These Are the Most Unexpected Questions Being Asked at the Immigration
We all have those unexpected, funny, weird and memorable experiences at the immigation desk, usually in a new destination in a foreign country. Last September, I was visiting India for the third time on a new evisa. I arrived at the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) in Bangalore. The immigration officers were extremely sweet and we talked about cricket, King Ravana (a demonic ruler in the ancient epic Ramayana), temples and other things.
Once they knew I was a writer, the officer wanted to know how he can read what I write. I gave him my portfolio link and my blog link. Then he told me to write more beautiful stories about India. It was sweet and I never expected an immigration officer to be impressed by my writing. I’d not forget it for a long time.
So Nathan and I thought we’d ask travel bloggers to share their most memorable stories at the immigration desk. Here are ten funny and unexpected stories from around the world.
1. A half an hour wait for 0.08 inches (London, UK)
by Cristina from Honest Travel Stories
So, we were just married and my ID was pretty new. Like, I had just taken it back after the name change on Thursday and on Friday we flew to London for a 4-day city break. I didn’t even have a passport, that was in the making at the moment, but in the EU (UK was in the EU then) we could move around just with a national ID.
After a two hour wait at the immigration office from the Stansted Airport, we decided to go together at the counter as a new family (again, newly weds, we were excited about everything). So we went there together, presented the same type of national ID, and waited. Waited for what, you ask?
Well, they looked at my ID for at least half an hour. My husband got his ID back in one minute, and they kept looking at mine. After a while, the lady called for a colleague to look together. Ten minutes later, a third colleague appears with a special magnifying glass that looks similar to the ones used to analyze diamonds.
I told them it’s new, thinking maybe there’s a new security feature in place for new IDs. I should have minded my own business, as this was received with a question: “Is your ID fake, ma’am?”. My eyes were about to pop out of my head. I barely managed to open my mouth and say “No, why would you say that?”.
Well, apparently my ID had all the security features intact, but had one minor defect: it was shifted two millimeters to the left. That’s 0.08 inch for the imperial system users. And because we wanted to go there as a family (great idea in hindsight, right?), the immigration officer had two IDs in her hands, so she could easily spot the difference. In the end, they let us in, but boy was that intense!
This wouldn’t be this funny if I were not a Quality Assurance engineer in my field. Basically, I find defects for a living. Most people say that defects find me, that’s why I’m good at my job. Well, I cannot say I don’t agree now, could I?
2. “Where is your husband?” (London, UK)
by Bhushavali from My Travelogue by Bhushavali
I’m an Indian and I was living for a short while in London on a family reunion resident permit. Also as an Indian, it meant that I needed a separate Schengen visa to visit Europe. So, this happened during one of my many visits to Europe. Many times I would go on quick solo trips, thanks to cheap flights and coaches.
Once when I was returning from one of the Europe visits by flight, I landed in London Stansted. At the border control, I was asked where my husband was, since I was on a family reunion visa and this trip was a solo trip, the officer had her own concerns!
Well, I suppose my answer should have been the city/area where we lived, but then the dumb me said: “Errrmmm… What day is it? Oh yeah, it’s Sunday. So he should be at home.” The officer just sighed and let me go and only then I realized what she actually asked!!!
3. “Do you drink wine?” (Tbilisi, Georgia)
by Emily from Wander-Lush
Airport immigration officers in Georgia (that’s the country in the Caucasus, not the US state) are known for being particularly gruff. So I was quite taken aback when one struck up a conversation with me on my most recent visit.
I was flying into Tbilisi airport from Australia (a protracted route that takes almost 48 hours including transits). By the time I got to the immigration desk, I was exhausted. After stamping my passport, the officer looked me in the eye and threw me off guard with his one and only question: ‘Do you drink wine?’
I’ve been asked this question by many Georgians in the past – this region being the global birthplace of viniculture and all – but I never expected an immigration officer to enquire about my drinking preferences! ‘Uh, yes?’, I sheepishly replied. Next thing, he handed back my passport and slammed a bottle onto the counter. I picked it up and took a closer look – it was a tiny bottle of wine, wrapped in a label with a very poetic welcome messags from the Georgian Tourism Association.
