How To Cross Land Borders Smoothly

Crossing a border over land can be tricky as hell or really smooth, and sometimes which one it turns out to be is not entirely up to you or even the officials – but the bus drivers.

The bus drivers conveniently make you stop for an hour or two in the heat to make you buy food and drinks from the stalls that belong to their company, or there has been miscommunications on the bus company and you have to wait for passengers.

However, there are things that you have control over and will help you cross the border faster and more smoothly.

Here are some tips to prepare for your land border crossing:

1. Find out the best way to reach the border.

In some countries border towns can be rather dodgy, and some of the organized bus companies are scams – research well before deciding how you will reach the border.

Find out if the border is in the middle of nowhere and if you have to arrange a transport to another city across the border, or if you can just get a bus/taxi/tuk tuk to the border and then another type of transport on the other side.

Shop around for prices and compare the information. The info that the travel agency and hotels tell you can be surprisingly different, so to get the most accurate results ask the same questions to a few different people and compare the answers.

2. Get a visa in advance.

Sometimes this can be very good to have. Getting Visas on arrival can turn out to be more costly and take more time.

At some borders it’s easy and quick, at others it’s a nightmare. Research your border crossing to see what other people’s experiences are, and then research what the embassy is like.

In Vientiane for example, getting a Thai visa is a long and painful process, while the Cambodian Visa is quick and easy and you get it already the same day.

Also, to make things go faster at the border, write the details on your departure card the night before or before leaving, so you have it ready to hand over.

3. Have all your things handy in one and the same place.

Money, papers, photos, passport and pen – keep it all close together, and when handing over the money, passport and photo, do it all together at the same time.

4. Bring correct cash.

Figure out beforehand exactly what your visa will cost, if there are any additional costs and how much they are.

Then bring the exact change for every stop. Sometimes they charge a dollar per stamp in different booths, bring a dollar for each, not combined.

5. Stick to your group.

If you go with a bus, try to stick together with those people so you know where everyone is and so you don’t get on the wrong bus.

6. Make sure you get a stamp leaving before going to the other side.

If you don’t go to the departure gate and get your passport stamped, things can get problematic if you ever return to the country – click here to read what happened to our friend Adventurous Kate during a recent land border crossing.

To make sure you go through every procedure, go through it in your head and take things slow – don’t get carried away with other people’s stress.

(photo credit: SCA Svenska Cellulosa AktiebolagetPaul DavidsonjaaronCrossroads Foundation Photos)

5 Responses to How To Cross Land Borders Smoothly

  1. Adventurous Kate March 22, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Thanks for the mention! Learn from my mistakes — if there is even a tiny, tiny error on your visa, GET IT FIXED before trying to get into the country!

  2. Andrew - The Unframed World March 23, 2011 at 2:48 am #

    Great advice. Once, on my way to Bintan Indonesia from Singapore by ferry, I realized I had completely spaced on the whole “visa” thing. Luckily, for $25 USD I could buy one right at customs.
    This wouldn’t have worked for China though. For US citizens they take 4 days to process. Go figure.
    Have you guys ever been to China? I would love to see a “Traveled” episode from The Great Wall.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 24, 2011 at 7:43 am #

      Yeah, it’s an easy thing to forget, I’m glad it was fixed so easily!

      We haven’t been to China yet, we actually talked about it today, we’d love to go skiing there – and definitely see the Great Wall as well :)

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