Border Crossings - What To Expect

Easy or Frustrating, They're Part of Travel

Border crossings.... passing through Immigrations and Customs controls....

This can be a breeze or quite a production depending on

    1) where you are in the world and
    2) how you arrive at the border.

Border crossings are where you generally accumulate those stamps in your passports...

You know...

Those rubber stamps from Immigration Officers that say that you've entered a foreign country...

Or returned to your own country.

People complain that they don't get them in their passport anymore when they enter Europe.... well, you may or you may not. Depends on the country you enter.

You probably won't get new stamps if you drive across or fly across borders in Europe either what with the Eurozone.


Border Crossing into Swaziland - We had to walk across
Swaziland border crossing - Ask before you take pictures

There are still parts of the world where you can accumulate several stamps in your passport.  We recently accumulated several IN A DAY!!

Read more about that... Collecting passport stamps at borders in South Africa... and Swaziland, Mozambique, and Lesotho. It's not an account of our trip... just of our border crossings!

When You Fly Across Borders

If you're flying from country to country it's fairly standard procedure. We've pretty much gone through that with Airport Arrivals and Airport Departures.

If you're driving, taking a bus or walking it may be a whole different thing.

What to Expect At Road Border Crossings

Sometimes Nothing...

We've driven across borders in several places. As we mentioned, in much of Europe, you'll barely notice when you've crossed a border.

At some border crossings in countries newer to the Eurozone, you may have to pass through a few formalities. It's hard to tell.

Entering Estonia... Only driving regulations, no border crossing formalities
We're in Latvia... Where was the border crossing?

In the Baltics, we hardly knew when we had passed from Latvia to Lithuania, swung back through Latvia on our way to Estonia and back to Latvia for our flight home. The language signs changed and sometime there were changes in the road rules, but passport checks.... no. not a one

Sometimes There Are Formalities...

At other borders, you will have to present your passport to officials on both sides of the border. There may or may not be paper work to fill out.

Bulgarian Border Crossing

Crossing from Romania to Bulgaria took time at a rural border crossing.  Our passports and rental car documents were thoroughly checked by officials on both sides of the border. 

Going the other direction, our passports and rental car documents were checked again, but it took a much shorter time at a busier more urban border crossing.

There is generally not a departure tax when you cross by land, but expect the unexpected. (Near disaster when we had spent all of our Bulgarian Levs but had to pay to cross the International Bridge. Levs or Euros only!! No Romanian Leis or US Dollars, no credit cards. Good thing we had a few Euros.)

    Rental Car Tips:
  • Always check with your rental car company that it is OK to take your car across borders. This can vary from country to country AND from rental company to rental company.
  • Check on the type of insurance you need for each country too.
  • Check with the rental agent to see what documentation you need for crossing the border.
  • And... check to see if you need to buy a Vignet or road tax sticker. A stop to pay for one of these may be required even if you don't have to stop for Immigration formalities!

You May Have To Walk Across... And Change Vehicles!

On a custom tour to Tibet and Nepal, we went overland back to Nepal. At the border, our Chinese guides dropped us off. We went through Immigrations on the Chinese side, walked across the Friendship Bridge and went through Immigrations on the Nepal side before our Nepalese driver picked us up.

Leaving Tibet via the Friendship Bridge

A very rural border...

...and kind of a shaky bridge to cross in Nepal...

...but border crossing formalities none-the-less!

Remote border crossing Nepal - Over the River and Through the Woods...
Walking Through the border to Nepal

In another extreme example from years and years ago, we took a collectivo taxi from Puno on Lake Titicaca, to the border with Bolivia. Immigration formalities on both sides were more formal than you might imagine considering our remote location....

AND they included an hour delay for lunch hour.  Our bad luck was that there was also a time change!  So we had a TWO hour wait.  Oh well... Good thing the local bus knew the Immigration Officials time schedule!

Crossing From the USA to Mexico or Canada by Road

U.S. citizens should remember that passports are necessary at the Canadian and Mexican borders. This rule changed a few years ago. (You can get a U.S. Passport Card, but you do need more than your driver's license and birth certificate.)

How Long Does Crossing Borders Take?

This can vary. It can be no time at all if you can breeze through with no check. Or...

It can take a frustratingly long time if there is a line...
...or a lunch hour...
...or a bus in front of you....
...or someone with a complication in front of you.

All of those things have happened to us.

UAE-Oman Border Crossing - A few formalities
Oman-UAE Border Crossing - Stuck Behind a Camel

Sometimes it's just a matter of proving you have the proper documents and insurance for the car. Sometimes it's waiting for a camel to clear customs in front of you.

If you are negotiating border crossings on your own... allow plenty of time. You wouldn't want to be driving back to the airport across the border and run into a delay.

Tours will usually build enough time into their itinerary.

Arriving in Bratislava Slovakia from Budapest Hungary by hydrofoil

Cruising Across Borders?

River cruises through Europe shouldn't give you problems. On a hydrofoil trip from Hungary to Slovakia, we were dropped off at the wharf with no formalities at all

Cruise ships will usually assist you by passing the passenger list through as a whole or having Immigration Officials on board.

If you're sailing yourself from country to country... well, I get seasick in the bathtub, so I can't advise you on that.

What To Remember At ANY Border

The main thing at any border crossing is to stay calm and not let delays frustrate you. Be polite to the Immigration Official, smile, and don't complain. It's all a part of travel, and complaining will probably only slow things down even more.

Happy travels... even if you don't travel the world... just remember that life is a journey... embrace and enjoy it! Judy and Mark

Curious about what else we've written about?  Search our site for a destination or travel tip.

But... We'd love to have you share this page or comment on it…
Thanks, Judy and Mark

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