Georgia is known for its warm hospitality, food and wine, so the bottle is intended to be a small but meaningful token to welcome guests to the country. This must be the only place in the world where airport immigration officers offer you a drink!
4. “You have the prettiest eyes.” (Casablanca, Morocco)
by Alex from Alex on the Map
My boyfriend (now husband) and I were flying into Casablanca (Mohammed V International Airport) to embark on our trip throughout Morocco. It was actually my second time there and it is still one of my absolute favorite countries. Since we weren’t yet married, we had to go through the immigration line individually. I went first.
When I arrived at the counter, the guy took my information and kept looking at me weirdly. I assumed it was because of my profession, since I had gotten some questions about being a writer the last time. Instead, he told me I had the prettiest eyes ever and asked what I was doing after so he could take me around and show me the country. I laughed and told him my boyfriend was behind me, but that it was nice he offered.
After we had made it through immigration, my boyfriend turned to me and said, “That was weird. Did you tell him we were dating? Because he told me how lucky I was and that I needed to treat you like a queen.“
5. “Are you an eco-terrorist?” (Tel Aviv, Israel)
by Sanne from Spend Life Traveling
‘What are your parents’ names?’ ‘What does your father do?’ Slightly strange questions when an adult enters a country that has nothing to do with her parents. But ok, I was flying into Tel Aviv, and I’d been told the Israelis are strict and tend to know a lot about you so I’d play along and answer any intimate questions they might have.
Apart from traveling around Israel I was also going to do some volunteer work at a nature reserve in Eilat. And I know many countries don’t like you entering on a tourist visa to do any type of work, including volunteer work. So, even though I had all the necessary documents and wasn’t doing anything illegal, I decided to focus on the traveling part of my trip and leave out the volunteering part.
I guess I should have known better…
‘Why are you here?’ ‘To see the country.’
‘Won’t you be lonely?’ ‘Well, I’ll stay in hostels and I’ll meet people there.’
And then that question came, out of the blue:
‘Are you an eco-terrorist?’
A what? I wonder what my expression must have looked like. Probably, puzzled. Probably, embarrassed…!
Did he know about the volunteer work? Does he think I’m gonna blow up the coral reef or something? Or what does an eco-terrorist do? Obviously I knew the correct answer here was ‘no’. But my ‘no’ must have sounded shaky and confused. And yes, it turns out he knew. He knew I was going to do volunteer work.
So, lesson learned (and what the guy lectured me about for the longest 5 minutes of my life): don’t withhold information at immigration! But, after the lecture he let me into the country and I had a great time not being an eco-terrorist in Israel.
Come to think of it, is that why they took me aside when I was leaving the country? I thought it was more of a routine drug search but maybe they inspected every inch of my bag – yes, including my dirty laundry – to make sure I didn’t pack any coral or exotic fish? Well, at least now you know: when someone asks you if you are an eco-terrorist, say no and sound convincing!
6. No direct flights (Montréal, Canada)
by Mikaela from Voyageur Tripper
In 2017 I landed in Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport after a week of whitewater rafting in Costa Rica and getting certified as a Wilderness First Responder. I flew direct from Toronto to San Jose on the way there, but to save money, I’d chosen a route with a stopover in Montreal for the return flight.
I approached the border services desk, my Canadian passport in hand, and told the officer where I‘d flown in from: “San Jose, Costa Rica.”
“There isn’t a direct flight from Costa Rica into Montreal. Where did you just fly in from?” the officer responded.
I looked at him with a blank stare, clutching my boarding pass. Always nervous around authority figures, I stammered out “There is a flight from Costa Rica – with Air Canada. I have my boarding pass.”
But he wouldn’t take it! Instead I got pulled to the side. We got a supervisor and someone from Air Canada to verify – yes there is a flight from Costa Rica into Montreal directly. The border guard shrugged it off, meanwhile I sprinted across the airport to avoid missing my connection to Toronto (I made it). What an unexpected reason to get delayed at the border!
