With all of the changes and challenges we are seeing in the world, one of the most frequent questions we get from international travelers has to do with border crossings.
What do I need to have at any border? Do I need an onward ticket? What do I do if I am asked why I am visiting?
It can be a daunting process to prepare to enter a foreign country. However, the best advice you can have is to be prepared.
It is up to you to know the rules of the country(ies) you are entering and to prepare yourself appropriately to avoid most of the pitfalls of global travel in the 21st century.
Where can I find Visa information?
Firstly, bear in mind that policies can change daily and you will need to know what is required of you at all times. A great site to use is the Passport Index. (Search for your passport, and it will bring up a page that will tell you your visa requirements for all countries) Be sure you know if you need a visa prior to arrival, if you can get it online, at time of arrival (eg: after deplaning in Turkey you hit the visa kiosk before customs and immigration – be sure you have a credit card as these kiosks don’t take cash and some don’t take debit cards), or if you need one at all. Also, be sure to apply for the correct visa. Because visa information is a fluid situation, you are best to check your government website to be sure.
Be Prepared with a Border Kit
The second most important point is to create a Border Kit. We have found this to be invaluable for our international travels. It helps you to get your trip in order, but also prepares you for questions that you will likely be asked. We use a duo-tang folder and a large zip-lock bag to keep all of our documents in one place. The zip-lock holds passports, itinerary, and currency of the country we are entering plus either euros or US $. The folder holds all the details of our trip including such things as confirmations for car rentals, hotels, bnb’s, or activities we will be doing. You do not have to produce the folder unless you are actually requested to do so.
Common Mistakes Can Lead to Hours of Delay
This goes without saying but needs to be said. Fill out your landing cards truthfully! You will avoid all sorts of grief if you are truthful. You only have to watch one of the reality Border Security tv shows to understand the importance of this point.
If you are entering a country on a tourist visa (as most of us are), you want to say you are visiting the country to learn about it as a tourist, or to visit friends. Many countries consider volunteer work (workaway, internships, or house sitting) to be work. So, you need to avoid saying that is your reason for entering any country. You can truthfully say you are visiting friends or just traveling around seeing touristy stuff. You can book one night (refundable) at a hostel or cheap hotel to have an address in the country you are entering, if you need it. We are often asked how we met the folks we are visiting and we truthfully say we met online and after chatting for some time online, were invited to visit anytime. So, here we are, visiting.
Proof of Onward Travel… What the…?
Do you need proof of onward travel? You might and you might not. As the rules change and borders become tighter, you might be asked more often. We had an experience when entering the UK from the EU where they asked us when we were planning to return to Canada. We told them truthfully that we did not know and were traveling for a few years. They accepted that and we were granted entrance to the UK. There are several sites you can use to book travel that is refundable and you need only to have one of those bookings as proof of onward travel. One great site is Seat61, where you can book worldwide train travel through the site.
The Only Constant is Change
Now the big elephant in the room. Recent developments in the political forum have spawned new regulations for direct travel to and from certain countries. You will need to surrender your electronics that are over a certain size, prior to boarding your flight. Currently, only the US and the UK have these restrictions in place. These kinds of regulations can be temporary or they can lead to full-time changes to regulations. Remember the no liquids in your carry-on luggage? Now it is nothing larger 100ml and it needs to be identified and put in zip-lock bags. Bear in mind these new regulations may change at any time. A great article about the changes written by the Points Guy can be found here and another blog on a direct experience with the new regulations.
You will have to ensure you check for yourself how this will affect your travel. You may want to look at alternate routes that don’t include a direct flight from the affected countries.
Do I need to surrender my phone at the border if requested?
Well, yes. Or no. It is a bit of a ‘dog’s breakfast’ at the moment as to what exactly you can do as a non-citizen of any country. Your best bet is to research the regulations of the country you are entering. Again, be prepared and here are a few things you can do to protect your information, contacts, and communications. You can also change your SIM card out, log out of social media accounts, delete apps from your phones, laptops, tablets, etc., save photos to the cloud, or travel with burner phones and use Skype/WhatsApp/Viber for communication.
Another option is to have your regular phone in your checked luggage (if you have it) and then buy a burner phone when you arrive in the country you are entering. Many countries have kiosks or sales desks in the arrivals areas of the airport. Gatwick and Heathrow have vending machines for sim cards and burner phones. Any of these options can work and may suit your needs. The choice is yours.
Remember, you are a guest requesting entrance to a foreign country and they do not have to let you in. The border agents are doing a job and their job is to protect the security of their country. Be prepared to be questioned.
In the end, common sense prevails and you can decide which process works for you.
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