8 Tips When Crossing Land Borders

Crossing land borders between two countries can be a little more stressful than if you flew into the country and crossed through airport immigration. Sometimes crossings are as simple as handing over your passport to the bus driver and waiting for the appropriate stamps, or getting off the bus and going from one ticket counter to the next in the same building. However, it can be more complicated as every border has different procedures. Sometimes you have to enter one building on one side, get your exit stamp, and then cross over to the next country, usually across a bridge or walkway, and enter the other building for your entrance stamp. Sometimes you walk across and do it all on one side, and sometimes you have to queue up in a line for both entrance and exit procedures and wait a really long time. It does seem to vary depending on where you are and what border you’re crossing. And don’t forget, you may need to change buses and walk over to a new one, or you might need to stay on the same one. Make sure you ask in advance what their protocol is.

So to help you out, here is a list of a few useful tips on getting prepared for your next land border crossing.

A quiet land border crossing between Laos and Vietnam.

A quiet land border crossing between Laos and Vietnam.

Have Your Passport Ready

Make sure while you’re waiting in line or coming up to the immigration office you have your passport ready and open with all papers necessary (visas, immigration cards etc.). Sometimes they will hand you a form to fill out and other times you need to get this form in advance or from a table nearby. Keep a pen with your passport so you’re ready to fill it out quickly and not have to wait or hold others up.

Visas or Reciprocity Fees

Make sure you paid your reciprocity fee in advance or obtained a visa before you get to the border. Some border crossings will let you obtain a visa on site or you can pay the reciprocity fee there. For Vietnam, I needed to go the embassy in Laos in advance and wait a few days to get my visa. For Argentina and Australia I had to go online to obtain my proof of payment for their entrance fees. Making sure you’re aware of these things before you enter a country is very important and saves a lot of stress and hassle while at the border, especially if you don’t speak their language.


Knowing when, where, how, or if you need to obtain a visa in advance will make entering the country a lot easier than being refused at the border.

Proof of Onward Travel

It’s a little bit surprising how many times I’ve been caught trying to cross both land and air borders and they’ve asked me for proof of onward travel. Sometimes this is no problem as I can show them the e-mail of my flight out of the country .But I’ve also been caught frantically booking a flight in the wee hours of the morning for some future date out of a country over Skype with my parents because the internet wouldn’t work properly for me. Let’s just say it was a little bit stressful. So before you enter a country, make sure you have the necessary means of transportation out if required. This might mean you have to book a bus or flight you might not actually need, but it saves you a lot of hassle, especially if bus you need to be on at that moment won’t wait for you.

Get all Stamps Necessary

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle and confusion of border crossings, it’s easy to walk right through without anyone questioning you or checking your passport. Make sure you get an exit stamp when you leave one country and make sure to get an entrance stamp when you enter the next. You always need two stamps, unless you’re leaving your own country.

Inform Yourself on Exchange Rates

Often you will be bombarded with people trying to change money with you. These people can be okay to get some money from, but they also have many different ways of scamming money off you. First of all, be aware of the exchange rate and know roughly how much your money will be worth in the new currency. Compare several different people exchanging money as they usually have different rates between them. Next, re-count the new currency they’re giving you before you hand over yours. They can be swift with sleight of hand when they count it in front of you. Also, make sure the bills look and feel real and are in good condition. Refuse to accept bills that are ripped or in poor condition. Many stores won’t take these bills from you later on and you’ll be stuck with them. Banks are often your best bet for exchanging money, then money exchange houses, and lastly people on the street.

Look Presentable

Try and look as presentable as possible. Wear clean and unwrinkled clothing. The more tidy you look, the less likely you will be a target for drug searches or anything else they might think up.

Little things like looking presentable when crossing the border can help make things just a tiny bit easier.

Little things like looking presentable when crossing the border can help make things just a tiny bit easier.

Beware of Rides Across the Border

Usually there are taxi’s, tuk tuks or bicycles to whisk you across and away from the border, but be wary when taking these vehicles. Make sure you’ve agreed on a set price and that you’ve clearly stated from where to where you want to go. Often there are hidden charges or they try to charge you more for going between the two borders. Even though they seem friendly, they like to ‘forget’ to tell you about the small fee between borders. They also try to hustle your luggage into the back of the car, but stand your ground and make sure you know exactly what you’re paying before they take you anywhere.

Don’t Take Sleep Aids

I learned this one the hard way when crossing from Laos to Vietnam. Don’t take sleep aids shortly before a border crossing. You’ll probably get shaken awake by someone telling you to get off the bus (hopefully anyway) and then you’ll be confused, bleary-eyed, and have a hard time shaking yourself awake to look alert and presentable when crossing. Muggings aren’t unknown near borders either so you especially want to be on the alert when changing countries.

These are just a few tips to keep in mind when crossing borders. Hopefully they help you to make it a quick and painless transfer and you can be on your merry way, off to your next adventure destination. Any other ideas or tips? Share them in the comments below.

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