Challenges with Border Guards - RE the Laws

Been doing international sitting almost 7 yrs full time. I always say I’m a tourist and/or visiting friends. I learned the hard way right after the pandemic was declared.
I rarely spend time in North America now, but when I used to cross from US to Canada by car, the Canadian border guards were always tough. I was a photographer and they asked if I am coming to shoot a wedding. Totally caught me off guard because I used to work shooting weddings but this time, I was just touring.


We live an hour from the border and have had Canadian housesitters several times. One of them (a repeat THS sitter) was denied entry on the day we were leaving for a ten day holiday. That was extremely upsetting for both of us. Now, when we do a meet and greet on zoom with Canadian’s, we discuss this and make sure that the sitter says they are visiting friends.


Do you know why that repeat sitter was denied entry?

I wasn’t aware that these letters were available but grateful that they exist. I’ll be heading to the US for a 3 month sit later this year and I’ll be sure to include it in my paperwork. Although on previous occasions when asked the ‘reason for my visit’ I usually say vacation because that’s the role that TH plays in my life -opening up opportunities to see the world and live like a local. The pets are an added bonus.


Yes, I was an American hockey mom for years, crossing back and forth to Canada many times. It’s luck of the draw. Some guards really, really take their job seriously, too seriously. We learned not to talk or offer information that wasn’t asked, never joke. We learned the rules. We also learned to make it very obvious our son was a hockey player - sticks and gear in sight!

When I went to EU I was so worried I would have this issue but nobody asked beyond my answer of traveling for “holiday” thank goodness. I had addresses and names of the HO and warned them the border patrol might call to confirm I was staying with them. “Staying with locals and in airbnbs.”


We would not lie so so we were denied entry at the Belfast border, spent nearly $3000 to get airline tickets back to the US within 24 hours, and our homeowners were left to make adjustments; all causing much stress. We love the UK, but are hesitant to return. We did nervously pass through Gatwick for a pet sit on the Isle of Man; albeit with visas after this incident. The kind IO said it was essential that we had taken this step and let us through. We have spent several years attempting to determine if visas are needed for any future travel to the UK. Can anyone speak to this query?

Well, I wouldn’t say you’d be lying by saying you’re travelling. If pushed further as to where you’re staying it would be with friends and hotels/airbnbs etc. As I and others have said after much communication and video calls with home owners I feel they are friends. Having read about the hard time people have been given in the US I can’t imagine entering the UK is anywhere near as bad, but I’m from the UK so obviously don’t have a problem entering.


I’ve never had to get a visa to visit the U.K. as a U.S. citizen. Never had problems entering, either, over many trips over the years. Most recent trip was in May, during which I sat and did sightseeing after the sit. I’ll be returning for two sits soon.

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Hi @donw , sorry to hear you had this problem. Like the others, I say I am visiting friends and have never had a problem. THS has a form letter they provide that you can present at Customs that explains the THS concept but I prefer to skip that and keep it simple.

No visa has been required in the past but if you’ve read the news and seen the posts here, come 2024 we will all need visas (called EU Travel Information & Authorisation System (ETIAS)) to visit countries in the European Union.

The UK will also require a pre-authorization form:

From Conde Nast Traveler:

  • U.S. visitors—as well as visitors from Europe, Australia and Canada—will soon be required to apply for permission to enter the U.K. through a new scheme known as Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).

The U.K. government is in the process of fully digitizing U.K. borders by the end of 2025—and the ETA scheme will play its part, allowing “individuals, and carriers, with more assurance at an earlier point in time about their ability to travel to the U.K.,” the government said.

Whenever we’ve crossed a border (US, UK, France, Italy mostly), we are usually asked why we are entering and how long we are staying, and where we are going. We always say we’re on vacation and sometimes add in visiting friends as well. Both are true IMO. Housesitting is a vacation for us and the homeowners are friends.

ETA: We always carry the home owner’s (our friends’) address in case we are asked where we are staying, as well as the names of any hotels etc we have booked. So far, no one has asked.


That’s good to know as we’re in Vancouver and just did our first sit in Bellingham last month but had no problem crossing but plan to do more sits across the border.

At this point we are just looking for anyone who has experienced an entry refusal and/or can give us information that we asked for concerning the continued necessity of visas.
Thank you.

I’m busy this morning (BST+1) @donw but, as I’ve been an Entry Clearance Officer for the UK, processing visa applications in various countries outside UK, I will later compose a reply that might address your questions.
I hope I can assist, I hope you’re OK with waiting :wink:

I did get stopped at passport control in Berlin. The border guy checked my passport was signed, asked where I was staying (I showed him the HO’s address) and asked what sights I was looking forward to seeing.
That was the most interrogation I’ve faced in my 10 European trips.

