Imagine being hit with a travel ban in Europe that keeps you out of all places allowed to go on a Schengen Countries Visa after an overstay visa of only a matter of days. It was that moment that my world was flipped upside down in an instant.
My plan was to fly to Belgrade from my home in Malta to renew my tourist visa. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite happen like that. When I got to the airport in Malta, the customs officer had a long look at my passport, “You know your visa expired 11 days ago, right?”
This was true. I knew my visa in the EU was expired, however, I figured I could bull shit my way through the customs check and waltz out of Malta — no harm, no foul, right?
It didn’t happen like this. The officer wasn’t taking any of my excuses for leaving the country a week-and-a-half late. He directed me to a separate room full of Maltese Immigration Officers where I was told I would be given a three-year ban and immediate deportation from the Schengen Zone.
This was when the severity of the moment hit me. My whole life, I’ve been able to speak my way out of almost everything regarding visas, passports, the law — you name it, I’ve gotten myself out of it.
I have taken the privilege of being a white male with a United States Passport to its brim and finally it was firing back at me. I remained cool and swiftly tried to ask for an exception to the rule (the law). This time, however, the Immigration Officers in Malta weren’t having it.
“I’m sorry, but do you know we could lose our jobs if we let you walk out of here without punishment?”
They wanted to help me, but in the end they were right. I knew exactly what I was doing and I had made the most crucial mistake of my life by not leaving Europe by the time I was allotted to stay.
So, what happened next?
So, now, I was given two options:
Option 1: I could get on my scheduled plane to leave Malta, go to Serbia, and forgo my return trip back to Malta after the weekend had ended.
Option 2: They would allow me to ride to my flat in Malta with an Immigration Officer so that I could pack the rest of my belongings and they would book me in jail for the time being until they could find a direct flight back to the United States that day.
I don’t have many belongings, but in my weekend pack, I only had two t-shirts, underwear for the weekend, a book, and my camera. That means a majority of my belongings were still in my flat. I was in for a long trip home if I chose Option 1, but Option 2 sounded even less enticing.
I couldn’t believe this was real. Jail! JAIL! How was jail all of the sudden my only other option? Life was moving fast and it was hard to realize any of it was happening.
Of course, I told the Immigration Officers that I would continue with my flight to Serbia and find my way home from there, but only after I pleaded with them one last time to no avail to make an exception.
They didn’t bite and I signed the legal papers that sealed the deal: Banned from Europe for THREE YEARS. As I did that, one of the officers made clear, “If you try to take your return flight back to Malta, there will be an officer waiting with handcuffs when you walk through the arrival doors.” That’s when I knew this was absolutely serious.
“Don’t try to enter into any other countries a part of the Schengen agreement, either,” he said, “Your passport will notify the officer at any country’s customs that you are not allowed to be here. The same thing will happen to you wherever you try to go.”
I heard the message loud and clear.
When Reality Started to Set
Where to go from here? Your guess was as good as mine. I listened to some sentimental tune as my plane flew away from the island I’ve called home for the past two years – likely for the last time.
Why does immigration have to work like this? Why does there have to be borders in this world? I tried to feel for all of the people in this world who have been labeled with the radically misrepresented explanation “refugee”. However, in the tenseness of the situation, I could only selfishly focus on what I was going to do.
A bunch of options ran through my head:
- Settle down in Belgrade.
- Spend some time traveling the Balkans.
- Move to Montenegro like I had been planning at one point or another.
All of these options, and yet, my gut and my bank account were telling me that I needed to go home. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to be alone. Usually, I deeply appreciate my time to myself. But at this moment, the situation continued to weigh on me heavier and heavier and I needed a distraction.
Luckily, I had one right when I arrived to the airport in Belgrade.
Arriving in Serbia to a Familiar Face
I had planned to meet my friend Lily in Belgrade for the weekend. She had been traveling in Malta the year before and that is when we met.
I found her waiting for me outside of my arrival gate in the Belgrade airport and I immediately broke the news to her. I apologized to her because I really needed the day to situate my new circumstance. We arrived in our hostel and I spent the following hours on the phone with various immigration officers, embassy employees, and immigrant organizations.
I was trying anything in my power to get the decision reversed but found no luck. It seemed the ban was going to be permanent (at least for the next three years). I started to contact family and friends both back home and in Malta to update them on my situation. It was sad realizing that there would be some great friends in Malta that I may never see again because of this.
Lily got me up and exploring, luckily, which deviated my mind from the situation while we were out and about. Without a friend with me, I’m unsure of how I would have handled it.
Finding a Way Home by Any Means Neccessary
I still didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go next. I started to look at ridiculously priced last-minute flights to anywhere in the United States. As long as I got to the U.S., I was sure I could find an affordable way to make it home. However, nothing really agreed with my bank account.
