Looking back on my three months of working remotely from Europe, Ethiopia, and the UK, I can say I would love to do it permanently. From what I can tell, there is no legal reason I couldn’t live in the UK without a work visa as long as I was working for a US employer.
According to the UK immigration website, as a US citizen I automatically get a six-month visa when I enter the country as a tourist, without even applying.
Paying rent could be a challenge. I’m certain it would be impossible to open a UK bank account. I would have to find a landlord who was willing and able to have rent paid electronically, probably from PayPal.
What stops me from seriously considering this plan? Well, every time I enter the UK I get grilled by border control. This happens to my UK friends when they enter the US, too. I got grilled by Danish border control when I entered Denmark, so it’s not uncommon.
When I came to the UK from Ethiopia, I walked from the plane through halls festooned with welcoming slogans, “Welcome to the UK!” “See the English Countryside!” “Visit Historic Palaces!” In other words, they want people to visit and spend money in the UK.
I waited in line for a border agent. Again, there were banners above the agents’ booths proclaiming the beauty of the English countryside, historic sites, museums, etc.
I stepped up to the booth and after looking over my passport, the Sikh border agent barked at me, “Why are you coming here?”
“Tourism,” I replied.
He looked skeptical, especially when I said I would be staying for two and a half months. Would I be working in the UK? No, I replied. And this was true to the spirit of the question, I believe. I would be working remotely for an American employer, not for a UK entity. I would not be stealing a job from a UK citizen, or being paid by a UK employer and transferring my paycheck to an American bank. I wouldn’t be collecting any public benefits.
I was afraid that if I tried to explain any of the above I would be whisked into an interview room. Just in case they did that anyway, I also had a letter of employment and documentation of all my US assets including my condo in an envelope in case they wanted proof that I had reasons to return to America.
He asked for the addresses where I would be staying, the names of my friends, and the places we were planning to visit. He asked to see my return plane ticket, which I had printed out and ready.
Finally, reluctantly, he stamped my passport and without even speaking to me, waved the next passenger forward.
So I got in okay this time. But—what if I cooked up a plan to stay in the UK for six months—the length of a tourist visa—and got turned away at border control? How much more suspicious would they be of six months than two and a half months? The uncertainty just wouldn’t be worth it. There’s no information about this on the UK immigration website, and I don’t want to raise a red flag by asking about my personal case. I can just imagine them flagging my record somehow to ban me from entering. All because I love their beautiful country and want to spend my American paycheck there.
And it is a beautiful country. You may be thinking, “America is beautiful too!” and you would be right. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, Florida beaches, Monument Valley, Lake Superior, and Highway 1 in California. There’s plenty of beauty in both countries and I intend to see as much of it as I can.
From the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Possum drove us through tiny, twisting roads to Portmellon, where we walked on the beach and had a half pint in a pub called The Rising Sun.