How to deal with border crossings on an overland journey
1. Research the border before you get there
When overlanding, there are often a number of borders to enter another country by road.
Researching what to expect at the border is crucial and can help you escape sticky situations, such as where you may be asked to pay a bribe or illegal payment. Having driven through many land borders in Africa, I have been asked to pay many questionable fees – once I was asked to pay US$100 for officials to clean the vehicle!
Make sure you know the exact visa fees, if any, and vehicle entry requirements (fees, taxes, etc.) before you attempt to cross. Also note that even if you’ve obtained a carne de passage, this might not exempt you from having to pay taxes or other fees for crossing with a foreign vehicle.
I find that speaking to local people and fellow travellers before crossing the border also helps a huge amount. Knowing which border is the best to go through often allows you to efficiently get processed with the least amount of hassle. And of course, if you’re worried that you’re being asked to pay a bribe, asking for a receipt or proof of payment in advance is a good way to ensure that the request is legal!
2. Remain as patient as possible!
Those of you who know me know that patience is not my greatest characteristic. But even for the most patient person, when travelling in a group there will most certainly be a time where the situation can get frustrating, and one of you may want to scream at an immigration / customs officer.
Make sure that before that happens, that person leaves the room quickly and the person with patience tries to answer each question, no matter how ridiculous the circumstances may seem.
With patience and perseverance, eventually you will get through the border!
3. Ensure your vehicle is clean and tidy
During my first journey, I experienced some border crossings where officers wanted to see what is stored in the back of our vehicle, and were rather thorough in their checks! This can be painful if you are like me – a little messy! So it sometimes pays to organise stuff before you get to the border.
4. Cheap sunglasses go a long way
Don’t ask me why, but I had dozens of cheap plastic sunglasses with me during my first journey. On some occasions, these acted as a great icebreaker when an officer was checking out the vehicle or inspecting paperwork.
So the tip here is to have something to hand to put a smile on a face of a border patrol officer – it may turn an otherwise difficult ordeal into a fun time!
5. Be prepared to bullshit… sometimes
Sometimes you will be in situations where the truth just isn’t going to get you through, and you may need to improvise or embellish a story.
For instance, in my experience, I often found that immigration officers like to hear about how much you like their country, or your positive impressions. It may not happen often, but a little sweet talk may get you through!