On how I was nearly denied entry to Belgium


My United Airlines flight into Brussels arrived at a hard stand this morning. I generally find those annoying for any number of reasons, but in this case it gave me the opportunity to chat with another passenger about our trips and share a couple quick travel stories. Among them, I related that I generally enjoy coming in to Europe because the immigration process is so easy and it is such a quick flight from New York City for a day or two. She was ahead of me in line when we got to the immigration desk and made it through with only the slightest questioning. I was not so lucky.

The questions started in the normal manner – what is the reason for your visit and how long are you here for – and my answers were my usual ones, one day for holidays. Apparently this agent was not happy about the one day stay. Thumbing through my passport he noted, “You seem to come to Europe a lot, only for one or two days. I find that strange.” Yes, I do. I like visiting. Can I now continue to do so? Not so fast.

Do I have a hotel reservation? Yes, I do. Where? Here’s the email confirmation; I don’t really remember the name as I just made it yesterday. Still not convinced.

I tried explaining the miles angle and he was having none of it. He complained about the taxes on awards and I started to try to explain that those weren’t nearly as big an issue in the USA-based programs but that didn’t seem to be helping my case either.

At this point – about 5 minutes in to my stay at the counter – he leaned over to his neighbor and started talking about me. I only caught a few words but the gist of it was that I’m apparently suspect. He started to fill out a form, one I’ve never seen before, which I’m guessing was sending me to a secondary inspection. He went to make a call to find someone, I’m assuming with the rubber gloves, and then noticed that a supervisor was standing right there. Lucky me.

I explained again that I really do just love traveling, that the ticket was only $350 and that I really like Belgian beer. I figured the flattery might help, plus it is the truth. The supe wasn’t quite as skeptical, but he still wasn’t convinced.

IMG-20120317-00275

It was at this point that the supervisor noticed the luggage tags on my bag. I’ve got quite a collection and they’re great as souvenirs or to help folks identify me when I’m meeting a new group. In this case, they also seemed sufficient to prove that I really am a crazy travel person, but a harmless one. The supervisor flipped through them, made a couple more comments to the agent and then I heard the magic words: “You seem to have convinced my supervisor.”

I’ll settle for the fact that the guys think I’m crazy – they’re not wrong – so long as I can also go get my beer.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

18 Comments

  1. Let’s hope you didn’t get an entry in the SIS.. Otherwise you enjoy this treatment a few times in the future 🙂

    1. He took some notes as he was getting ready to secondary me but ultimately stamped me in without typing anything in the system that I saw. Hopefully I made it through clean, but we’ll see next time I come visit. No idea when that will be yet, but maybe the 6 countries in 7 days thing in January wasn’t the smartest from an immigration computer perspective.

  2. Don’t even worry about it. I’ve been secondaried for suspicious travel patterns in more countries than I can even remember. Everything usually gets sorted out once people actually listen to the story – notable exceptions were USA and Qatar. With US Immigration, I spent 17 hours being “interrogated” before eventually being released with a torn and bloody shirt, and with Qatar I spent about 90 minutes in a deportation holding cell with some of the most pathetic specimens of humanity. The EU couldn’t get that low even if they wanted to.

  3. I was quizzed at Heathrow once as my passport only had 2 empty pages. They asked who I worked for and luckily it was the airline I just flown in on, so no problems after that. Although I worked on the frequent flyer system so never actaully travelled for work.

  4. Thanks for the heads up, as we are transiting through BRU in June and July. I will be sure to have all our papers in order.

  5. I am concerned now, I am traveling to BRU next week also for week end (special ticket for $300 from vayama by AC) stay, hope will not have any bad experience. Seems to me that passport controllers don’t believe that some people can travel for one or two days over 6-8 hour flights

  6. Hilarious;
    one day is suspect, two days is O.K., staying with a friend is suspect, staying at a hotel is not.
    I usually don’t have any hotel reservations, so I’d be in the clnker hehe…

    Saved b the bag tags.

  7. I think that the Canadian authorities have flagged me for too many 1 day entries into their fair country…I have gotten secondary screening the last 3 times I have entered and they won’t tell me why…grr

  8. I had a similar issue in SYD where an agent, of a middle eastern descendant, who flagged me before I could proceed to the immigration desk. Yes, he literally called me over while I was waiting in line and flipped through my passport and immigration cards. I was only in SYD for 3 days as a last minute trip before I was due to start my new job a week later. He kept claiming that it does not make sense that someone would fly all the way from the US to Australia for only three days, and I kept trying to explain to him that I love to travel and this was my “last” hurrah before I start my new job.

    I love the fact that the supervisor saw my immigration card with a certain code requiring secondary screening, he purposefully called the guy who questioned me to process my secondary screening and naturally the guy was not too happy that his suspicions were just flat out wrong. Upon dismantling everything from my suitcase, he left all of my clothes and items on the counter and I had to repack everything myself.

