally speaking, Schengen zone visitors are allowed 90 days within the area out of 180 days. It’s important to remember the 90 day allowance is for the entire zone. Also, the days don’t have to be consecutive. For example, let’s say you visit France from January 1 to 30. You then leave the Schengen zone for a month, before returning to visit Spain from March 1 to 30. You then leave for another month, before heading back and paying Portugal a visit from May 1 to 30. All up, you’ve now clocked up a total of 90 days in the Schengen zone. In this scenario, you would start running into problems if you stay an extra day.
The really confusing part is that the 180 day counter isn’t reset each time you leave the zone; instead, officials will determine whether you’ve overstayed simply by counting backwards from the current date. So, let’s say it’s now June 1, and you’re still in the Schengen zone. By counting backwards, the officials will determine you’ve overstayed, and then the problems really begin.
Before diving into an explanation into what to do once you’ve overstayed, it’s worth noting there’s a few good ways to avoid this situation in the first place. The easiest thing to do is carefully track how many days you’ve been traveling. If your itinerary is as complicated as the example about, consider setting up a spreadsheet so you can keep track of exactly how long you’ve been in the Schengen zone. Another option is to apply for a long term visa. The most common of these offer stays of between six to 18 months. If you’re under 30, working holiday visas are extremely easy to get, and can last up to two years.
However, if the damage is already done, there’s still a few ways to make things easier on yourself. Firstly, remember not all countries are equally strict. While Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries will punish you hard for even just a short over stay, southern countries are much more forgiving. Consider heading somewhere like Spain, France Italy or Greece, where border officials are known to be much more sympathetic to overstays. If you have time, another possibility is to make a dash for a country outside the zone. Moldova, Croatia, Ireland and Ukraine are great spots to kick back and wait for your 180 day clock to reset.
If you're still confused or want further details, this 16 page PDF explains with more details what the Schengen Area is and how it works. It is published by the official website of European Affairs and will certainly help out.
What to Do if you Overstay Your UK Tourst Visa Post Brexit
Contrary to what many travelers think, the UK plays by a totally different set of rules to most of its European neighbors. Most visitors can generally stay in the UK for up to six months without a visa. So, what happens if you hit six months, and have somehow found yourself overstaying?
The first thing to do is stay calm. Believe it or not, the UK isn’t particularly strict on short overstays. In fact, until late 2016, the Home Office had an explicit policy of allowing overstayers a 28 day grace period. Under this policy, anyone who accidentally overstayed had a comfortable 28 day window to either leave, or apply for a new visa. This has since been reduced to a 14 day window to make new visa arrangements. Even then, technically speaking you’re supposed to have some kind of good reason for your overstay.
Nowadays, UK officials are still usually fairly understanding, and with a bit of luck you won’t have any issues if your overstay is just a few days. If you somehow manage to stay past your 14 day grace period, you’re still not necessarily guaranteed to end up in hot water. It’s unusual to be deported in your first three months of an overstay, and criminal prosecutions are rare. During this time-frame, the most likely outcome of an overstay is little more than a grouchy look from immigration officials on the way out, and some additional hurdles if you ever try to apply for a UK visa in the future. Even that might not happen, and in the past inspections of passports on departure often weren’t all that thorough.
Having said that, immigration has tightened its game significantly in recent years. If you’re caught overstaying a month or two, there’s a very real risk of being banned from the UK for a period of time. You might also have difficulties applying for a visa even years down the road.
Whether its an overstay of just a few days or a few months, the best policy is to be honest and apologetic. As mentioned, the UK is pretty tolerant on short overstays, and honesty can go a long way even after a particularly long period of illegally remaining in the country. The real problems can arise if officials suspect you’re hiding something. Lying to immigration officials can lead to much more serious penalties, including fines and imprisonment in some circumstances. So, the general message here is: be honest, be nice, and do everything to can to either get a new visa or leave as soon as possible.
What to Do if You Overstay Your India Tourist Visa
Many countries are surprisingly tolerant and extremely forgiving when it comes to overstays. India is not one such country.
