I usually write my job status as unemployed on an immigration card and customs application. But does this have any ill effects, such as taking more time to get through it or increasing the chance of being denied to the entry, or being forced to open the baggage at customs?

Or if I write a fake job title and the lie is detected, does this possibly lead to any tiresome result or worse, being charged with a crime or put in jail, depending on the country?

I wonder if I should fill in any fake job or just go by the unemployed status.

  • 4
    A friend of mine usually puts "privatier" into those fields.
    – PlasmaHH
    Aug 24, 2016 at 10:12
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    Oh, never mind, TIL what the French word "privatier" means. Aug 24, 2016 at 10:34
  • 4
    Try with 'freelance consultant'. Aug 24, 2016 at 10:36
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    Yeah, if you really want to experience the full service offering of customs and immigration at your favorite airport - do what @FedericoPoloni said. Aug 24, 2016 at 15:18
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    @Wayne I had the same impression. Also: they often require the occupation in the documents, which has a broader meaning than just "your job", and student is a perfectly fine occupation.
    – Bakuriu
    Aug 24, 2016 at 16:50

3 Answers 3


This really depends on the country, your citizenship, your reason for visiting, etc., but in general - yes, being unemployed increases the chance of having trouble with immigration. When admitting someone as a short-term visitor, immigration officials look at thing like the following:

  1. Does the person have enough money for the intended trip (without resorting to illegal work, trying to get government benefits/welfare, begging, etc)?

  2. Does the person have significant ties to the home country?

  3. How likely is the person to be lying about the purpose and length of the visit (could the person be secretly looking for illegal employment, etc)?

Being unemployed counts against you on all 3 items above. So, you should have really good answers to all 3 questions. Even if it's not strictly required, you should carry with you things like: you proof of sufficient funds, onwards travel ticket that takes you out of the country, proof or already-booked (and ideally already-paid-for) accommodations, proof of insurance (so that an unexpected illness will not leave you without funds), proof of ties to your home country, etc. Be extra diligent with carrying all this proof, printed out, even if you think you won't need it at a particular border crossing. Do not carry items that may indicate that you're looking to stay in the country for a long time or seek employment (e.g. I've heard of people getting in trouble with carrying resumes).

As for customs (opening bags, etc) I don't think an "unemployed" status will be much of a concern here, unless it's opening bags for immigration and not customs purposes (i.e. to check that the items you are carrying are consistent with the purpose of your trip).

DO NOT lie to immigration officials. Doing this can have very serious consequences in many countries, including entry bans for many years.

You may, however, want to rethink how you present your unemployment. Technically, "unemployed" means that you're looking for work and you're unable to find it (which is why it sounds so bad). But if you're e.g. just taking a year off to travel (i.e. you're "intentionally unemployed"), you could say that you're taking a "sabbatical year" or something. If you're old enough to retire, perhaps frame it as "early retirement". Also I notice from your profile you are a "sole-proprietor Software Developer" - if you actually have money coming in on a semi-regular basis from freelance clients and such, I would say you're "self-employed" rather than "unemployed". (Even if you find a better term than "unemployed", all of my advice about carrying proof with you still applies).

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    You forgot the most important one - "Is the person likely to stay and never leave? (de facto immigrant)" Aug 24, 2016 at 15:19
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    If you earn money as software developer, why not fill out software developer, if they ask further you can say you are self employed or between employers.
    – Willeke
    Aug 24, 2016 at 17:17
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    @Willeke Because I don't earn money. Please check out my comment at the question.
    – Blaszard
    Aug 24, 2016 at 17:31
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    @BurhanKhalid That's a particular case of, "How likely is the person to be lying about the purpose and length of the visit?"
    – jpmc26
    Aug 24, 2016 at 21:10
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    @Blaszard: Please edit the useful information (such as not getting income for your work) into your question; comments are meant to be ephemeral. Aug 24, 2016 at 22:01

Or if I write a fake job title and the lie is detected, does this possibly lead to any tiresome result or worse, crime or put on jail, depending on the country?

Keeping people in jail is very expensive: they have to feed you and guard you and build more jails because you're taking up space they could put a murderer in, and stuff like that. So, depending of course on what country you're in, immigration offences are more likely to get you put on the next flight home, at your own expense.

In many cases (e.g., the USA), being caught lying on an immigration form is enough to get you thrown out. That, for example, is why they ask if you're a spy. Convicting you of espionage in a court would take a lot of effort and has a high burden of proof. However, if you're caught spying, then any immigration officer will be satisfied that you lied about being a spy, so your entry clearance is revoked, you're in the country illegally and you get thrown out.

