International Housesitting and Tourist Visas: A Complete Guide

12 Nov, 2019

International Housesitting and Tourist Visas: A Complete Guide

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Housesitters often ask us about the need for housesitting visas or tourist visas when committing to international housesit assignments. We explain that there are no such things as ‘housesitting visas’. Instead we say they must always check with their destination country visa office regarding their entry and requirements for tourist visas. There will always be visiting tourist documentation requirements.

Corrine Petteys, an international housesitter, offered to share her story of visiting the UK and being turned away at immigration. In Part 1 of her HouseSitMatch blog she shared her story for the benefit of anyone else needing to prepare for an international housesitting assignment.

HouseSitMatch Advice 

Our advice is to ensure you have:
1.A passport that has at least 1 year to expiry
2, A tourist visa secured for the country of your destination.
3. Checked the timings of your permission to stay.
4. Keep checking the government websites to ensure you have the right entry documentation.

This is Part 2 of her story…

International Housesits – Housesitting Visas?

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 my DNA is 82% British – Scottish, Welsh and Irish! I had thought about getting a tourist visa before I travelled but it was not easy to call the British Embassy for advice in LA.

With less than a month before I needed to travel logistics to get an appointment at the Embassy would be hard.

My US passport was in date and I decided that as the government website said that US citizens have 6 months leave to stay I should just go without a tourist visa.

tourist visas
Passport with visas for travel

However, what happened when I reached Gatwick was really shocking. I was caught unawares. Here is the second part of my story…

Detained without a Tourist Visa

After I had been waiting some time, finally, a male immigration officer came out of the back and led me away. He asked me which one of three abandoned bags grouped together was mine, and I took it.

I told him I had a connecting flight to catch in two hours. He said that I would not be on that flight. I couldn’t help thinking of the money lost, the cost of booking another, and I thought of poor Annie who must be worried. My heart sank.

Nervously, I said that I was a tourist and a nice person. He said, oh we know that you are not a dangerous person, or you wouldn’t be here.  We just want to ask you a few questions. I asked if they had called Annie. Yes. He said.

He led me to a detention room with smaller interview rooms adjacent. We passed a kitchen, a drinks machine, and a room for storage. And that’s where they put my bags. I saw some other detainees through a window.

tourist visas
There were two tables with snacks

In that room, there were two large picnic tables with crisps and snacks, a pay phone, a TV screen up in a corner and a couple of single folded futons.

They would ask a few questions before stamping me through for the six-month visa, he explained. He said they couldn’t keep me for more than 24 hours.

He then took a photo of me, the worst ever. Definitely Not a Hollywood headshot! I looked like a zombie from The Night of The Living Dead. And then he fingerprinted me.

This really angered me. Now I was no longer a happy adventure traveller living my free travel lifestyle. Now I was a person held against my will for god knows how long and for what ridiculous reasons, photographed and fingerprinted like a convict!

He asked if I realized what was happening. I said of course I did. He said that a lot of people don’t.

Round Two of the Visas for Travel Quiz

Then he asked me round two of the same questions that the first female agent had asked me. In addition, he asked me how much money I had. And then he counted my $1900 USD in cash. I told him I had savings, and a Social Security pension every month of $478 USD.

He looked at my passport, then lectured me on not going in and out of Mexico too many times. It looks odd. Of-course I told him I knew this, having lived there for the past two years.

I knew Mexico better than he did, and I told him I always left before my six-month tourist visa was up and stayed gone at least a month or more, and well over the three-day allotment Mexican immigration demanded before returning. Mexico was not the United Kingdom, I said.

I told the agents standing around that I was an artist, actor and stand-up comic. Naturally, I would be doing a show about my detention. They laughed and said they couldn’t wait to see it.

Then he asked about my religion. I responded that I was a student for over 20 years of the teachings of spiritual teachers like Vernon Howard, Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, and followed Gnosis and Buddhism.

He looked like he had just stepped off a stun line. Asking what was Gnosis, and I explained it was similar to Buddhism. And so he wrote down Buddhism.

I was a tall, thin white woman who was not Muslim. So why the religion question? I was obviously not a suicide bomber. No, I am just a comedienne who bombs on stage!

Calling on Friends

Then he asked me if I wanted to write down the number of a friend in the US on this sheet, whom they could call. I wrote down the name of  my author friend Eleanor who lives in Mendocino. Later I learned that no one actually called her.

I had no opportunity to change US dollars into GB £ to call anyone myself. Despite this I was told I could make calls on the pay phone in the detainee room.