7. It’s hola not hello (Santiago de Compostela, Spain)
by Ciara from Wellness Travel Diaries
On my first trip to Spain (during which I could also feast on delicious vegan food in Barcelona), I visited the charming green city of Santiago de Compostela. I was there to begin a year of teaching English through a language assistant program. I arrived at the Santiago de Compostela airport mid afternoon, completely stoked for the adventure ahead.
Visiting Spain was always on my travel bucketlist, and I was finally here embarking on that dream. Once the plane arrived at the terminal, I eagerly walked over to passport control with a huge grin on my face.
I quickly greeted the immigration officer with a big hello and big smile. I thought about saying, “Hola,” but since it was my first time in Spain, I wanted to ease my way into speaking Spanish because of the nerves. Big mistake! The immigration officer responded to my hello with, “If you’re in Spain, you have to at least try to speak Spanish if you want to visit here.”
Yikes! I should have gone with my gut and said, “Hola.” I paused in shock, then stumbled through as many Spanish phrases as I could. My broken Spanish seemed to please the immigration officer as he happily stamped my passport and waved me through.
8. Sent from the future (Germany)
by Lindsay from I’ve Been Bit: A Travel Blog
Back in 2012, I was travelling throughout Europe on a big backpacking adventure. I visited over 20 countries and had a plethora of stamps to prove it. I was going through customs in Germany and the border guard was flipping through my passport to see where I had been. He stopped on one page, paused, looked up at me with a stern expression and said in a thick German accent “Are you a time traveller sent from the future?”
I stood there like a deer in the headlights – I had NO idea how to respond to his question. I began stuttering as I tried to find any words to respond when I looked up and saw him smirking. He handed me back my passport, open to the page where one of the stamps said 2013. At one of my previous border crossings, the guard had bumped the date stamp a year too far ahead!
9. But where are you really from? (Israel)
by Kay from The Awkward Traveller
There I was, at the border crossing from Jordan to Israel/Palestine, with zero cash and only one bar of unreliable free WiFi. We arrived on a shuttle from Jordan, which crossed over Palestine and dropped us off at the Israeli customs building. At immigration, the agent looked back and forth from my face (which looked trashed after a long night) to my passport (which was just a trash photo). He pursed his lips, “You’re American?“
I looked down at my blue passport with the giant eagle and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA written across the front. “Uh. Yes.”
He looked back down at my passport photo, a solid thirty seconds of silence. Then finally he said, “Wait over there.” Ah shoot. I waited a good hour and a half before I was called again. He was a younger agent, about my age, and watched me carefully as I walked over to him. “Where are you from?” He asked.
“The United States of America,” I answered, handing him my passport and immigration forms.
“Where are your parents from?” He followed up, looking me in the eyes, squinting.
“Both of them?”
He squinted harder. “What are their names?” So I gave them their names. He walked off and I waited another hour. This time, a different agent called me, another young man but a more serious demeanor. He asked where I was born, to which I responded America. He asked where my parents were born – America. He asked what my (Hawaiian) name meant. I stopped myself from saying “America.” I shrugged, because that seemed like it would make the process go faster. It didn’t.
They asked me a million and one questions about Palestine and if I was planning on visiting. They also seemed insistent on asking if I had any Palestinian family members or friends. After another round of questioning my identity, I was begrudgingly let through.
10. The university hoodie (Perth, Australia)
by Steph from A Nomads Passport
“Are you sure you are going on a road trip and not coming here to study?” That is the question an immigration officer asked me at Perth airport, when I returned to Australia for the first time after studying there. I was really confused as I never had issues entering a country before and especially not when entering Australia.
While being questioned about my intention, I kept asking myself of I had somewhere said or written something wrong and if my latest Facebook somehow might have made it seem like I was planning to stay and travel in Australia for more than a month or if my profile still said I was studying there.
The conversation went back and forth and after I told him my exact road trip plans, he realized that a road trip was all I was planning to do. I asked him why he had questioned me, and he just pointed at my hoodie. Turn out that I was wearing my cozy hoodie with the logo of my former Australian university.
Then he said something along the lines of not being able to understand why I wanted to return to Australia after I had lived there and final let me enter the country.
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