How NOT to get kicked out of the Netherlands - Part 1
Here is a free piece of advice: if you ever plan to spend more than 90 days in the Schengen Area of continental Europe, make sure your visa situation is squared away. I did not do this so learn by my example…if you have not already.
If you are an expat reading these words in the Netherlands, you are probably there on a student visa or you have been sponsored by an employer or your significant other.
But let's say you are like me. You have foolishly traveled to Europe on a visitor's visa, you plan to stay over 90 days and you are altogether oblivious when it comes to "The Rules." If you fall into this unfortunate predicament, well, keep reading.
On an afternoon in early April, just a few weeks ago, my girlfriend "M" and I flew from Dublin to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. We had spent a fantastic week touring the Emerald Isle, encountering eccentric locals and locales alike. An ominous feeling drifted from my gut up my spine and into my brain the moment we landed in the Netherlands.
M and I had been pulled aside by a customs official before leaving. "There could be a problem with your visitor's visa," he told us cooly. "But don't worry about it. When you get back, call the Immigration and Naturalisation Service. They’ll probably grant you an extension. No problem."
LESSON #1: When a Dutch official says "no problem" before sending you on your way, there is a good chance you are in for trouble somewhere down the line.
M and I got off the plane, joining the herd of travellers in the queues at the customs check point beneath Schiphol's international terminal.
My heart was racing as we approached an officer with bored eyes. After a quick glance, he handed my passport over to a tiny, balding man behind him. An evil grin snapped across his face like a rubber band. "Come with me," he said. "There is an issue."
He led us out of the queue and back into a large, subterranean hallway. On one side: a long window lined with the life-sized silhouettes of travelers; a piece by a Dutch artist no doubt eager to convey a sense of freedom and frivolity that our immediate surroundings definitely lacked.
On the other: a stone-gray counter that separated us from a large office filled with a dozen security guards.The tiny man handed my passport to a young guy wearing "Buddy Holly glasses."
And so began one of the worst three hour stretches of my entire life. "Buddy Holly" told us to wait and disappeared into the depths of the office. All we could do was stand around and wait. And wait. And wait...
The hallway's few seats were filled with a fretful family from India. Two of their young children buzzed around like Transformers in mid-battle, screaming at the top of their lungs.
Their joyful yelps and shadow-boxing made it impossible to get a handle on what was happening. I was trapped in a nightmare that every expat or immigrant dreads: detainment.
I felt nauseous. M was starring at her shoes and trying to fight back tears. I felt like throwing-up but one of the kids in the hall beat me to it. He had become so wound-up while imitating Optimus Prime that he suddenly puked on the floor.
One of the guards came out with a glass of water and some paper towels. A short while later, the family was allowed through customs. Over the course of an hour, we watched various people, predominantly of Middle Eastern descent, endure short periods of detainment and questions, no doubt due to their countries of origin. M and I took a seat and waited. And waited. And waited..
Eventually, Buddy Holly emerged and explained the problem. I had overstayed my visa.. or, to be more specific, I was about to do so. As of 2005, a citizen of the United States can only spend 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area. By setting foot in Schiphol, I had officially reached day 90 and, unless he could acquire an exception from an official at the IND, I would not be allowed into the Netherlands.
The policies pertaining to a visitor's visa is clear but I was operating under the incredibly foolish assumption that I would not get caught and that the Dutch government was lax when it came to these things. M, who moved to the Netherlands after completing college in the United States, has been a permanent resident since 2001.
Prior to her decision to apply for residency, she came and went from the country as often as she pleased. Since then, and likely in response to increased security measures in recent years, regulations and polices have changed.
That said, I was not relying entirely on her decade-old experiences or what I had been told by the customs' official prior to our departure. During my time in the Netherlands over the winter, I spoke with several expats that have managed to skirt the rules over the years.
Many no doubt had luck on their side. Others came and went via train or car. Would I have run into these problems if M and I had visited London instead and returned via the Channel Tunnel?