Most travelers arrive in India on a 60 day visa, which typically cannot be extended. The most common cause of overstays in India is the unusual fact that visas here start from the time of application, not entry – making overstays not all that unusual. Unfortunately though, an overstay is considered a criminal offense. Unlike countries like the UK, there’s no grace period; and unlike Schengen, there’s no flexible areas where officials might turn a blind eye to the innocent, accidental overstay. Instead, Indian officials are notorious for making examples of travelers, even those who overstay for extremely short periods of time. On top of this, airline and immigration staff are required by law to report overstays, so don’t expect much mercy if you try to quietly sneak out of the country.
Once you overstay a visa in India, you have very few options. A one day overstay is no different to one month, meaning you’ll be treated like an illegal immigrant from the first hour of your overstay. If you do try to leave, expect officials to physically remove your luggage from the plain, and detain you. Hence, you’re better off just heading to a police station and turning yourself in. For most overstayers, the best case scenario is a US$30 fine plus the cost of a visa extension, followed by a mountain of paperwork and long periods of waiting around at a police station, before being cut loose. If you’re unlucky, you might be hit with a travel ban. In rare, extreme cases, prison time isn’t totally unheard of.
While India is on the stricter end of the visa spectrum, there are a few ways to avoid the bureaucratic nightmare of an overstay. The first is to try applying for an extension before your visa expires through the Foreign Regional Registration Office. Extensions of 15 days aren’t too hard to get on grounds of illness or injury . All you’ll need is a medical certificate (you can buy fake reports pretty much anywhere) , and you’re good to go.
If all else fails, the only other option is bribery and corruption. However, in most major Indian airports this is extremely risky, and can land you in a world of trouble. Unless you really know what you’re doing, this option is a disastrously bad idea. Even if you somehow manage to successfully bribe your way through departure, expect to pay out far more than you would for simply coughing up that $30 fine. Having said that, legend has it the officials at the land crossings with Nepal are a little more open to turning a blind eye to overstayers on their way out … assuming you’re willing to pay.
What to Do if You Overstay Your Malaysia Tourist Visa
Malaysia is a pretty welcoming country, and most visitors are automatically granted a 30-90 day stay on arrival. If you know ahead of time that you might need to stay longer, then you should head to an immigration office as soon as possible. These offices are located across the country, and are usually quite helpful. Under most circumstances, Malaysian officials are understanding, and visa extensions aren’t too hard to obtain.
If it’s too late, and you’ve already overstayed, then don’t sweat. First of all, you might be eligible for a special pass, which can be obtained from an immigration office. A special pass is basically a lot like a standard visa extension, only it’s granted after the visa has already expired. This option is useful if you’re in a situation where you’ve missed a flight, or otherwise been unable to leave the country for some unusual reason like a medical emergency. Depending on your exact circumstances, you’ll probably have to pay a fine, and you’ll be give a special pass allowing you to remain in the country until a set date. This date is usually set for the day of the next earliest flight you can get hold of. So, the easiest way to guarantee a special pass is to head to an immigration office ASAP, with some cash, a ticket for a new flight out, and a decent excuse up your sleeve.
Whether you go to an immigration office or just try leaving late, you’ll have to pay a per day fine. If your overstay is seven days or less, the penalties are pretty reasonable. You’ll be hit with a fine of around RM30 (approximately US$7) per day you’ve overstayed. You’ll also be barred from returning to Malaysia for two days per day of overstay. For example, if you overstay one day, you’ll be fined RM30, and be banned from returning for two days. Likewise, a seven day overstay will cost you RM210, and you won’t be allowed back into the country for two weeks.
Overstays start to get serious after 30 days. If you’ve been in Malaysia for more than a month without authorization, you can face a fine of up to RM10,000 (US$2300) and a maximum prison sentence of five years. In other words, if you overstay, try getting a special pass immediately, or just pay the small fine on the way out at the airport. If you sort out your problem within a week, everything will be fine. If you don’t, then things can snowball very, very quickly.
