This page has been one of my most popular posts. That worries me. Don’t take any of this as advice. It’s not, and the odds are that it will not work for you. My only advice is NOT to get to the point that you’re googling this sort of thing. This is simply a fun piece about how I nearly got deported myself, and how I avoided it.

Last Monday I was getting ready to walk out the door when the realization hit me like a truck: my visa had expired the day before.

Never mind how I could be so careless as to forget to renew my visa when I’m here preparing for an academic career in China studies and a black mark in my passport would make that much more difficult. Or how deportation could mean I’d have to return home and probably give up said aspirations because I most certainly wouldn’t be able to convince my wife to give it another go, especially if that meant the Mainland instead of Taiwan. This article isn’t about the overwhelming whirlwind of thoughts that plagued my mind once I made this realization. It’s about what I did to prevent the worst from happening, and how you may be able to soften the blow if you do something this stupid.

The most obvious thing to do is to not forget to renew your visa. But assuming you have, please, DO NOT go looking for information on the internet. It’s like asking the Grim Reaper to tell you the gruesome details of how you’ll die, and he tells you all the worst possible ways it could happen. I’ll spare you the misery and list some here for you:

  1. You might have to pay a fine of up to NT$1000 per day
  2. You might have to leave the country and get a new visa, which will cost a lot of money
  3. You might have to leave the country to get a new visa AND pay the fine from #1
  4. You might even get deported and not allowed back in for up to a year

Just knowing that #4 was a possibility scared me to death. I figured that must be rare though, so I thought I’d most likely just have to make a visa run to Hong Kong, which would run me around NT$20,000 (which would really hurt). Nonetheless, I decided to try anything I could to lessen the blow.

Fortunately I had just gotten a haircut the day before, and had decided to shave my beard off. Had I not, I probably would have gotten a haircut and shaven my beard off anyway. Freshly cut and clean-shaven, I also put on a tie and a cardigan, with some clean, solid, dark jeans. The goal here was to look the part of the model foreigner: a clean-cut, polite, responsible, respectable man who made an honest mistake and was trying to make it right.

Next step: I printed out my transcripts from school. This won’t work if you have bad marks or many absences, so skip it if that’s the case (if you can). I had zero absences and very high marks in class, so I figured this would help with creating the respectable image I was going for.

I finally arrived at the Immigration Agency, all relevant documents in hand. I filled out my application and made all the copies I knew they would ask me for, and had everything together before taking a number. Basically I wanted everything to be ready to go, so the lady at the desk would have only had to stamp my visa and give it back, had it not expired. Make it easy for her to help me out.

When I got to the desk, I did the exact opposite of what I was advised to do by the Internets. I was told to “make up a good excuse for it or else you’re screwed”. I figured they deal with this sort of thing often and they can probably smell it from a mile away, so I told the truth. “I’m sorry, my visa is expired. I completely forgot until this morning.”

The girl (fortunately she was about my age, not old and grumpy) looked over all my documents. She paid special attention to my transcripts, so I was really glad I had thought of that. She went to speak with her supervisor, and I overheard her telling him that she thought I really had just forgotten, but I seemed to be a good student, had no absences, good grades, was here with my American wife who was an English teacher, etc.

She came back, stamped my visa, and told me I was all set. “Just next time, make sure to come before it expires”, she smiled. No fees, no trip to Hong Kong, no deportation, no ruined dreams. Just a renewed visa and a friendly admonishment.

Again, don’t let your visa expire. But if it happens, do everything you possibly can to tilt the odds in your favor. Don’t lie. Hope that you get a nice young agent instead of a disgruntled old lady. I can’t guarantee you’ll be as lucky as I was. Everyone I’ve told has been absolutely astonished, and has heard the same type of horror stories I have, so don’t get your hopes up too high. But here’s proof that presenting yourself in the best possible light can go a long way.