    Canada is not that much better, however, with a printed copy supporting your rationalization for an extended stay usually will result in enjoy your stay in Canada and all is good. In YYZ, I had to give them a copy of my itinerary explaining that it was cheaper to spend a night in Toronto than connecting back home on the same day as my flight from MUC. In YVR, it is much better, and even if I did not have a connecting boarding pass, my checked luggage tags were more than enough for them.

  9. Sounds like the guy was trained by INS and/or TSA. Europe also has its collection of [fill-in] agents, but generally far few of them than does Amerika. Hope th e beer was good.

  10. Well it’s nice to see the Belgium’s can be just as evil as others in the world.

    I’ve never had an issue in the EU thankfully.. or in Asia. Only in one Country. Canada.

    Apparently 2 or 3 day stays are enough for their immigration agents to go “WTF”….

    Lets put it like this: It’s modified where in the world I’ll visit these days.

  11. I went to SYD for a few hours, came in on the LAX flight form SYD, which got in around 8am, and flew out on the 4pm to SFO. No questions from the immigrations agent, just an hour long wait.
    Over Thanksgiving I went to SIN twice, in at midnight from NRT and out at 8am, since I had no hotel booked, I left that box blank and the immigration officer just asked for my itinerary both times. Was done with it in less than a minute in both cases.

  12. Almost got denied entry at MUC once. Had been living/working in MUC on a German residence permit for abt 3 months before returning to the US. Went to London for a weekend trip and left a bag at left luggage in MUC. When I went back to pick it up, immigration asked me the usual questions and I said I was just there to pick up the bag and go back to the US (not a US PP, BTW). They asked me why I wasn’t staying in Germany since my residence permit lasted another 1 year. I said that was never my intention and the guys at the Foreigner Registration office made a mistake and issued it a period longer than I asked for. Anyway, they were not satisfied, I was taken away to a backroom for secondary questioning which consisted of a more senior officer asking the same questions again, calling some people in Berlin or elsewhere. They still couldn’t make head or tail out of it, but I’m pretty sure they won’t have let me enter had I wanted to – not that I had a reason to. I told them that I didn’t care if they canceled the residence permit, I just wanted to get my bag and get out of there (it helped that my Dad, who was with me, had a multi-entry Schengen at this point and could have gone and gotten the bag for me). Anyway, they let us both enter but gave us an armed escort to left luggage where I got my bag and then told us to check with the German embassy before re-entering on this permit.

    Fast forward 3-4 months later, I bought one of these cheap $300 DL fares to ZRH from SFO. I went to apply for a Schengen visa from the Swiss Consulate in SF just to be safe even though my German residence permit was valid. I’d rather have problems at the consulate than at ZRH. They issued the visa without any problems. I then land up at ZRH and just for kicks try to enter with my German residence permit. No problem. I then showed the immigration officer that I also had a Swiss visa and he joked well you are covered twice so no problems.

    Fast forward another 3 months, I used the same German residence permit to enter at FRA and MUC at separate times due to irrops with LH flights.

    Fast forward another 3 months, with only two weeks left on my German residence permit, I entered Schengen at FRA to visit Spain for 12 days. No problems. Not even a glance or a stamp even though I was leaving two days before the permit expired! They didn’t even ask me how long I was staying.

    Maybe I got lucky, maybe I didn’t. But it appears that the guy at MUC didn’t put anything in the system (thankfully).

    Also almost got denied entry into S. Korea. They have this weird provision for Indian passport holders where they let you enter for 7 days if in transit to/from the US, Canada, Japan, etc. and India without getting a visa in advance. Wrinkle was that my flight was DEL-ICN(TWOV for 7 days)-KIX-SFO. The guy almost stamped me in, then started looking for a visa in Japan where I was not stopping. I pointed out that Indians can get TWOV. Got sent to the backroom again where in very broken English, and despite my vociferous protestations, I was told that I could enter if I had a direct flight back to the US and that maybe I could make a change to my flight. Always too late to take a hint, I continued arguing that nowhere was a direct flight required. Anyway, I went to the OZ counter and bought a fully refundable Y ticket to SFO. Showed it to the immigration guy who happily let me in and sincerely apologized for the shakedown saying that there was nothing he could have done as it was Korean law. I certainly appreciated the apology and had a great time in Korea after that. Left after a week on my original F award through KIX and got a refund for the Y ticket I bought while sitting in ICN OZ lounge. All’s well that ends well.

    Recently got pulled to the backroom in AMM when trying to use their VoA facility. The supervisor flipped through my Dad’s passport, saw that we were a family traveling together and let us in. Did not particularly enjoy the experience but sadly it’s part and parcel (or not, as evidenced by your post) of not having a First World passport.

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