Stopped at Eurostar customs?!

So I haven't been on this forum for 2 yrs and I would like to say thanks for all your help with my travel questions.
So, I think about this once in a while and I would like to know why you think this happen to me?
I stood 5 nights in Europe. 4 in London, 1 in Paris. I bought a round trip ticket to Paris to London via Eurostar. Everything went great until I got to the custom desk and had to deal with the uk police. He asked me why I was in Paris. I said vacation. Then he asked me what do I do for work? I said I don't work I'm a student. Then he asked how do you support yourself? I said I have social security disability. Then he asked when was the last time you worked? I said, couple of years ago. Then he asked what year did you stop working? I said 2008. Then he said I thought you said a couple of years?! I'm like it is a couple of years! It's more than a year! ( I was there in 2012 so 3 yrs duh) then he asked when am I leaving from London. I told him the date. He said I want to see your ticket. I said I don't have my ticket. I don't leave for 3 more days and I can't print out my ticket until 24 hrs before I leave. Then he said that I can't leave until I show him proof that I'm leaving.
So I'm pissed. Then they had me wait with other people on the side of the line who got denied to leave Paris. So I'm waiting and then I found out I have to talk to the Paris police. Then Paris police asked me why I'm here. I had to tell them the whole story. So I asked the police where is the closest place to a computer so I can print out my flight schedule. Luckily there was an Internet cafe just 3 blocks away.
I come back with my proof. Showed it to the uk police. Then other uk police came up to me with a piece of paper stating I have to leave london by the end of the month ( I was leaving on the 25th). I asked the police why did he state that I had to leave by the end of the month knowing I was leaving on the 25th? She said I don't know? It's the first time I've ever seen this.
So, I was wondering was the cop racial profiling me? I'm Hispanic. I know the economy in Spain was no bueno at the time. lol

Posted by harleydonski
Hampshire, England.
230 posts

Firstly, it was not "customs" you had problems with but immigration, everything you've said on here would have raised a red flag with the Border Agency. People trying to enter the UK and work illegally are a big concern and I'm not surprised that you were asked for proof of a return ticket.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11631 posts

There's absolutely nothing unusual or out of place in that questioning. It happens all the time. I'm sure that your race had nothing to do with it.

They (Immigration - not Customs) wanted to be sure that you would return home and not take a job from a local, nor use the (free) medical facilities instead of using your own (not free) at home.

You said there was a group of other people who also were pulled out. So it wasn't only you.

So once you had produced your documentation there was no problem, right? So if you had had your documentation instead of getting huffy you would have been fine. Lesson? Have your documentation handy when chatting to Border agents in any country.

By the way - basic arithmetic says 2012 - 2008 = 4 years. That's not a couple or even 3. A couple is 2. Border agents use questions like that to determine truthfulness and verisimilitude.

Posted by emma
London
971 posts

It wouldn't have been "racial profiling".
It could have been that they had intelligence to suggest that illegal immigrants were being either trafficked or smuggled on your particular train, so travellers were being subjected to more intense investigation.

The answers you gave would have raised some alarm bells to an immigration officer in this situation. They would have interpreted your answers as " they don't work, they say they are a student,they claim benefit AND they can't provide there onward ticket to prove when they plan to leave the country".
I can just imagine the reactions I would get if I gave these answers to the officials at JFK! :-)

The reason why the official told you that you had to leave by the end of the month, even though you were leaving on the 25th was so that if you were an illegal immigrant and subsequently got caught you couldn't use the excuse " they never told me when I had to leave".

A minor point but the phrase " a couple of years " could have caused additional confusion. Over here a couple of years would be understood to mean 2 or 3 ( couple =2) not 6 years.

Posted by harleydonski
Hampshire, England.
230 posts

Yes, I've also had the 3rd degree at US immigration and I was visiting for work training with covering letter from US employer.

Posted by Roy
East Alabama
1004 posts

Thanks for posting this as a reminder to all us all. It appears that you were tripped up by your failure to print out your airline ticket when you first bought it and have it with you on each leg of the flight. If the immigration/passport control officers really thought you were a security threat or criminal, they would not have allowed you to leave the airport to print out your ticket.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
1090 posts

Not this year, but my well-dressed, blonde, WASP wife (who has an Irish maiden name in the middle of her passport name) was absolutely grilled at Heathrow when we arrived from Dublin. They seemed absolutely certain that she was a dual-passport Irish/American who was coming to steal a Brit's job. So don't be so sure being Hispanic made you a target.

Edit: This may have been as long ago as 1996, because I think we may have had a physical return ticket to show, the kind with the red carbon paper, etc. At that time, there were not enough jobs in Ireland, before the Celtic Tiger years.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
1719 posts

She must have sparked special interest somehow because there is no routine immigration on arrival in London from the Republic of Ireland (and total freedom for Irish passport holders to work in the UK for that matter).

