Crossing a physical land border, especially in politically charged or deeply corrupt countries can be intimidating. The general process of a border crossing should be four simple steps, but each country has their own variation. Understanding the process and what to avoid will help you to get through easier.
1. Stamp Out
This is how you formally leave your current country. The border guards will review your passport and visa stamp to verify that your stay was legal and that you didn’t overstay the duration of that visa. Make sure you get an exit stamp.
- If there are any exit fees, you’ll need to pay them here.
- If you received a departure card when you arrived into your current country then this is the time they will ask for it.
2. Cross the Border
Surprisingly sometimes the space between borders is not a few meters but a few miles. You will either need to walk or drive through this no man’s land, but don’t worry, there will be plenty of taxi’s and tuk-tuks to get you there!
- Expect to see touts offering to guide you through the “complicated” border crossing for a ridiculous fee. Some of these guys are legit, some aren’t; it is impossible to tell the difference so it is better to avoid them. With the right preparation, you won’t be needing a guide!
- Pushy currency changers will also be plentiful. Know the exchange rate ahead of time! Most often you will not get a good rate and they are also known for using slights of hand to trick you out of money. If you must, change only a small amount and personally count the money you receive before handing over your cash.
3. Obtain A Visa
This is where you will receive and/or pay for the visa you need to enter the next country, if needed.
It is important to know what the requirements are regarding visas. Depending on the country and purpose of travel, you will either be:
- granted a free visa at the border or
- required to apply and pay for one at the border
- Beware that some countries require you to apply and possibly interview before you ever leave your home country. There are plenty of resources online explaining these frequently changing requirements. Verify with your embassy to make sure you have the latest information before you leave your home country.
- Ensure that you are aware of any fees before you reach the border and whether you will need to pay in US dollars or local currency.
4. Stamp In
Finally, you will need to get your stamp into your new country. Expect the guards to question you on the purpose of your visit, verify your visa and establish how long you will be allowed to stay.
- In some countries expect to go through security after you’ve been stamped in. You and your luggage will be checked, possibly using scanners or security dogs.
- Border crossings can be very corrupt and you could be requested to pay a “fee” that really only ends up in the border guard’s pocket. If you think you are being tricked and you feel comfortable to do so, you can ask for a receipt to pressure the guard into “waiving” the fee. Sometimes arguing over a small fee isn’t worth the trouble. You can file a formal complaint after crossing, but sadly the likelihood that something will change is low.
Though borders can seem intimidating, they all generally follow the same pattern. The key to an easy border crossing is understanding the process and requirements ahead of time. After you’ve gotten a few under your belt, you’ll be a pro!
My first border crossing was quite unpleasant. It was between Thailand and Malaysia and I’d filled in an entry card, queued up and got to the immigration official but hadn’t filled in the part about flight/vessel number. The official told me to go and ask my driver, who just screamed at me and told me to hurry up (or something along those lines). Luckily Malaysia is a lovely place and when I explained this to the official, who could probably see I was shaken, he let me through anyway. I make a point to always note down the bus number now, just in case!
Some extra advice: Be kind, smile, and say please and thank you. These simple courtesies go a long way, and usually help in making the border crossing painless.