LESSON 4 – Always ensure you have change in the local currency for an emergency vital phone call

But because I didn’t have change, I couldn’t call Annie who must have gone crazy with worry. I felt terrible. I was worried. She was the homeowner I was housesitting for. But I couldn’t call anyone!

The detainment agents told me that they worked 10-hour shifts, four days in a row. I was thinking that explained a lot and alone could certainly impair one’s judgement.

Travel Visas
Most immigration officers maintained a neutral persona

Despite the situation, they were very nice to me. But they seemed ignorant, as if college never darkened their doorstep, and more than a little narrow-minded.

They hadn’t liked hearing that I was an artist. Furthermore, they looked rather frightened when I said that thousands of people lived my traveller lifestyle and that it was a person’s human right to choose a lifestyle of travel.

LESSON 5 – International Housesitters – Prepare a clear statement about who you are and what you do professionally and why you like to travel. Remember, you travel as tourists. Tourist visas are important.

Tourist Visas for Travel and My Housesitter Place in the World

They kept asking question after question about my life. My background and why I travel.

I explained about my art exhibits in other countries. I showed the guy who asked me what my religion was a photo of me with Hugh Bonneville on my non-working phone, as we were not allowed to use any live iPads, or activate our phones, etc. And I do not travel with a phone service to save money.

He asked me if I was a well-known actress yet, but I said I was a member of Women In Film in LA but not famous yet, but I knew famous people. He looked at me like I was a loser.

I explained that my life had been shattered by my father’s passing, after 10 years of Alzheimer’s disease, and that my mother had died early in 1989. And my ex-husband had also passed some years ago. So, as an only child with no close relatives to keep me in the US for any length of time, I travel.

More questions about my life.

I told him I graduated from Mike Nichols acting school in NYC, New Actors Workshop In 2004. He just nodded, again condescendingly. Then he said I could return to England with the proper work permit if I sell my TV show if it would be produced here, or alternatively if offered acting or comedy work. Otherwise tourist visas were always important. However, you can be stamped through for a six month stay as it says on the UK.Gov website. So why was I being questioned so much?

Detained for a While

During this period, I was not allowed to touch any of my bags. I wondered where Randal was, scrunched up somewhere in the tote bag no doubt.

After this round of questioning, humiliation and chatting, they told me to wait in the detention room. For how long I wondered, and asked. but all they said was ‘for a while’.

I felt like a high school girl who had done something wrong and was being given detention after school. I went to the bathroom and then laid down on the metal bench with the supporting back with the TV news blaring.

This couldn’t happening to me, and for what…travelling for years internationally? No property in the US? For being an unconventional artist? Not having visas for travel? Had I been detained for wanting a long stay in Scotland? Or for wanting to research family history?

The Detainees and the Travel Visas

When I looked around, I saw that there were three young girls waiting in there, and three men. I struck up a conversation with the girls. One was having visa problems coming from Spain. One of the guys was from Turkey, and also had visa problems.

They all said the agents didn’t have a clue about many things in the real world. I agreed. We were a motley group of detainees, of diverse backgrounds and ages. None of us it turned out owned property, and we all wanted to be tourists.

It was like a Twilight Zone episode, with us trying to work out what connected us in this space in this time.

Black Humour

I started making jokes about incarceration. I said that we should at least be given cell block T-shirts that said: I was deported from Gatwick Airport and all I got was this this lousy T-shirt!

It occurred to me that this whole crazy thing could make a TV series. I told one of the agents about my idea and he said that I should go ahead and write it.

Much later, I found a Netflix two season series titled, BORDERLINE, about a small airport in the U.K. The story revolved around the detention immigration agents who worked there! The show mentioned Gatwick, so at least I knew my experience was not unique!

Time Stands Still in Detention

Slowly, one by one the detainees left the holding pen.

I ate some of their microwaved food, chips, croissants filled with chocolate and jellies, drank cups of cold water and machine coffee. Time passed slowly.

On the TV the news droned on. Where was the remote? I couldn’t sleep. My exhaustion grew and when they called me in for round three of the questioning, I thought I would pass out and said so.

I felt anxious, dizzy and lightheaded. I caught my reflection – Night of the living dead.

This latest officer was young with brown curly hair and glasses. First he searched my bags. He saw I had 13 large manila envelopes of various sizes. They contained: headshots, bank papers, reiki papers, health documents, tourist post cards and memorabilia, photos of a famous friend, property lease papers and tax payments for both my properties in Belize and Borneo.

Checking My Luggage

Luggage checks in detention

I carried all these important papers with me because I them need when travelling. Basically I travelled with my personal office, all in a suitcase with my clothes.