Posted by mel
bronx
86 posts

Ok. I was late at night when I posted this. My brain was pretty shot! So it's immigration not customs. I had customs on my mind because I'm going to cabo San Lucas mx soon. And I know how to do simple math. 😜so it's still a couple of years it's more than one year. lol
I would like to say who carries their plane ticket with them if they are not using it? Like I said I didn't have a plane ticket and couldn't possibly carry one on me because i don't know about in your country but when I buy my tickets in the United States online, you don't have an option to print out your ticket unless it's within 24 hrs of your departure.
I'm also wondering how come I wasn't grilled going into Paris? I remember they just stamped my passport and no questions asked? Weird?
Is Paris like Mexico? They don't care who comes in? But you get grilled leaving the country to get into the us or uk? lol

Posted by mel
bronx
86 posts

@ nigel so a couple is 2? So if it's more than 2 what do you call it? In the states more than 1 is a couple. Lol

Posted by mel
bronx
86 posts

Now I know next time I go abroad, I will carry all of my itinerary. It was my first time traveling to Europe and I thought all I needed was to bring my passport and I wouldn't have any problems. I just thought it was weird because it was the only time I was grilled. That is all. The racial profiling statement was a joke. Hence the lol comment after the statement.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4505 posts

When I buy airline tickets on line I get confirmation of the transaction which includes all the flight details. This is an electronic ticket. It is the BOARDING PASS that you cannot print until 24 hours before the flight. As for "who walks around with their airline ticket with them" ..... Well, I do.

P.S. A couple is two, more than a couple, but not too much more, is a few. But with Immigration agents it is best to be precise, even telling the exact year of the entry.

Posted by emma
London
971 posts

Mel I made the comment about use of the word couple, just to clarify so Nigel doesn't get the blame!

To check that I wasn't going completely mad I had a quick look in the dictionary and came back with the formal definition " two people or things of the same sorted considered together".
The informal definition given was " an indefinite small number". I would say 6 was pushing it! :-)
It's all relative but if the immigration officer interprets the word as I do he might query how a mention of a couple was actually closer to six years. These officers are trained to look for inconsistencies when interviewing so it might be something they would pick up on.

Probably another example of being divided by a common language! To describe a small amount that is more than a couple, off the top of my head, I would say " a few", but I am sure many people would disagree with me.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11631 posts

It seems to me, especially with your defensiveness here a couple of years later (2=couple), that attitude to questioning may have led to additional questioning.

Racial profiling is never a joke, lol or not.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11631 posts

If you didn't want us to think that you thought that because you are hispanic and therefor discriminated against - - why did you mention it?

Posted by harleydonski
Hampshire, England.
230 posts

In 60+ years I've never heard "couple" used to describe more than 2 people in the UK.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
5640 posts

I went to a wedding yesterday, what a nice couple = 2 people.

I've never heard of 3 or more people called a couple. Or 3 or more years for that matter.

Posted by Andrea
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
607 posts

We were questioned more stringently than ever before in May 2013 when I flew from Toronto into Manchester. I had to show all my relevant papers, return tickets -- we even had to say how we earned enough money to travel. He asked if we had been to England before and we said yes, but way back in 2006. That was a huge red flag to him, but I don't know why. He wondered why we came then, why are we coming back now, etc.

It was unnerving, but we kept cool and got through. And of course left three weeks later exactly as planned!

The couple we were traveling with sailed right through with a different agent.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
7431 posts

"....US Border Services treats the Canadian Border like the Mexican Border...."

It goes both ways. In all my travels getting into Canada is routinely the biggest hassle of any country of I've visited anywhere in the world. IME getting into North Korea is literally less of a hassle. I've been visiting Canada once or twice a year for the past ten years and I cringe everytime I have to pass through the immigration check point at Pearson Airport. It's typically a very lengthy interview, with a 50% chance of my luggage being searched, and my cellphone analyzed in detail. The worst was traveling by Amtrak to Toronto in 1994. At the border every person of color had to bring all their luggage into the dining car for a hand search. One person was refused entry and literally has to be carried and dragged off the train. Or course on the return journey back to New York the same exact thing happened with US Immigration but that's a different story.

Posted by MC
Glasgow, Scotland
545 posts

One thing I think can be agreed is however difficult our own country's immigration can be, as nationals we will never get that full pleasure. As a citizen we cannot be denied entry, so they are not that difficult to us. To foreigners however.... The joke here for a two week holiday in the US is one week is required for US immigration.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2556 posts

People, people, people*, the reality is blame Osama Bin Laden. Lest you forget 9/11 and other terrorist attacks around the world. These horrific events have changed travel forever.

