Things I Wish I Knew before My First Time in Schengen Europe – Part 1: Detained in Bulgaria

I was searched and interrogated by Bulgarian authorities at Sofia Airport for about 15 minutes because they thought I was an international spy.
Or at least, that’s what I think happened.

It all began when I overlooked a tiny detail on my trip. I found out while leaving Athens immigration that Bulgaria was not part of Schengen, apparently. Oops. (I admit it was a lapse on my part.) Then it all kind of went downhill from there. I was almost denied boarding and almost missed my flight, but in the end I managed to clarify things with the immigration officer (IO) and got to board. My passport was stamped for departure; the stamp was cancelled, and my passport was stamped again.

At Sofia Airport in Bulgaria, the IO had ALREADY let me enter the country with a used single entry Schengen visa after I explained that after Sofia I will only stay inside Madrid airport until I had to take my next flight to Marrakesh, Morocco. After that I wandered around the airport looking for a toilet, a restaurant, until finally the IO caught up with me at the foreign currency exchange. I don’t know if he was observing me from the moment I left but he asked to see my passport again.

I was then led to the detention room where he and his colleague closed the door. Officer 2 reassured me by telling me not to worry as he pointed to the CCTV camera in the corner. This made me realize that this should have been the first thing I took note of, because without surveillance they could have easily planted drugs into my suitcase or whatever and I wouldn’t be writing this post right now.

 

While detailed, my body was searched thoroughly and so was my luggage.

 

IO2 frisked my body while IO1 took my belongings apart (as you can see in the photo.) I was perfectly calm and cooperative the whole time and was even smiling because I had nothing to hide, which in hindsight could have been misconstrued as overconfidence (or reverse psychology? I don’t know).

First time to see a detention cell, which looked every bit like a jail cell

 

“What is this?”

“Um, it’s a (pocket) mirror? (duh)” and not some high-tech fancy-yet-innocent-looking James Bond-type gadget. It wasn’t drugs, a bomb or beef jerky. It was a MIRROR.

Photo of actual suspicious-looking mirror

 

Meticulously examining even the most seemingly common of items is what led me to believe that they were not trying to prove I was a smuggler, drug mule or a terrorist, but something else. I guess being the only Asian in the airport at that time was a big red flag.

Eventually after not finding anything at all, they left me in the room to fix my things and let me go. Before I left for real I asked IO1: “Can you tell me what it is exactly you were trying to look for?” He said “no”, but with a smile. (???)

I don’t know what the IO was so afraid of me doing in Sofia because it was the most boring city I’ve ever been in. The top attractions were all churches and there was absolutely *nothing* to do. I tried going into tourist souvenir shops but they were the tackiest I’ve ever seen and I just wanted to leave immediately. But this is beside the point. As a consequence of overlooking the fact that one of my destinations was not included in my visa, I had no choice but to stay inside Madrid airport. Thankfully, BDO gave me a Priority Pass membership for airport lounge access two months ago, but this is also beside the point. Haha.

The bad news is I did not visit Spain ***on this trip*** anymore as planned and trace my heritage (feeling mestizo). But the good news is I just have to pay USD50 to put myself on “lounge arrest” for two days with unlimited food, shower, wifi, computers, reading material and a napping room. I can’t complain; it could be worse.

When I left Sofia, I also had difficulty in doing so and entering the transit area upon arrival at Madrid airport because of my lovely Filipino passport and because my last flight and next flight were two separate one-way tickets on Ryanair whose customer service didn’t exist, but it’s over and doesn’t matter now.

Lesson of the story: try to get a multiple entry visa instead even if you won’t need it! And by this I mean, tell the European embassy that you intend to go to the UK or somewhere and back to the Schengen area so that they will be compelled to give you a multiple visa.

To summarize everything, I didn’t blow my cover because I received a lot of training specifically for these types of situations so I did not crack under pressure.  😉 #lifegoeson

The (mis)adventure isn’t over!

2 Responses

  1. Great airport adventure, hahaha! I actually would love to be stuck in an airport, a lot of writing materials can be found inside an airport. As I mentioned in my about page, watching people mess themselves up out of boredom is one of my favorite past time during long layovers. But, of course, I wouldn’t want to be in such a situation where there’s a threat to be put in jail thousands of miles away from my country.

    You have lots of interesting stories here. Off to read part 2 ^_^

    • thetravelguyshops

      Thanks Noel! I initially wrote about this in an airport lounge.
      Hope you were entertained 🙂

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