Business travel for US nationals
This is one of the common areas of discussions we have with US businesses. The key is to avoid unnecessary visa applications whilst complying with the rules of the jurisdiction you are visiting and to aim for a smooth entry and minimal questioning by government officials at the border.
US nationals can travel for business to most of Europe without requiring a visa, provided the duration of these individual trips does not exceed 90 days (with certain exceptions, depending on the country). The consequences of failing to comply with the terms of each jurisdiction can be detrimental and can impact future immigration applications. It is therefore imperative to ensure the purpose of the trip, activities and duration do not breach the conditions for a business visit for the specific jurisdiction – and to have a clear understanding of this before you are answering questions in front of the border officer.
What you can do
Generally, travel for the purpose of internal activities such as internal meetings, events and training are allowed in most jurisdiction in Europe as a part of the business visitor provisions. There is also scope to negotiate and sign deals and contracts as long as it is not solely benefiting the internal office you are visiting.
Companies that have customers in the jurisdictions they are visiting can also arrange meetings to obtain an understanding of the requirements of the client, but the actual work or service must be completed and provided overseas. International companies usually benefit from a wider range of permissible activities relating to providing training and sharing skills and knowledge internally with their overseas offices and obtaining information for their overseas US office.
What you cannot do
Work. One of the most innocent responses can lead to hours of questioning by the border officer. To most people, even going to a team lunch may be thought of as 'work' in a sense, but to the border officer asking you the purpose of your visit, this simple term has a whole different meaning.
It is reasonable to claim that a business visitor travelling as part of their employment is travelling for work rather than a vacation. However, the term "work" can immediately give the impression that the visit requires a work visa. In general, most client-facing activities will require a form of work visa and this is particularly so if you are paid for the activities undertaken whilst travelling as a business visitor (some jurisdictions allow for certain exceptions based on the specific activity). Where the business visitor is already paid and employed in the US, they must remain so.
Things to consider
The duration of the visit and frequency will be one of the most important factors to consider – regular lengthy trips can be seen as red flags and eventually lead to excessive questioning by the border officer, and potentially entry being refused. There may also be tax implications to consider if you are travelling frequently for purposes relating to business.
It is useful to be able to evidence sufficient funds and accommodation to cover the duration of the visit and carrying a return ticket further demonstrates that you will be leaving the country as part of your genuine intention to enter solely as a business visitor.
Every jurisdiction will have its own specific rules on permissible activities and the boundary between permitted activities as a business visitor and activities requiring a work visa. The experience with the border officer will also vary not just based on different jurisdiction but sometimes even at the same port of entry. The officers have the discretion to ask multiple questions and make a decision based on their assessment of the purpose and genuineness of the trip – it is better to be cooperative during the questioning.
Finally, we strongly recommend seeking legal clarification from the specific jurisdiction to ensure the particulars of the trip are assessed against the rules of the jurisdiction.