How to Successfully Pass Through a Border Crossing

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During my time traveling I’ve crossed lots of borders and had lots of different experiences in doing so.

Whenever you’re crossing a border from one country to another (or from one region to another), it’s natural to feel a little on edge (especially if you’re traveling in third world countries) as you never quite know exactly what’s going to happen.

Here are a few tips to make the experience a little easier:

1. Research Visas and Immigration Fees Before You Get There

Depending on the passport you hold and the country you’re trying to enter, you may need to pay an immigration fee (to either leave or enter a country) and you may need to get a visa to enter.

Depending on the country, some visas can be bought at the border whereas some need to be bought from a central office (possibly up to a week in advance).

It is a good idea to find out before arriving at a border whether you need a visa or not and whether you’ll have to pay an immigration fee or not.

If you’re staying at hostels along the way, most hostel owners/admin staff will be able to inform you on the visa situation (as was my experience traveling around South-East Asia).

For US citizens, check out the US Department of State website to find out all the information you need to know about entering different countries.

For non-US citizens, most countries will have their own version of this website.

Border checkpoint

2. Plan Your Transportation Beforehand

This is a no-brainer most of the time, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Most border checkpoints will be out in the middle of nowhere, so it’s very rare that you’ll be able to walk to or from a border checkpoint (and why would you want to?)

Because of this, you’ll want to plan out how you’re getting to and from each border point before arriving.

If you’re traveling via coach/bus, this is usually pretty straightforward as the bus will drive you straight through (as is common in South-East Asia). You might have to get off to physically walk through the border point and rejoin the bus on the other side.

In some countries, it is common for taxi drivers to proposition you as you cross through a border. Whether you take them up on their offer is entirely up to you (and how much money you have to spend).

While getting a taxi from the border can be extremely convenient, they might not always be there so it is wise to plan for life without them.

3. Make Sure Your Passport and Travel Documents Are On Hand

On your journey to the border point, you’ll probably have you main backpack stored away in the bottom of the coach or in the trunk of the car.

Before you set off, make sure that you have your passport and any relevant vaccination/immunization records on hand so that you don’t have to go looking through bags to find them once you reach the border.

It’s also wise to keep a small amount of money with you (in case you need to pay any fees).

4. Know the Exchange Rate of the Country You’re Entering

Changing over money at the border is extremely convenient (as it’s the perfect time as you’ll usually be waiting around for something or other).

That being said, it can be a little confusing – especially if you’re unfamiliar with the currency of the country you’re entering.

If you’re planning on changing over any money, look up the exchange rate beforehand to find out what kind of deal you’re getting and how much commission you’ll be paying.

I’m a firm advocate of noting down all of my expenses as I travel (whenever possible), so it’s important to find out how much money you’re losing in the changeover (as you will inevitably lose some whenever you exchange currency).

5. Mind Your Safety

Some border crossings in Central and South America and in parts of the former Soviet Union can be a little iffy at the best of times, so it’s important to take the proper precautions in order to stay safe.

Remember safety in numbers, so if possible cross the border as part of a group. Even if you’re traveling solo, try to pair up with another traveler beforehand.

In addition to this, try not to act like too much of a tourist when you cross. Keep your belongings hidden away and don’t take photographs or film the scenery around (filming border points is actually illegal in some countries and can get you in serious trouble if they think you’re a spy/terrorist).

6. Do Business With Official Border Staff Only

In some countries (particularly in South-East Asia and Central America), the border crossing points aren’t as organized as you might expect.

Non-official ‘staff’ will stand around and try to do the jobs of the official staff (i.e. by handing you a customs form to fill in). The problem with this is that they will charge you for this ‘service’, and oftentimes the forms they give you will be out of date or invalid.

If you have any other tips/experiences with crossing over borders during your travels, feel free to share them in the comments section below!

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