Prepare To Cross An International Land Border with these 15 Steps
I have been traveling extensively for the last 5 years and crossing many international borders, and in this blog post I want to share some tips about crossing land borders that I wish I knew when I started out. To ensure the process of crossing a border for you goes as smoothly as possible, I recommend including the following 15 steps in your preparations.
Part 1: What to prepare for the Border Crossing
1.1 Bring Proof of Transportation booking to leave the country
If you’re visiting a country temporarily as a tourist, almost every country will ask you to have proof in the form of a ticket/reservation to show that you do intend to leave the country and that you aren’t likely to stay for an indefinitely long time. This can be a return flight ticket, an onward flight ticket to a new destination or just a bus/train ticket in certain cases. However, I don’t always have an exact date in mind for when I am leaving when I enter a new country. So I like to book a flight through Expedia because for most flights booked through the website/app, they offer a 24 hour free cancellation period (do make sure that this option is available for your particular flight before booking). I usually book a refundable flight the same day I am attempting to cross the border, and if I don’t cross, I can just cancel it and don’t lose any money. Usually I cancel the flight anyways after entering the country, because I don’t want to commit to catching a flight one month into the future as my travel plans change frequently. If a refundable flight isn’t an option, as I have found in some destinations, I book a bus/train ticket to a nearby country. Although these are not usually refundable, they have always cost me under $20 USD (examples come to mind in the Balkans), so it’s an expense I can afford for the peace of mind. Note that how much this requirement is enforced depends on your nationality/passport and the country you are visiting. Bangladeshi citizens like me need to show this almost every time. If you have a passport as strong as a EU passport, this seems to be less strictly enforced. However, you will surely need this for flights into certain countries like the US where they won’t let you board a flight without a return ticket (I have seen this happen in Sweden as the person sitting next to me had to book a flight at the gate).
1.2 Bring Proof of Accommodation
It is very common for immigration officers to want to see a reservation showing you have accommodation inside the country. Most popular booking websites will provide you refundable booking options for hotels and hostels. Because I usually don’t know for sure where I will be staying beyond the first few days, I split up these bookings into 2 parts. The first reservation is usually for a hostel/hotel where I actually intend to stay for the first few days. Beyond that, I have a refundable booking for a cheap hostel on Hostelworld from the day my first reservation ends till the day my refundable flight ticket shows that I am supposed to leave.
1.3 Bring Proof of Finances to support your trip
A lot of embassies state that visitors need to show proof of finances to support their trip and immigration officers may ask to see this. This can be in the form of cash or they may even ask you to show your bank balance online. I usually never carry more than emergency cash, and haven’t ever been asked to actually pull up my bank balance on my phone. But I do have the app for my bank downloaded and ready in case I do, because this did happen to an Australian friend of mine when he was visiting the US.
1.4 Bring Proof of Medical Insurance that covers the trip
This is also good to have if you are trying to get an On-arrival Visa, but rarely asked for.
1.5 Don’t Carry Items that Customs may try to tax you on
Before entering a new country, you should always check on customs and regulations guidelines and see what you are allowed to bring in to ensure you aren’t bringing anything that will get you into trouble. Now if you are trying to go to a country that is known to have problems with corruption, it is best to completely avoid carrying items that are even partially restricted. Unfortunately, we live in a world where immigration/law-enforcement officers can sometimes be corrupt individuals trying to get a bribe where they can. The best way to protect yourself from such undue harassment is to not carry items that dishonest folks could try to charge you fines/taxes on.
1.6 Be careful about who you are traveling with/ being associated with
During immigration at an airport, you are usually on your own and have to go to a semi-isolated area to meet the immigration officer. But during land border-crossings you are often all put in one big line, and officers can associate you with who you are standing next to and chatting with in the line or even who you are sitting next to in the bus/van that you are taking. So be careful to not associate with other fellow travelers on the road who might be carrying illegal substances that would get you both into trouble.
1.7 If you are carrying any medication, carry the prescription along with it
Last thing you want is for security screening to find a suspicious batch of unmarked pills in your bag. If you are carrying medication, keep the prescription handy. If you travel with vitamins like me, try to keep the original container-label handy.
