Land Border Crossing Issues

Crossing a land border can be an ordeal-certainly different than in an airport where you feel secure. Especially if it’s in a third world or a stereotypically unfriendly country. A lot times border guards and agents will give you a hard time either because they are bored or because they want to extort some money from you. This has happened to me several times. There are a few good ways to handle these situations so you can get across the border unscathed and without getting a shake down.

The first rule is to always be polite and not seem like a pushy tourist. These guys see thousands of western tourists a year and in general they hate us! I have seen people be so rude to these guys it makes you cringe. Tourists actually yell at them in English sometimes and the guards have no clue what the people are saying and will deliberately take a long time to stick it to them or in some cases they will demand payment to pass through. The guards know that there is generally no recourse for doing stuff like this, I mean who will stop them-so you should definitely be polite.

Second, if you are asked for money and you know you shouldn’t be, say NO! If they are saying something about a visa and you have it in your passport, just politely point it out to them as if they didn’t already know and then they will usually let you through. If they start trying to pull some crap that you don’t understand and they ask for money and try to confuse you, refuse to pay but don’t yell. These guys are generally decent guys from what I’ve seen but they don’t pay them much and they tend not to care…shakedowns are how they get even with people. A lot of times they can intimidate people into paying.

I have seen in the Russian Republics, big border guards start barking in Russian at little tourists and demanding money and I have seen these tourists fork over money like they are just happy to get out of there, this is what they want and they use their “power” to extort money from people.

In general, I carry a small amount of bribe money at borders just in case, although I have never had to use it. I was the victim of an attempted shake down at the Cambodian border with Thailand, but I wouldn’t give in even though they only asked for $10US. After a while, they realized I wasn’t giving in and they let me go and I am sure they would succeed with others coming though.

Bottom line is just be polite and if you are in a situation like this, just hold your own and realize you are not doing anything illegal, they are. You might get hasselled but you shouldn’t have to pay anything extra. However, if you are really frightened keep a little extra money, just a few cents or a dollar or so and that should make them happy or at least frustrated enough to say get out of here.

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  1. I had to pay an extra $20 at the Russian border 2 years ago. Funny you mentioned that because I did actually pay them extra, they were very intimidating.

  2. I have had no problem with African land borders but they are always dodgy

  3. Africa has been wonderful for me as well. I’ve never had issues in Africa. Russia and SE Asia only at land borders but not even too bad there. I have just heard so many horror stories from others about shakedowns at borders. It certainly makes sense that it happens but it’s very unfortunate. This summer I will be at many land borders in the Russian Republics and in the Balkans so hopefully there will be no problems this summer.

  4. can’t forget about the lovely Central American borders, especially the one Coasta Rica/Panama bridge. Watch your step!

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