Jan 02 2008

Life on the Lam

Published by at 9:06 pm under Prague

There exists a golden ticket to the great chocolate factory known as the European Union, which allows its bearer to legally remain for up to 3 months inside a mystical zone containing all countries that have signed the so-called “Schengen Treaty.” The golden ticket’s name is the Schengen Visa, and if you’re caught without one, you are subject to being deported, and possibly banned for the future, from the European Union. Acquiring a Schengen Visa involves a lot of paperwork and processing fees, but given the dire consequences of being caught without one, it’s probably worth the investment. Of course, that’s really only a guess, since neither of us bothered to get one.

That’s not to say that we didn’t try! Before leaving home, I called the U.S. State Department to inquire about the mysterious Schengen Visa, and to find out if we really needed it. Some readers may find the following content disturbing.

State Dept Lady: “U.S. State Department, how can I help you?”

Ben: “Hello, I’m planning to spend six months in Europe, and I’d like some information on the Schengen Visa.”

“The what visa? Can you spell that?”

“Um, sure. S-C-H-E-N-G-E-N. It’s a pretty major Visa requirement for European travel.”

“Hmm, Schengen Visa… you know, I don’t see anything about that. Are you sure there IS such a thing as a Schengen Visa?”

“Yes, I’m quite sure there is such a thing. I’m trying to find out if I need one for my particular trip.”

“Hold on just a moment, sir. I’ll look that up right now.”

“Ok, thank you.”

(several moments pass)

“Sir, are you still there?”


“OK, great. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia…”

I’m sure Wikipedia was a cornucopia of reliable information, but I never heard what “facts” bored teenagers had managed to create in the Schengen Visa entry, because this was the moment I hung up the phone, and accepted that Brittany and I were now on our own.

We’ve now made it almost four months without any Schengen trouble, but upon entering the Czech Republic last week, we had our first scare. We were the last passengers from our plane to join the queue for customs, but were pleased to see that the Czech authorities processed the line quickly. When it was our turn at the customs counter, we handed our passports to the guard in charge. He opened both for an examination, and it quickly became clear that something was wrong.

Rather than giving us the same quick stamp as the other passengers, the guard held my passport close to his face, frowned, and started furiously typing something on his computer. We both know we weren’t supposed to be traveling without the Schengen Visa, but we had sort of hoped that the authorities would take the same stance as the U.S. State Department. That is, an inability or conscious refusal to accurately perform one’s job. But it now appeared there might be no such luck, so Brittany and I exchanged concerned glances, and tried to put on our best happy/clueless/no eminent threat to national security smiles.

For several tense minutes, the guard looked at the passports, then the computer, then the passports, etc. He seemed unsure as to what to do, and glanced around several times as if looking for support from fellow guards. But at this point, we were the only three people left in the airport customs area. Finally, he sighed, stamped the passports, and fished some documentation out of a drawer. He handed this to us with our passports, and we saw that it was an informational pamphlet on the Schengen Visa. I would later read in the pamphlet that Brittany and I fell quite clearly into the column of international traveler labeled “ILLEGAL,” but at that moment, I pocketed the pamphlet and booked it for the exit before he could change his mind.

As we disappeared into the cover of the thick Brno fog, we both knew that we were now officially outlaws. The rest of our time in Europe must now be spent avoiding border checks at all costs, which means no more air travel. Instead, we will be forced to focus on crossing international borders on the sketchiest roads possible, and desperately evading any person who appears, from a distance, to possibly be in uniform. It may be difficult, but it’s all part of our new life on the lam.

NEXT: I heart the Czechs! »



7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Life on the Lam”

  1. Alexon 02 Jan 2008 at 10:40 pm

    I hear that Europe boasts an impressive sewer system, which in some areas dates back to Roman Empire days. Some of these lines may run under national borders. I’d definitely check this out — just carry some emergency flares for light and avoid the rodents, especially if your shots aren’t up to date…

  2. Leeon 03 Jan 2008 at 6:39 am

    Might I also recommend buying a good pair of heavy duty pliers for cutting through those border fences. Not all EU countries are part of the Schengen agreement. So try to escape to one of those :)

  3. Stellaon 03 Jan 2008 at 2:41 pm

    I am sure these two outlaws did not bother with shots!!!!!

  4. Tayloron 03 Jan 2008 at 11:13 pm

    The best place to talk about your life on the lam is totally the internet!

  5. Davidon 04 Jan 2008 at 10:10 am

    I bet border officials could be bribed with raki.

  6. Benon 04 Jan 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Dang, I knew I shouldn’t have drank/mailed all that raki. Maybe they’ll let me off if I promise NOT to make them drink raki?

    Also, I’m thinking Taylor may be right about the risk of confessing to illicit activity in a public forum. Please consider the new title of this post to be: “IF I Did It.”

  7. Laurieon 04 Jan 2008 at 5:40 pm

    How about If I Didn’t Do it or Who…. Moi?

    Where to next Sherlock? Waston?

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