He took one look at the envelopes, and said, “Oh this is really very strange!”

I explained what they were and that I had been travelling for almost four years and took my office with me wherever I went. Looking at me like I was crazy, he got a large plastic bag and asked me to put all the manila envelopes in the bag. He was going to search through all my personal papers. My alarm bells were really going off now, as this was a huge boundary he was crossing.

I was told to return to the detention room. I lay down again on the bench with the support back.

The room had thinned out to just me and a guy from Detroit who had been busking his way around Europe as a street performer, and he told me he was frequently stopped for visa border issues.

A Kind Face in a Crisis

Then I struck up a conversation with an older, grey-haired female agent who brought me in another cup of cold water and was very nice. She said she lived in an area of London that was neither safe nor wealthy. As our chat turned to elections, she had said she wanted to make sure someone good was elected to represent those of a lower income in her working-class neighbourhood.

We talked about politics on both sides of the pond.

I told her I was a comic and joked with her about the necessity, if from America, to become a recovered American and about my 12-step recovery RAA (Recovered Americans Anonymous). She laughed.

Housesitters Travelling Around the World

I told her thousands of people worldwide like myself sold everything and housesat or travelled either for years at time – choosing travel, as a lifestyle.

She said she couldn’t afford to travel. This was my experience of British housesitters on the housesitting sites I had found that many British people travelled for short periods of time.

It was a nice chat and she treated me as an equal, but even she flinched at hearing the word ‘artist’.

After a couple more hours the shift changed. The new agents made their presence known though some of the earlier crew were still slogging through their 10 hours.

Finally, the same young brown curly-haired agent with glasses who was appalled by my manila envelope collection, opened the door and asked me to follow him.

First, he handed me back the large plastic bag with my manila envelopes in it and allowed me to put them back in my big suitcase.

My 13 Manila envelopes

He said he wanted to ask me some questions before he stamped me through. So, he showed me to a small room with a desk and asked me to sit down.

He was nice. Then he said I seemed like a nice person. I told him I was an artist and led an unconventional lifestyle, and that I was accomplished in many media, and a decent honest person.

Then he produced several forms and a pad of lined paper with accompanying pen.

Interrogation number three was about to begin. He wrote down everything I said in long hand. I told him I felt very faint from exhaustion and felt dizzy. He said this wouldn’t take long.

I envisioned him asking me questions while running alongside a gurney as I was being loaded into an ambulance from either passing out or having a heart attack.

Travel Visas – Quiz Number 3

It was the same line of questioning as before. I talked about being a tourist and spending time getting to know certain towns, seeing the sights, meeting other actors, comics and researching family history, Celtic shamanism and TV production companies.

Apparently, this wasn’t good enough.

Jesus. I said that if I found a production company for my TV series then I would get a work permit, and the same if offered work as an actor and comic. Repeating this several times I added that it was all speculation as I did not know what would happen. With five months to figure out where I was going next after Dublin, I explained that I would not be returning to England.

That was not good enough.

He then jumped to the wrong conclusions. He said that it sounded as if I was going to work in the UK if offered work illegally.

NO. NO. And NO! I was so sick of these wrong conclusions! Why couldn’t a traveller not know where they were going after a five month stay in one place?

LESSON 6 – Have an onward plan.

The Housesitting Gig

So, I told him about the housesitting gig,

Finally. I explained that I was housesitting for a friend, Annie, for five months in Crieff, Scotland and taking care of her two small dogs. I said that she told me to say that I was staying with a friend. From there I told him I would take tourist trips to see Culloden Battlefield and Inverness and other tourist sites and research my family history and Celtic Shamanism and production companies for my TV series.

I added that I wanted to meet comics, actors and network with performers, artists and creative people—go to museums, galleries, theatre. He was writing all this down.

He then wanted to know if I would have enough money for five months. I told him I had $1900 US in cash, and savings, and received a social security pension of $478 a month and Annie said that I could live fine on my pension alone.

Housesitting Friends

He seemed concerned that I might have to pay for utilities while housesitting. But I told him no, I have a free place to stay—I just take care of her two small dogs and enjoy her house, the town of Crieff, the Highlands, Edinburgh, the surrounding villages and such.

He wanted to know how long had I been friends with her? I told him how I had contacted her before Christmas on a housesitting site about her posting, but she had already found someone. But then that fell through and they were not able to do it. So, she contacted me again in mid-January desperate to find someone as soon as possible because she had to return immediately to Costa Rica where she herself was housesitting.

I explained that after we Skyped, we hit it off straight away. We are around the same age, we are both travellers, and we have much in common. We became instant friends.

