We are often asked about international housesitting and the need for tourist visas as a housesitting network offering international housesits. As members will know we have always offered appropriate links to the latest in country visa requirements via our member pages. And while every case is individual, we would like to share the experience of an international housesitter who this year experienced a border control confrontation at Gatwick immigration, while housesitting through another network. Gobsmacked at Gatwick tells us her story in the following blog. Here’s what happened…
International Housesitting – Do I need a Visa?
On February 4, 2019 I flew from LAX in Los Angeles on Norwegian Airlines to Gatwick Airport in England. I was so excited to be headed to Britain for a housesitting gig, as I’d recently learned that the largest part of my DNA is 82% British – Scottish, Welsh and Irish!
I’m a huge Outlander fan so was excited about Crieff, Scotland, my five-month housesitting destination. Crieff is in the beautiful Scottish Highlands near Inverness.
So, I couldn’t wait to set foot in Annie’s (my hosts) Outlander TV series backdrops, which I was visualising as my ancestral lands according to research into my family history.
A cousin had also been delving into our lineage, with greater focus now that she was retired. She had traced our British lineage back to a Baronet on my side, and possibly Henry the III on her side. She had also traced my adventure travel gene to Floyd Bennett the early American aviator, who flew with Admiral Byrd. They had even been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour by Calvin Coolidge. I had always suspected my lust for adventure travel came from a past life.
My International Housesitting Travels
I had been travelling since May 2015, deciding to bookmark my life of nine years in LA as a struggling actor, comic and TV series creator, to work on my series while travelling and hopefully find a production company in Europe, ideally in England. But I was open to wherever the universe decided my show will be produced by a streaming network.
My travelling was mainly between five countries across Europe, for housesitting and touring. Then in the Winter months I would go onto Belize and Mexico for longer periods in warmer climates. I sustained myself financially on a small US Social Security pension and on savings built over years working in LA.
I returned periodically to LA for practical reasons and housesat for friends each time.
These friends were Fred and Amanda film and theatre voice over actors who had a daughter called Thomasina, an aspiring model. I would stay and care for their dog, Liquorice. This became a pattern over my years of travel.
Housesitting in Scotland
As luck would have it Thomasina was flying to Gatwick the day after me, on February 5, 2019, for modelling work in London and Paris. She had a work permit.
After arriving at Gatwick, I would be flying on an Easy Jet flight to my final destination, Edinburgh. From there I would take a train ride to a shopping centre, and contact Annie, the wonderful British woman I had Skyped with just a few weeks earlier in mid-January. She owned the apartment in Crieff, Scotland and two small dogs, that I would be caring for while housesitting in Scotland.
The onward plan after the housesit in Scotland was a Ryan Air flight from Glasgow to Dublin, as I knew I would need to show that I had an onward destination beyond Scotland to the U.K. immigration. I was hoping to find another housesit during that five months after Ireland, but as yet I had no firm plans made for after Ireland.
Long term Housesitting in Scotland
Crieff was the long term housesit I had long been looking for. I am a member of three different housesitting sites as I search for the best international housesits that suit my plans. Annie the homeowner was in a rush to get a sitter as she had to return as soon as possible to her own housesit in Costa Rica. She housesits too! It transpired she also had an onward trip planned to go to Machu Picchu in Peru. So, there was an urgency for me to reach her the date we had agreed.
She told me to tell immigration at Gatwick I was staying with a friend and basing myself out of her apartment while I toured around Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England. Annie said I wouldn’t need a work permit if I said I was staying with a friend. I was a tourist after all.
I had researched work permits and visas on Gov.UK while living in Ensendad Mexico, but Annie said she had American friends who had entered the UK, and they only had to pay a £90 entry fee for the 6-month visa. The Government website at the time, said that one could be allowed in the country for up to six months without the standard tourist visa.
LESSON 1 – Homeowners and Housesitters please verify your visa facts with your current national government sources before advising a housesitter on travelling to your country. These details can change.