Now, you could say that being caught spying is rather different from being caught not-being-a-circus-clown-when-you-said-you-were-one. And you'd be right. However, many of the questions the immigration officer asks you when you try to enter the country are asked as much to see your reaction as to obtain literal information. When I say that I'm a university researcher, we usually have a little chat about what I research, during which confuse me for a professor or a grad student. They don't care what I research; they care that I can talk about it in a way that sounds like I'm telling the truth. If I claim to be a circus clown and seem nervous and vague when they ask me about it and really relieved when they stop asking me about it, they might start to suspect that I'm not what I said I was.

Long story short: don't lie to immigration officers – it has greater potential to make things worse than to make them better.

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    Wait, so what happens if you claim you are a spy, but then seem nervous and vague when they ask you about it?
    – user23030
    Aug 25, 2016 at 1:24
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    @Michael: IIRC, spies don't benefit from the Geneva conventions, so they can freely increase the urgency of the questioning. Aug 25, 2016 at 7:34
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    @Michael They throw you out for being a spy, then bring you back and throw you out again for lying! Aug 25, 2016 at 9:53

It probably depends on the country and particularly your length of stay.

Many countries require tourists (and rules might be even stricter for other types of visit) to have a solid reason to go back to their home country. And the main reason is a job. The more secure job, the higher social status you have at home, the better chances you have to get in a country without troubles. Another important point is to be able to sustain your living costs, so being able to show proofs of savings is also important.

Usually the chances to be denied will be higher when applying for a visa, not when crossing a border. But saying "unemployed" sounds like a bad signal to me. Immigration agents want to make sure you are not going to work in the country you are supposed to visit. In a world where people are defined by their occupation, coming as "unemployed" can easily sound as "searching for a job". Whatever the official reason for your visit, the immigration agent will likely react if you have no job.

In my personal experience, I always answer what my occupation is supposed to be, and I answer vaguely. The question is usually not what my job at the time is but what job I do (in my career). I was once entering Canada for a long stay (I did not need a visa) after a first long stay. Even though I quit my job for that trip, I said my expected occupation. The immigration agent started raising eyebrows because of a previous long stay and I was gone for a longer interview. I could convince the agent that I had enough resources to sustain my living and that I didn't search a job in Canada, but I would not recommend this situation.

If you just want to keep your job secret (and you DO/did have a job), be evasive about it. Use terms like "manager", "businessman", "engineer", "agent", "civil servant", ...

As for luggage, during my experience it was thoroughly searched but I don't think they were searching for something specific - maybe a printed resume - I took it more as a way to annoy me.

The risks you take with lying depend on each country's laws, but I would not do it. Many countries can ban you from entering the country or detain a foreigner without explanation.

UPDATE: Apparently a lot of people interpret being evasive as lying. While not everyone has job at a time t when travelling into a country, not having any occupation at all in one's life is much less common. You might travel for a living but you probably do not just spend your time going from one place to another without objectives. Maybe you write, maybe you take photograph. Maybe your trip is a break in a career... I do not mean to push people to make up a fake evasive job, I mean that everyone has an activity (making money or not). Be honest about what you do, but saying you are a "beginning self-employed travel writer after a career change" will not get you in the country, while answering you are a "manager" (if that's actually your past job) and adding (only if asked) that you are on a sabbatical (no one needs to know you are trying a new unstable career at that specific moment) is probably good enough.

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    How is saying you're a student (assuming you aren't one, which I believe is the OP's case) different from lying about your job? Aug 24, 2016 at 8:27
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    @DmitryGrigoryev: well, in practice the difference between being vague and lying is (a) your own personal conscience, so possibly quite a big difference there, and (b) the Immigration Officer's opinion of you, so possibly no difference at all there. Stating your occupation as "student" on the basis that you're thinking of maybe signing up for an online course might satisfy your conscience that you're being truthful, but I suspect not the IO. If they pursue it they'll expect to see enrolment in something recognisable as an educational establishment, not a "teach yourself Latin" book. Aug 24, 2016 at 10:39
  • And then they find out you're lying and you get banned from entering that country for 10 years.
    – user253751
    Aug 24, 2016 at 21:10
  • If you say that you're something vague like a businessman, I guarantee that the next question will be, "And what line of business are you in?" This answer is mostly bad advice: you're suggesting covering up a fairly small problem (being unemployed) by making a much bigger problem (bending the truth or lying). If you say you're unemployed, your interview will be longer; if they think you're lying, you're sunk. Aug 25, 2016 at 9:58
  • @DavidRicherby being vague does not mean you do not have yourself a specific occupation. The sentence, as written, applies to the case "you want to keep your job secret" (i.e. you do have a job).
    – Vince
    Aug 25, 2016 at 11:35

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