As my story started to spread between people I had just met in the hostel, even complete strangers began to help me find a solution. I was living the nightmare that no one else could imagine.
Finally, an affordable flight to New York was found. It would take me clear to Moscow and halfway back around the world again, but at least it would get me closer to home. I immediately booked my ticket back to the United States and I realized this European chapter of my life was soon coming to an end.
However, the story was far from finished there.
A Week In Belgrade
I spent a week in Belgrade. Lily left as the weekend ended like planned before the travel ban Europe situation. I met a new friend, Joey, who continued to distract me from reality. Belgrade began to wear old on me – it’s not my favorite place in the world.
When my flight had taken off, I knew I was in for a long trip home. When booking travel at the last minute, usually you have to expect to pay out the ying-yang or have many layovers and transfers. Given my financial situation, the long, drawn-out way home was my only option.
First, Moscow. A ten-hour overnight layover there. Anyone who has ever slept in an airport can tell you it’s not the most comfortable situation to be in. Then, I had a flight directly to New York. Once there, it was a 14-hour (mostly overnight) wait until my Greyhound bus departed the next day.
To be crazy enough to book a bus from New York City to Kansas City, you have to be absolutely out of other options (or hit with an overstay visa travel ban in Europe the week before); which I was. I could fly – but the last-minute flights were almost double what it cost to fly from Serbia to Moscow to New York. I couldn’t afford it.
Impressions Back in America
So, another night in the airport, then I’d wake up in the morning and explore for a few hours before leaving the city by bus.
Arriving in America for the first time since leaving over eighteen months prior to my travel ban Europe Schengen Countries Visa overstay was difficult for me. A lot had changed in the eighteen months since leaving (namely, our political leadership). However, that wasn’t what I noticed.
What I noticed was how we treat people and how others spoke down towards one another. Even only with the people whom I crossed paths with in the airport and on my way to the Greyhound Station, I witnessed a lot of discouraging interactions. I was treated with more respect in Europe even with a travel ban to Europe than many people I witnessed here were.
Perhaps, it was just because I had spent the past eighteen months in foreign towns where I could not eavesdrop and understand the local interaction. Or, maybe, I had forgotten the way Americans treat each other and foreigners. However, I heard many harsh tones and blatant disrespectful comments towards one another and it became increasingly annoying.
Chasing Kerouac in New York Rain
I spent the early morning in the rain tracing down my favorite writer, Jack Kerouac’s, footsteps as he would have walked the city almost seven decades ago. I saw the apartment in which he wrote my favorite novel (“On the Road”) and the places he mentioned in several other novels.
It was one of the things I did on my journey home to keep me distracted from what had transpired the week before.
The Bus Ride from Hell
Then came the SIXTY-HOUR Greyhound bus ride from New York City to Kansas City. Originally, I had booked it thinking that it might be nice to take a ride through the east side of the country I hadn’t been home to in eighteen months. Wrong. I was just telling myself this to make-up for my inevitable cheapness.
I have nothing but poor things to say about Greyhound Bus service as a company and about their employees, so to keep this post as positive as I can (although, it’s a very melancholic story as is), I will spare you from the curse words and move on to the ending of this overstay visa story.
After multiple nights aboard a bus, countless layovers and delays in less-than-clean bus stations, and multiple interactions with suspect characters, I finally arrived home in Kansas City. But this didn’t come without hardships either. I suppose a travel ban in Europe just wasn’t enough bad luck.
Not Home Yet
Immediately after arriving, before I could even get home, a sharp pain arose in my lower stomach. I’d never felt anything like it. I couldn’t bare it and had to go immediately to the Emergency Room. More than forty-eight hours later, my 6mm kidney stone had been removed and I was finally on my way home. This has nothing to do with travel but more-so my poor diet on the way home (I hardly ate or drank anything after leaving Serbia). Perhaps, the stress of the journey and travel ban to Europe spoiled my appetite.
It was a long and overwhelming week and a half, but now that I’m home, all I can do is start planning the next journey. Have any overstay visa questions? I’ve become somewhat of an expert at the rules and regulations within the past month AFTER the travel ban in Europe so don’t be afraid to contact me via email or social media with your concerns about your visa in the Schengen Visa countries.
If you’ve ever read my guide about my overstay visa and evading the 90-day European Visa rules, please ignore it all. Kidding, of course, you should definitely click the link and read it. Thousands of people (including myself) use that strategy every year and are successful because most of the time there is no issue or travel ban Europe. However, in my case, I ran into some bad luck and it cost me and I now have a travel ban to Europe. . . At least, the Schengen Visa countries.