How to Cross a Border
Border crossings are one of the most feared aspects of international travel. Most first timers are filled with visions of fly infested shacks, with sweating, beady eyed bureaucrats shaking their heads no, empty palms outstretched, while the room echoes with the ceaseless click, click, click of a nervous teenaged guard fingering the safety on and off of his AK47 assault rifle. Although we've seen versions of that at more than one border crossing, with wads of cash being passed along with a stack of passports that are merely waved at before being passed back a common occurrence, most border crossings are pretty simple and usually fairly efficient and perfunctory.
The most important things at border crossings are to have all of your necessary documentation prepared, current and available; to be patient; to be friendly, but not overly so; and to keep smiling.
Before you attempt to cross a border, prepare your documentation. Make sure you have, ready and available:
Don't wait until you get to the entry gate or the first processing station to dig out the documents. Get them out and organized the morning of your entry and make sure they are in a convenient and accessible place, such as a tank bag.
A typical border crossing is structured as in the following illustration:
You will usually need to present your passport at the first entry gate, prior to entering the exit processing area. Keep your passport in a handy pocket, as you will need to present it several times during the border crossing process. Once the guard checks your passport, which is usually perfunctory at best, you will be waved into the processing area. Watch for guards or inspectors to direct you into a specific area for inspection or parking.
The typical border crossing processing area is organized as in the following illustration:
The border processing proceeds from left to right, following the numbered steps.
Exiting: On exiting a country, you will pass through a processing area entry gate where you will need to show your passport. After passing through the entry gate, you will park in the inspection area or the parking area. Watch for directions on where to park. If no one is providing direction, park in a safe place where other private vehicles are parked. Commercial vehicles such as taxis, busses and trucks usually have special segregated areas. If you are exiting a country, you will usually only need to visit Immigration for an exit Visa stamp and Customs for Carnet processing. It is VERY IMPORTANT to get your exit stamp on your Carnet. You will forfeit your Carnet bond if you cannot prove you have removed your vehicle from every country you visit. Pictures of the bike in front of your house back home are not considered proof. Only the exit stamp is. See the How to Obtain and Use a Carnet section for details. You may need to visit the vendors to pay exit fees, but this is fairly rare. Once you have your Passport and Carnet processed, you are ready to present yourself to the inspector, if one exists. If you are missing any stamps or clearances, he will direct you back to Immigration or Customs. Once you clear inspection, you are ready to proceed to the exit gate and cross No Mans Land to the next country's entry processing area.
Entering: On entering a country, you will pass an entry gate where you will need to show your passport. Next, watch for directions on where to park. If no one is providing direction, park in a safe place where other private vehicles are parked. Commercial vehicles such as taxis, busses and trucks usually have special segregated areas. Usually, the first building you enter is the Immigration processing, where your Passport and Visa will be processed. Once finished with Immigration, you will proceed to the Customs building where you will need to present your Carnet, if applicable, or your vehicle title/registration. It is important to get your entry stamp on your Carnet. It can make for awkward moments on exit if you don't have a stamp proving that you brought the bike into the country legally through a formal border. If a Carnet is not required, you will usually always need your vehicle VIN and sometimes your engine number. In some developing nations these numbers and your information (name, passport number, etc.) are recorded in a giant ledger book that looks like it has been in use since the 1800s. Often you will be required to purchase the local country's insurance or to pay a specific tax, etc. This is often done in a separate area or building housing money changers, insurance salesmen, etc. You may need to make several trips between Immigration, Customs and the Vendors collecting various stamps, receipts, papers, etc. Eventually, you will have all the stamps and clearances required and you will be ready to present yourself to the inspector, if one is used at this border. If you are missing anything, he will route you back to the vendors, Immigration or Customs. Once cleared, you will proceed to the exit gate, where the guards will usually want to see your passport and any applicable special vehicle paperwork such as proof of insurance. Once past the exit gate, you are in the new country and free to explore for as long as your entry visa is valid for.
The border crossing processes and facilities described above will vary for each border crossing and each country at each border. Some will be much simpler, with two officials in one shack and a gate that hasn't been lowered in years. Others will be highly secure, with manned guard towers, searchlights and multiple gate crossings. In any case, the steps remain basically the same and the required paperwork is similar everywhere.
Best practices for border crossings:
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