I will try to answer your query; please bear in mind that although UK Immigration was my entire working life (at the border on passport control at LGW, LHR and other smaller ports, in London tracing and dealing with illegal entrants & overstayers; at UK Embassies and High Commissions across the world in Visa Sections and latterly running a Risk Assessment Unit to counter all forms of illegal immigration including organised criminal gangs), I have been retired for a while and therefore am not au fait with current rule amendments and new practices such as US citizens passing through eGates. And of course I can only speak about UK Immigration, not other countries.

So, you were refused leave to enter the UK. I can extrapolate from this are that you flew directly into Belfast without clearing immigration somewhere larger like LHR or LGW. That could have been part of the problem as the major ports would have been unlikely to spend very much time on you but Belfast is very small. You don’t say how long ago you were refused but you clearly spoke with an Immigration Officer whose first question was “how long are you staying in the UK” and next “what is the purpose of your trip?”. These questions are always the starting point. Your answers to this were the likely key to your further troubles (unless you were 20 years old, wore surf shorts and flip-flops, had a one-way ticket and $50 in your pocket). I don’t know what you said as a response to these 2 questions and maybe you planned to come to UK for 6 months, which always sets off alarm bells but you probably chimed in with “pet sitting” at an early stage and, as I have covered earlier in this thread that just isn’t compatible with UK Immigration Law, no matter what innocent slants the community put on it.

Your 24 hour Temporary Admission (I’m sure that you weren’t detained) and $3000 were standard procedure. The UK Govt doesn’t pay to remove refusals, it is the responsibility of the inbound carrier to bear the cost and arrangements for removal. UKIS issues Removal Directions to the airline and the airline will do their very best to get you to pay for that (or you can make a “voluntary departure” BEFORE the refusal decision is made, at your own expense but obviously this was not your situation).

Onward now to your current situation. You hold a visa or Entry Clearance, which is absolutely the right thing to have done. It is 100% asking for trouble for a previous refusal to arrive on UK soil without having sorted out the reasons for the refusal and obtaining prior Entry Clearance. However, I am very confused about the nature of your EC and how you obtained it. (BTW I have assumed that you are US nationals, rather than another nationality residing in the US). Do you mean you had an IOM specific visa (which is processed by a British Embassy on behalf of IOM) or a UK Entry Clearance? For what purpose did you obtain the clearance? (By which I mean what category of clearance did you apply for and get? Visit, Work…?) I can’t reconcile the fact that you were issued an EC, post refusal, to do the very thing for which you were refused entry in the first place. I would need more info about it in order to be specific, so if you wish you can send me a PM rather than discuss it on the forum.

However, the bottom line in response to your attempt “to determine if visas are needed for any future travel to the UK” would be an emphatic YES but I have to understand the IOM/pet sit/visa situation first.

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You are visiting as a tourist. Don’t get caught up in the technicalities; the reason you’ve joined THS is to experience other places and localities. Your THS dues pay for your accommodations and were paid prior to entering another country.

That is both the truth and mindset you need while traveling abroad.


I was questioned in secondary at San Francisco entering from New Zealand… I said on my arrival info I was here for tourism (which I am, as well as doing some sits) but they’re extremely good at questioning, and I couldn’t outright lie - I don’t have the nerve haha… Eventually the border guard did let me in (on ESTA waiver) mostly because I proved that I had enough money for the 2.5 months I’m here. But the guard also warned me that house-sitting is considered working and I could be refused entry to the US if I try again. I think it’s partly luck on the border guard you get since it seems to still be a grey area at the moment. If I ever want to do another extended duration of US sitting… work visa?


It’s unlikely in the U.S. that anyone would be granted a work visa for sitting homes or pets. Why: Work visa screening usually requires a sponsor (employer) and a claim that the job can’t be filled by an American. No one would rationally think you can’t find an American who can do such work.

I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve hired/managed people who needed visa sponsorship and worked with a number of people who’ve had work visas. U.S. work visas are relatively hard to get.

Even in the case of some people who legitimately qualify for work visas, they often are stressed about changing jobs or losing them, because you can easily be sent back to your homeland if you can’t get someone to hire and sponsor you within a short window. That’s why you’ll see people on LinkedIn trying to help people with work visas get hired quickly when they’ve lost their jobs.

@Emily2509 There is no visa that would permit house/pet-sitting in the US. I’m an immigration lawyer and have done mostly employment-based immigration in my career. Most employment-based categories require a petitioning employer, and the visa is employer-specific.

In the case of almost all temporary (nonimmigrant) visa categories, it isn’t required to show that there isn’t an available US worker. This is a requirement for many permanent residence (green card) applications, but not the nonimmigrant categories.


@Lassie thanks for the info. I hadn’t really thought much about it but assumed if it counts as work, a work visa would be the way to go. So there’s no real way a non American can house sit in the US without risking being denied entry (apart from hiding the fact of being there to house sit from immigration)?

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