Dread border crossings? Dread no more!

If you’re dying to set out on a long overland journey but the words “border crossings” put you off, here’s what you need to know.

Be Prepared

Do a little research beforehand. Is this a big, busy border or a small, quiet one? Do they have a customs office to process your bike? What have other travelers said about it – easy and relaxed or crazy and stressful?

Always roll up to a border early morning, ideally around 8 am – that way, you’ll have more than enough time to get everything done.

If you can, always put at least a 100 kilometers between yourself and a border town both before and after the crossing. Border towns are notorious for crime and all sorts of sketchy transactions – stay away if you can. If you can’t help it and have to stay at a border town, make sure your bike is parked securely and locked up.

border crossings

Never Pay Bribes

There are  lots of urban legends going around when it comes to paying bribes abroad. Here’s a very simple policy if you’re not sure about bribes: don’t pay them. Ever. Not only you will encourage corruption in a country you’re entering, you will also mess it up for travelers that come after you – corrupt officials will only ask for more bribes if they successfully extract one from you.

If you are asked for a bribe, directly or indirectly, ask to see the officer’s boss – the commanding officer, or someone in charge. If this is happening in the middle of nowhere, ask to be taken to the police station, headquarters, somewhere actually official. If this tactic doesn’t work, tell them you are a journalist with the BBC or CNN or a volunteer with Red Cross or UN and you would very much like to hear more about the situation with corruption in their country. That’s usually a great deterrent.

Never offer bribes yourself. If you get into a messy situation, always ask for a high ranking police or military officer, or reach out to your embassy.

Smile and Nod

Even if you don’t speak the local language and are using your hands and feet to explain things, chances are, border officials will help you. They’re human, and they get that foreigners don’t always understand them. Be polite, smile a lot, have your paperwork ready, never show annoyance, and you’ll be golden!

Don’t Fight Bureaucracy

Speaking of paperwork: always make sure you have the right documents! Your passport, driver’s license, bike registration, insurance and import papers or carnet de passage if required – just have all that ready beforehand. Sure, some border officials might be extra understanding and help you out if you messed up – but ideally, just make their and your lives easier by having all the right paperwork.

border crossings

Have Patience

Long queues? Complete and utter chaos? Don’t get frustrated. Sure, some things might not make sense to you, but the local people and officials are doing the best they can with what they have. Be patient and respectful: this is a different country and a different culture, and showing frustration, anger or annoyance will not get you anywhere. If you see it’s going to be a long wait, just read a book or play a game of chess. In the face of chaos, embrace the zen!

Photos: rtwPaul

What are your favorite hacks for border crossings? Let me know in the comments below!

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