What to Do if You Overstay Your Philippines Visa
Most travelers to the Philippines are given 21-30 days of free entry without a visa on arrival. All you need is a return ticket, and this is pretty much guaranteed.
If you’re worried you might need to overstay, it’s normally fairly easy to obtain an extension. The Bureau of Immigration can arrange 29 day extensions in a relatively painless manner, and two month extensions are also possible under some circumstances. The standard 29 day extension will set you back roughly PHP3000 ($60). Apparently, there’s supposed to be an additional stamp fee of around PHP100, though it’s inconsistently applied. It’s also worth noting extensions can only be applied for before your travel permit or visa expires.
If you’ve already overstayed in the Philippines, the easiest thing to do is just head to the airport, and be prepared to pay a fine on the way out. Like many other countries, the Philippines charges overstayers depending on the amount of time they’ve been traveling without authorization. Uniquely though, you’ll be fined per month of overstay, not per day. It’s also rounded to the next month. For example, a one day overstay is considered a one month overstay, while a one month and one day overstay is charged at the two month rate. At the time of writing, the rate was PHP500 (US$10) per month. The payment process is likewise pretty painless. At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, you’ll simply be directed to a window off to the side, where you hand over the cash, sign a few documents, and you’ll be on your way. It’s a similar story at other international airports across the country.
Overall, the Philippines is one of the more simple countries in terms of overstays. However, some travelers have reported being given a hard time by immigration officials. This mostly involves being given a wag of the finger and a stern speech about responsible travel. If you’re particularly unlucky, you might be forced to wait an hour or two to pay the fine. Whatever happens, just be sure to arrive at the airport as early as possible, and leave yourself plenty of time. If an immigration official feels the need to give you a lecture, just put on your most apologetic face and deal with it.
What to Do if You Overstay Your USA Tourist Visa
The US has a bit of an international reputation for being hard on visa overstayers. This isn’t entirely unearned, though it’s also not quite as bad as it’s often made out to be. If you overstay your visa waiver program you my not have access to it again in the future, for example.
Visits can and often are extended, requiring little more than a little paperwork on your behalf. Your first port of call should be the Citizen and Immigration Service, which can provide special extensions even after your visa or travel authorization has expired. In particular, what you’ll want to try to get is a “period of satisfactory departure”. These are often granted to travelers in situations like flights that have been delayed for more than 24 hours, medical emergencies and other run-of-the-mill traveler woes. They can also be issued in circumstances like being the victim of a crime, or just not being able to reach the airport due to bad weather. Whatever your reason, make sure to bring as much evidence as possible. This can include a medical certificate, police report, or even just a news clipping proving something like bad weather.
If you’re granted a period of satisfactory departure, you’ll basically be given up to 30 days to leave the country. If you do this, then there are absolutely no further repercussions or penalties. You’re off, Scot-free!
If for some reason you don’t get a period of satisfactory departure, then the penalties can rack up quickly. Sometimes overstays of one or two days can be almost entirely ignored, though you shouldn’t rely on this. Nonetheless, the first 180 days overall are fairly mild. If you come to the US under the visa waiver program and overstay for less than 180 days, you’ll probably be forced to apply for an actual visa next time you come. You might also have trouble generally obtaining any US visa, and can expect a little extra scrutiny whether you interact with the Citizenship and Immigration Service. In particular, you’ll probably have a lot of hassle trying to get a work visa, or something similar. This is because the onus will basically be on you to convince US officials that you won’t overstay again.
Things start to get really dire after 180 days. At this point, you’ll almost certainly be hit with a three year travel ban. Once you overstay for 12 months, you can then expect a 10 year ban. You might also be forcibly deported, which is not a fun experience. Finally, overstays exceeding a year can result in a permanent travel ban. Ouch!
The lesson here is to contact the Citizenship and Immigration Service the moment you suspect you might need to overstay. Get an extension, and leave in the required period. If you don’t, your predicament will only get worse over time.
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!