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Tips for Crossing Borders by Land

Border crossing in China
Border crossing in China
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Many budget travelers feel a little anxiety and apprehension about making border crossings by land. 

With machine guns sometimes present, procedures being performed by an unfamiliar government, and the small chance that you may be denied entry, it is easy to see why even people with nothing to hide get nervous!

Crossing borders is just a part of budget travel, and goes flawlessly a majority of time.

Here are some simple tips for getting into your next country:

  • Smile.  Although border officials are notoriously some of the grumpiest individuals to put on a uniform, be courteous and remember that you are a guest, they don't have to let you in!
  • Dress nicer than usual.  Many countries more-closely scrutinize shabby looking backpackers and may enforce rarely-checked stipulations such as having an onward ticket.
  • Be prepared.  If a passport photo is required for the entry form, have it ready rather than making the official wait while you dig for it.
  • Turn your passport to the most relative stamp.  When you hand the official your passport, have your paperwork act as a bookmark for your last entry or exit stamp so that they do not have to search for it.
  • Follow instructions carefully.  Fill out your paperwork as neatly as possible and be sure not to miss any fields on the form.
  • Play dumb.  If you are asked routine questions, the officials are more interested in your reaction rather than responses.  Don't mention that you plan to visit any areas where there may be current conflicts.  Most long-term travelers do not have a job, but when asked about your employment, "student" is a much better response than "unemployed"!
  • Don't have a reason to be nervous.  It goes without saying, but carrying any type of drugs or a weapon could get you into a very bad situation.  Have prescription medication in the original bottle or with a copy of the prescription.
  • Know the regulations.  In Singapore you can be fined heavily just for having a pack of cigarettes in your pocket or bag.

Remember, lots of individuals that prey on travelers usually set up camp near the border because they know you are green; never exchange money right at the border and be more cautious about your belongings.

Be sure not to loose the exit paperwork that you are given, keep it inside your passport until it is needed.  If you loose the form, it may present an opportunity for an official to "fine" you in the form of a bribe.

Just keep your cool when crossing borders, obey any instructions, and you will almost always be welcomed into an exciting new country with open arms!


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