Itinerant Lifestyle of an International Artist
With the urgency to get there I worried about taking time to secure a visa. The standard tourist visa and a work permit would take at least a month to secure in the US, according to the GOV.UK site—so there just wasn’t time to do this before I left. Moreover, I would have no place to stay that long in LA, and any alternatives were either too costly or not doable.
LESSON 2 – Always ensure your paperwork is ready before you leave for your new destination. It is likely you will need a Tourist Visa. Please take the time to check.
I also planned to research agents and more TV production companies to submit the pilot of my TV series. I wanted to sell it in the UK because they do the best TV. Previously, I had received one positive note, and a very polite no, from the best TV production companies in the UK. If my new script was accepted, I could get a work permit for England.
My professional background is that I am an actor, comic and a syndicated cartoonist. As an artist I had exhibited to national recognition in the Latin America and the Caribbean.
But there was another terrible layer to this back story.
An old dear friend of 39 years, in Maryland, whom I had not seen for some time, had tragically lost her husband in January 2019. I was grieving for my friends. So, having only recently learned of his passing, my usual clear-headed excellent-travel-research-and-thinking-mind was very skewed in the rush to get to Scotland.
And so to Arrivals at Gatwick
After the 10-hour sleepless flight I plodded, tired, along the long, trek to immigration with my day pack and a tote with some food, a book and my best travel buddy—my teddy bear Randal. There was the large print of the Queen greeting me at the entrance. I got chills of excitement upon seeing it. It was grey, drizzly and cold outside. I had definitely arrived.
Waiting in the immigration line I presented my passport and landing card, on which I had written six months stay.
Looking first at my landing card and then at my American passport, the female agent flipped through the one Belize exit stamp and several departure and entry stamps in and out of Mexico. She looked again at my landing card and asked:
You lived in Mexico for a while, but you didn’t become a resident?
No, I did not want to be a resident of Mexico, I said. (She wrote my answers down).
What was I planning on doing for the six months stated on my landing card?
I said I had a friend in Scotland, where I was going to base myself, to see the sights as a tourist first around Crieff in Scotland, then Wales, Ireland and England. I wanted to research my family history and Celtic Shamanism.
She said six months is a long time. What was my friends name?
I told her.
How long have you known her? – Now I was nervous thinking that if I said just three weeks from online, then the questions could get even trickier…like where online?
We hadn’t met in person, so she might challenge me. Of-course I felt I couldn’t say I knew her from a housesitting site – As a result, I stupidly said 6 or 7 years.
LESSON 3 – Keep calm. Be honest
The Quiz Becomes Intense
Where did you meet?
Los Angeles, I said with my stomach in knots – I never lie.
How did you meet?
At a café, I said.
What was the name of the café?
I don’t remember as it was a long time ago, I said. (She scribbled all this down.)
Do you own property?
No, I said feeling flustered – But, I did own property. Though I was thinking that the lease on my quarter acre in Chunox, Belize, I had transferred in 2016, surely wouldn’t count. And it didn’t even enter my head to tell them about my quarter acre land lease in Borneo I have had since 1993.
How long have you been travelling?
Almost four years, I said.
Do you have possessions stored somewhere?
I do – but I’m so nervous by now that I forgot and said, No.
She looked at me and said,
This is very odd. I have to speak to my supervisor. Can you please wait over here for a few moments? she said, escorting me to a little glass-enclosed holding-area.
The Waiting Area
There other people were in there. After about five minutes she returned and I told her then that I had forgotten in my jet-lag fatigue that my 30 odd boxes were stored at a friend’s house in Mendocino, in Northern California. She’s a published author, easy to research and contact.
Finally she smiled and said okay, that’s fine.
She looked relieved that I had possessions, not totally homeless and without possessions.
Then she asked for Annie’s phone number. I gave it to her.
A period of about 20 minutes went by. Thinking about my connecting flight I felt really scared…
By Corrine Petteys,
International housesitter and actor and multi-media artist
What happened next?
– TO BE CONTINUED –