Housesitting friends

Instant Friends

He didn’t seem to be aware of how friendships happen on social media. I explained that I had other friends whom I’ve known for years, and we met through various channels. We maintain our friendships through all manner of media… Email, Skype, FaceTime, we talk on Facebook Messenger.

I told him Annie and I had emailed with flight details, and a plan for meeting up when I got to Edinburgh.

He wanted to know the details of how we were going to meet.

I told him that I would take a train from Edinburgh four stops to a shopping centre, go to a café and email Annie that I was there. Then she would pick me up and take me to dinner with some friends. I explained I did not have phone service. Like many long-term travellers we do this to save money.

Commenting that all this was very strange, he said that me taking a train to a shopping centre and meeting Annie there was weird.

He sounded narrow-minded and provincial for a young man. I wondered if he had ever travelled.

Housesitting Viewed as a Payment in Kind

He explained to me that housesitting was considered receiving a free place to stay as a form of payment-in-kind, by being given a free place to stay and not having to pay for anything.

So, it was considered a form of working and I would need a work permit.

My jaw dropped down to my knees. This was one of the most ridiculous things I had ever heard, next to Trump being elected! I was really shocked.

He said that my housesitting for five months, didn’t fit the UK immigration laws as I did not have a work permit for receiving a free place to stay.

LESSON 7 – Always get a tourist visa ahead of your housesitting trip.

International Housesitting and Owning Property

He then showed surprise at the fact that I had sold (transferred a lease, not sold) a property in Belize and that I no longer owned property. It sounded like I might to try to live in the U.K.

I forgot to remind him that I had my Borneo property lease papers in the folders.

Surely, he had noticed them. Stupidly I didn’t think it would matter because it was a lease, not an owned property. Actually, it is where I do eventually want to build a simple home to settle down.

I said that I felt he was incorrect drawing conclusions about my life that had nothing to do with my reality. He didn’t seem to care.

Work Permits and Visas for Travel

Then randomly, he then asked, why I had an acting CD in my suitcase.

It was for vocal warm-ups, I said. It’s an acting thing, I said, I’m a performer. He looked clueless.

I told him about graduating from Mike Nichols acting school in NYC in 2004, New Actors Workshop. He then concluded that I would be looking for work in acting or comedy.

Once again, I explained that I would get a work permit for any of these things if offered work and would therefore do it legally.

Britain has a rich history of unconventional adventurous travellers, I noted. I asked him if he knew who Margaret Mead was? He didn’t. How well-read was he I wondered.

I explained that Jane Goodall was British and about as unconventional as you could get, and she had made an extraordinary contribution to humanity. I told him Belize was founded by British adventurers.

Same Time Next Year ..?

He could see I was upset and exhausted. By this point, I thought I would pass out and fall off the chair and told him so. He explained that I would be able to come back to England.

I wanted to know how long I had to wait to return. He told me that it would be suspicious if I came back the next week. Then he said I should wait awhile, a year, and come back initially for two weeks. For that short stay I would not need any visa.

LESSON 8 – Listen carefully and note their instructions.

He explained that they were going to send me back to Los Angeles on a Norwegian flight at 12:50pm the next day.

And so I was denied entry to the U.K.

I wanted to know if I was being deported, and he nodded.

My heart sank. It felt like a hole in the floor had just opened-up to swallow me up.

I was led back to the detention room. I sat at the picnic table in disbelief, blankly watching the news.

Deported for Housesitting and Missing a Work Permit and Tourist Visas

I told the guy from Detroit that I too was being deported. I had no way of calling Amanda and Fred my friends in the US, to ask them if I could stay with them. After eating and being allowed to get my tooth brush and tooth paste to brush my teeth from my big bag, Lying down on one of the single futons with a thin white piece of fabric over me, I wondered if there were bed bugs after countless people had slept on them. I finally slept.

Waking after 10 hours I was still exhausted. After drinking cold water and coffee, eating instant oatmeal and croissants, I began to feel less like a corpse. I wanted to take a vitamin, but they wouldn’t let into my day pack. I did notice, however, that Randal was upright in my tote bag where I still had food for the plane.

Detroit guy left and I flipped through TV channels until they arrived with my ticket for the flight. They had a manila envelope with my passport in it and some documents. They told me it was time to go and that I had a souvenir mark from them in my passport.

Then two agents escorted the Deported-Woman-Walking, on the long walk to the plane.

Out of the Blue

Suddenly, walking toward me in our lane was Thomasina, the daughter of my dear friends having disembarked from the Norwegian flight she had taken the day after me. She was walking to immigration as I was leaving!