1.8 If you’re somewhere with high levels of corruption/crime, carry a “drop-wallet”
A “drop-wallet” is a term used to describe a secondary wallet where you don’t carry too much cash, while you keep your main amount of cash in a hidden pocket. If you are travelling through safe places like Canada, Europe, Australia etc., you don’t need such protections and I don’t use them either. But it definitely comes in handy in more dangerous territories, where a fat wallet full of cash could attract the attention of criminals or corrupt law-enforcement officials looking for bribes.
1.9 Carry some emergency cash
It’s always good to have enough money to get a hotel for the night and to get yourself a taxi to a nearby town where you can access an ATM. I used to use all my cash before I entered a new country, because I figured the currency would be less valuable in the new country anyways. That changed when I got rejected at the Kosovo border in 2018, and got stuck in a very sticky situation where I couldn’t afford a taxi to go back to any Albanian city. Now I always have $50–100 on me in case I come across such emergencies.
1.10 Keep your valuables on you
Keep you most valuable objects i.e. your phone, wallet, electronics, financial documents etc. in your pockets or in a waist-pack/backpack that you never separate from. Sometimes you have to leave part of your luggage on the vehicle when going through immigration, and I often see people leaving everything in the bus. No matter how safe of a country, leaving your valuables unattended is never a good idea.
1.11 Check vaccination requirements for entry well before your journey
This is particularly relevant now because we are in a pandemic, but has always been important in certain countries. For example, a lot of African countries will not let you enter unless you have the Yellow Fever vaccination. If your vaccination records are online, it’s good to have print-out of the records handy as well, in case your phone dies.
1.12 Look like a Tourist when at immigration
This one is especially important if you’re a citizen of a developing country (like mine) but not so much if you’re from a high-income country with a great passport. Countries want tourists who will spend a lot of money in their country and help their economy, so it’s in your best interest to look that part with your best clothes when you’re dealing with immigration. Obviously, use common sense and don’t walk around looking too flashy at dangerous borders either. But you don’t want to look like you’re a broke person with torn-up clothes at immigration, as this is more likely to make you look like someone who will illegally overstay their welcome in the country.
Part 2: How to prepare for entering a new country
2.1 Google border-crossing guide blogs/vlogs for your location
For any international border crossing that you are going to take as a traveler, chances are that an uncountable number of travelers have already used it and more than one have decided to make a blog or YouTube vlog about it. Just google the route you are going to take and you will most probably find it and it will likely make your journey a lot easier. Just make sure to check the date of publication because these opinion pieces don’t always get updated with time. And also take everything you read with a grain of salt, because they are opinion pieces after all.
2.2 Download offline Google maps data for the route of your journey
Google maps can help you navigate where you are even if you don’t have a sim card or data, and help you find nearby restaurants, ATMs, hotels, bathrooms etc. using simply GPS signal. This has been a life-saver for me more times than I can recount when visiting new countries. Just download the offline maps for whatever area you think you will be in and be little generous with the estimates of the size of the area if you can afford another extra 100–200 MB. Offline google maps, however, will not provide you live transit times for public transport. If you need to know this in advance, you should look up the transits beforehand while you have access to internet and take a lot of screenshots to figure out when/where you have to catch your bus/train/tram in foreign lands.
P.s. If you’re going to a country like China where google is banned, you will have to look into alternative map apps
2.3 Download any foreign languages that you may need on Google Translate
There are countries like the Netherlands where almost everyone speaks English fluently. Then there are ones like Turkey where almost no-one does once you leave the touristy spots. An easy solution to the language barrier is downloading the languages that you might need to translate from/to on Google Translate. While the app is not as good as it is with internet/an active sim card with data, offline mode with downloaded languages is still good enough to get the job done just about anywhere.
2.4 Let someone responsible you trust know about your travel plans in advance
You will probably never need this, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. In case your trip gets stalled/interrupted due to unforeseen circumstances and you are stuck in a sticky situation, it’s good to have a backup someone who can have an idea of where to find you and be of help if needed if you don’t get to your destination on time.