  • (Chill Wills, in McClintock)
Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
970 posts

I've always felt that more than three or four is several! Unless it was dozens. But a couple? That's definitely a couple. Yes, I too will always have my basic flight info with me, as it came from the airline, as a way of validating who I am and what I'm up to.

Posted by mel
bronx
86 posts

Before 911 I traveled to Jamaica and the Bahamas with just my drivers license and had no issues. After 911 I drove to Canada in 05' showed my driver's license and Mexico in 06' with license and had no problems. I was asked 3 questions the most and that was all.
But when I was in England in 2012, I guess there was still a recession? so maybe that had something to do with it?
I have a friend who lives in London and she said at the time, she wanted a job transfer to Spain but couldn't because of the bad economy. So I brought up the Spanish comment because when I was in Paris lots of Parisian men were hitting on me because they all thought I was from Spain. So I thought maybe immigration thought I have some ties with Spain? Who knows? lol I have a us passport.
My Brit friend said he was shocked that I was grilled because I have a us passport. He also agrees with with me on the whole couple comment. I guess he's Americanized now. Bahaha

Posted by mel
bronx
86 posts

I'm also wondering about all the American kids who want to do the back pack thing in Europe after high school. They don't have jobs. They travel on their parents' dime. They must get grilled left and right traveling all over Europe.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11631 posts

My Brit friend said he was shocked that I was grilled because I have a us passport.

so your friend thinks that a US passport gives a golden pass? Have they ever seen an immigration queue?

Why would US passports be treated differently than anybody else? Maybe they know something we don't?

Posted by MC
Glasgow, Scotland
545 posts

One thing to note, Spain and the UK are both in the EU and have free movement for leisure and work, ie the Spanish have a right to work here and vice versa. It would not be because immigration thought you were Spanish.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
1719 posts

Americans are a significant category of illegal immigrant in the UK, mainly from people overstaying tourist entry. The reverse is also the case.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8720 posts

American kids all travel on their parents dime? That's likely news to some of them that worked and earned their money.!

There is a show on TV now called "Border Security" I think. Anyways its about crossing the US Canada border.
There are both Americans and Canadians turned back by each side for not having the proper papers or enough money, or return passage arranged. Any country has those who wish to enter and not leave.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

In fairness to the UK Border Agency/Force:

They're a princely crowd.

I can't start to remember how many times I've been in and out of the nation in the last bunch of years. Go back further and it's anybody's guess. About half of the time I can prove I have an escape plan, but have never had to show anything. The other half there's no prayer since I haven't bought it and don't know how or when I'm leaving.

I don't dress too splendiferously. Unless they run my passport first, I get the same grilling:

How much money do you have? None/twenty pounds, but I know where the atm is.

Why are you here? Goofing off.

Where are you staying? Don't know, I'm going to wander around since I kind of like the place.

When are you leaving? When I'm done wandering around, but I'll be out of your hair in a month or less.

They always let me slime my way in and are pretty much done with me by the time they chunk the passport in the machine.

You can't tell people what you don't know. You can't fake what you do know.

Side question: Does anybody really have a return ticket instead of just a bunch of confirmation digits for a boarding pass stuck in their wallet? I haven't seen a paper ticket since computers were invented.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4505 posts

Ed, it is not a paper ticket in the old-fashioned if the word. It is an E-ticket from one' s printer with all the flight details. You've never seen one?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21425 posts

mel,

I suspect you were directed to secondary inspection as some kind of a "flag" popped up on their computers when they scanned your Passport (although it's difficult to know for sure).

I would like to say who carries their plane ticket with them if they are not using it?

I do! I always have an E-ticket with me when travelling which documents all my flights in both directions, although I don't have a boarding pass until shortly before my flight departs. No one has ever asked to see the ticket (or proof of medical coverage), but the documents are readily available in my carry-on if needed.

@Ed, I assume this also answers your "side question"?

My experience over many years is much the same as Ed described, including at the Canada / U.S. border. They ask the questions and I answer truthfully and I've never had any problems (so far).

The show that pat mentioned is indeed called Border Security, and it documents the daily activities of Canada Border Services Agency officers at several airport and land border crossings between Canada and the U.S., as well as some of the mail centres. I believe the show has just been renewed for another season, despite objections by civil liberties groups.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8330 posts

I always carry my ticket confirmation with me when I travel. In fact, I have all sorts of confirmations with me in a phone app called TripIt. Two years ago I flew into Heathrow, had to take a bus to Stansted, and fly to Spain. At Heathrow immigration I was asked how long I would be in the UK, and I responded, "Just as long as it takes to get to Stansted and fly out". They then asked to see my ticket confirmation for my outgoing flight. At the end of that trip, reversing the order, I was asked nothing at Stansted. It's not surprising that you were asked additional questions, based on your first answers (and maybe the attitude that I detect in your story). Bottom line is, always have your documentation.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Uh oh.