It was a Godsend, literally. She was so shocked and happy to see me, she hugged me hard and seeing the two immigration agents with me said, “Corrine, oh my god what happened?”

The agents were standing there now seeing me with a dear young and beautiful friend, who obviously cared for me, and they let me have this moment with T.

I was detained and am being sent back to LA. Please call your parents, ask them if I can stay there and tell them what happened. I’ll tell you the whole story when I get back.

Of-course I’ll call them, T said. I am so sorry Corrine – we hugged again.

After we said goodbye, I explained to the woman agent that Thomasina was just 19, a fashion model with a modelling agency in Manhattan and was here to work in London and Paris. Her parents were working actors and I had housesat for them for years, and even stayed there two days before they drove me to the airport.

She reminded me that had we not been walking there at that exact moment, we would have missed her. This was true.

She also mentioned that Scotland was very different to England. I said I understood. I asked her what she had done before this line of work, and she told me she had worked in an office but thought this would be more interesting.

Final Leg of my Journey

After clearing the bag check and screening I said we’re doing the walk of shame, right?

She said that this was awful for me to have to go through that. And yes, we would walk in front of people waiting in Departures.

They gave my ticket, and the envelope with my passport, to one of the male flight attendants at check-in by the ramp to the plane. They told me they would be returned, when I got off the plane in LAX.

We chatted. The ticket and envelope were checked. Then she said she envied me travelling the world, and that I must have friends everywhere.

I told her I did. She reminded me that I can come back, and I said that I of course would and will be better prepared next time. Hopefully I’ll have a work permit for a new TV show.

LESSON 9 – Check and double check that you are well prepared for travel

The Journey Back

She wished me good luck and a good flight. Then a male flight attendant escorted me to my seat, the first one on the plane. I checked my tote bag quickly and discovered my food, so I had enough food for the 10 and a half hour flight.  I was the first person boarded on the plane.

On the bright side, I also had an aisle seat again. I only hoped I could sleep off more exhaustion on the flight back. When I arrived at LAX airport, and I could look at my passport I saw it had more than a mark…it had a big ugly stamp with a cross of pen lines drawn through it. That made me sad and angry again.

Not the Passport Stamp I had wanted

I took a Supershuttle to my friends’ house. I knocked on the door and Fred answered. He said Thomasina had called them and of course I could stay there.

Annie from Crieff and I Skyped two days later, and we both shared our stories about what had happened.

They did call her at Gatwick, but it took her forever in follow up calls to find out what had happened to me.

Luckily, she found a couple to housesit right away after my fiasco. Moreover, she was now back in Costa Rica as she had planned.

We are now firm friends and keep in regular contact. I look forward to meeting her face to face one day, in the not too distant future.

– – – – –

And After – Tragedy Plus Time Equals Comedy

Two and a half months later, I was still searching daily for a suitable housesit. I tried to help these friends out in every possible way as a thank you for taking me in.

Shortly after I had arrived at their home, I had a nervous breakdown. I cried a lot and suffered panic attacks from the trauma at Gatwick. Exhausted by this experience, I slept downstairs. Lying crumpled up on a couch in what I called Chateau Rock Bottom, I was a wreck for a while.

On recovering, I did do one open mike comedy night inspired by my Gatwick experience. Tragedy plus time equals comedy.

Both Annie and I wrote to the Borderforce complaints email address provided. They do take complaints seriously.

In mine I attached my property lease documents and a recent land property tax document because I pay land taxes on my quarter acre.

In the responses we received, they just reiterated their reasons for not granting me entry that they had given at Gatwick. We are still in correspondence.

And Thomasina …

Thomasina was on a fashion week Paris runway at 19 and we were able to watch it online while she was still in London and Paris. Shortly after she signed with a big Paris modelling agency. And now she attends a University in London.

She is a talented young woman with a big heart, driving her own career. When she came home, I made her a runway cake with a cartoon cut out of her on the runway and cartoon people on both sides of the runway. She loved it. It had been a Godsend seeing her that morning at Gatwick.

Randall resting after his long and tortuous journey


Recently, I did some comedy gigs in the DC area. Gatwick features well in my performance. And I sold two more paintings this year in Belize!

Now I am renting in Mexico once again, biding my time before I can revisit the UK. Things are looking up!

Corrine Petteys

By Corrine Petteys aka Gobsmacked at Gatwick

HouseSitMatch Advice 

Our advice is to ensure you have:
1.A passport that has at least 1 year to expiry
2, A tourist visa secured for the country of your destination.
3. Checked the timings of your permission to stay.
4. Keep checking the government websites to ensure you have the right entry documentation.

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