When I book a flight, I write down the dates and destination on the family calendar and the confirmation number and return flight stuff on one line of my 3x5 card, plus put the same stuff on a note app - - which looks like a bunch of others of the same thing and is entered on a date that has nothing to do with anything.

I never even look at the other crap except to glance at how long the stinking layovers are going to be. All of which would explain why, during-roll out at Schiphol a few months back, I was really drooling for the coffee place - - but came strutting up the jetway to Roissy.

You're supposed to carry all that paper around, huh?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
21425 posts

I usually seem to have three flights in each direction and whenever I check in for the first flight, the airline staff usually (always?) ask to see the E-Ticket before issuing a boarding pass (at least in this area). Since the documents are readily available, it's always easy to provide them. Perhaps they prefer to see the "official" version issued by the airlines? I always have to make a stop at the airline desk first, as I have to check luggage anyway.

The process seems to be getting much more automated these days, as when I departed from CDG last year, both check-in and luggage tags were done at a Kiosk. No E-Ticket was required, just the Booking code. Maybe this new automated system will be coming to my local airport in the near future?

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8720 posts

Ed I do not travel with a phone.. so I always have all the e tickets with me.. plus somewhere in my case the confirmation numbers etc written down. .
So yes.. some of us do travel with "paper" but they are e ticket confirmations.. not actual tickets like in the olden days.. lol

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3179 posts

I always print out the airline confirmation and bring it with me. It's my only record in case there is a problem (email access isn't always available), and a reminder for my own scheduling. Alternatively, one could save it as a pdf on your smart phone or tablet.

While not common, it is not completely unusual or inappropriate that a border official asks to see proof of your departure. Frankly, given the OP's vague and inaccurate answers to their questions and lack of documentation, he is very fortunate to have been let in the UK. That is not a criticism of the OP, just that border officials are supposed to be suspicious and trained to ask certain questions certain ways to see if the person is consistent and accurate.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
7987 posts

That is the standard list of questions from the British Immigration office. Last time they asked me for proof of departing ticket, I could show them the itinerary for my e-ticket, since I tend to carry paper print-outs of all my reservations, in addition to electronic copies.

Posted by jturie
Valley Forge, PA
42 posts

I too have been grilled pretty heavily when attempting to enter Canada...of course, that was in Montreal's airport, so maybe it was just some French Canadian fun. Once coming into Toronto tired and frustrated at 1am some arrogant young guy gave me a raft of excrement. By the smirk on his face, I got the impression that he was waiting for me to lose my temper so he would have an excuse to turn me around, knowing full well that I'd have to sleep in a chair someplace.

My daughter was pulled aside both ways on the Eurostar when we traveled with her a couple of years ago. She was on a 6-month work assignment in her London office, and the 4-month old entry date on her passport must have raised a flag....either that or they were profiling Catholics! They asked questions, she politely answered them and we were on our way.

Coming in through Heathrow, DeGaulle, Schipol, Brussels has always been a breeze for me.

Regarding flight itineraries, I always print out a copy and stash it in my luggage just in case. I also write down the Conf numbers on a notebook because it's about an even chance that I will lose one or the other. Never thought about needing it to survive a grilling from a power-hungry customs person.

Posted by janettravels44
Chicago
1074 posts

I always have a file of all my lodging recepts, event receipts and Eticket information i.e. the print out of my ticket that I do when I book it -- this is different from a boarding pass that can be obtained 24 hours in advance. Having an eticket when you cross borders like this is simply prudent since one of the things they ask is how long you plan to stay.

A couple of years ago we came into Rome and the FCO immigration people just waived people through without inspecting or stamping passports. I stupidly did not insist. A couple months later when I was leaving via Amsterdam, my husband and I were pulled because we had no evidence when we entered Schengen and so were suspected of overstaying the 90 day limit (we were leaving on day 89) I had my airline eticket print out as well as hotel and apartment receipts and so was able to establish to their satisfaction that I had not violated SChengen visa rules and they retro stamped our passports. This took about an hour. Luckily we had ample time and so didn't miss our plane. A man pulled out with us did not have this documentation and did miss our plane.

Crossing boarders you need to have such information at hand. I suspect in your case being Hispanic probably didn't help, nor did being young and traveling alone. But out old gray white selves got hung up without the passport stamp as did the young white man traveling at the same time who missed the plane.