We have met or talked to a lot of people that are in the process of planning a big adventure and we get asked a lot about crossing borders. Border crossings are very intimidating and when I was in the research phase of our trip I found practical information almost impossible to find.
So I thought I would put together what I wish I knew before we left. FYI this post is also a supplement to the video we made on border crossings. This post should fill in anything I forgot to mention in the video and give you lots of resources for your own research.
Get a document folder.
This is what we have: https://amzn.to/3fDNdjr
This allows you to keep all your documents organized and in one place. I keep our original title and registration in here, along with copies of everything that is required for crossing a border.
Copies you should have:
Yellow fever cards
I left the first pocket of this folio open for the paperwork of the current country we were in (i.e. temporary import permit, visa paperwork etc.). This way it was easily accessible while in the country. Once we left that country I would move that paperwork to another pocket. It's easy to get confused with which paperwork is from which country so getting the old stuff out of the way and labeled was key for us.
BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR ORIGINALS!
I can't stress this one enough. The border agents will sometimes need to see the original title and registration, and then want to keep a copy on file. We learned the hard way, always slow down and double check you have all originals before you leave a border (or anywhere you had the originals out). It's not fun to lose them...trust me.
Okay now that you have your documents organized, lets talk about the general process of crossing a border.
Note: This process applies to all borders in Mexico, Central America and South America.
Exit the country: You will need to exit the country you are in. You can do this by visiting the immigration office of the country you are in to, essentially, check out of that country yourself. You will receive an exit stamp in your passport. If you are traveling with a vehicle, you will need to visit the Customs office, aka aduana. to check your vehicle out of the country. You will cancel your vehicles temporary import permit, this usually means handing over the paperwork for your T.I.P. sometimes you get a copy of the canceled T.I.P. sometimes you get nothing.
Enter the next country:
Now you are in no mans land, It's an odd feeling, knowing you are officially nowhere. Getting to where you check into the next country can be in the same building, a walk across the street, or even a few kilometers drive away. Wherever it is you need to find the immigration office of the country you are going to enter. (Don’t be afraid to ask the person you are dealing with where to go next if you are unsure). In the immigration office you will get your entry stamp in your passport. The only thing you may need to specify is how long you want to be in the country (different countries have different rules so do a little research before you get there so you know on how long you are allowed to stay and if you can renew).
Next you will need to find the aduana office to get your vehicle into the country. Getting a Temporary Import Permit for you vehicle is pretty straight forward. The agent will want to see your title and registration as well as the passport of the person listed on the title. They may ask to see your drivers license as well. (This is where they usually want to see those originals so be sure you get them back) and they may want copies for their files so be ready with your folder.
In some cases someone will need to physically check your car and you might even get a nice sticker for your windshield. In some cases you may also be required to have local insurance (this can usually be purchased at our near the border and we were never required to show proof of insurance in order to enter a country, but you may need to show it to authorities once in the country). Then off you go. Enjoy and don't forget to make sure you know how long you can be in the country, you'd be amazed how fast time flies by. I usually put a date in my calendar with a reminder a week before.
Do some research before crossing a border, I found that ioverlander is a great resource, because it usually has pretty up to date information. I found when I googled a border many of the posts that would come up were outdated. The rules and fees are constantly changing so up to date info is key. Below I have linked some helpful resources so you can research the countries you want to visit. When you are crossing a border remember to have, patience, arrive early, have a good attitude, and then some more patience!
Make sure to double check any paperwork given to you at a border, (vin numbers, passport numbers, etc). If it doesn't match you will have issues down the road.
Others things to know
At some borders, especially in Mexico and Central America, you may encounter "helpers" which can be very intimidating. These people really add to the stress of a border crossing and you don't need them, do not give your documents to them. Just let them know you don't need help, you may have to be firm and tell them more than once, that you are good on your own. It can make for a hectic environment but just keep in mind the general process is pretty simple and there is no need for a helper.
Many times you will come to a border to find a long line of trucks. Commercial vehicles have to go through a different process than you so you can pass that long line! So if you see a long line but it only has commercial vehicles don't waist time sitting in that line.
Fees and bribes?
Border: Do your research! Some borders do have fees. Sometimes you pay there, sometimes the payment is made at a bank and then the receipt is shown.
Fumigation: Sometimes there is a fumigation fee.
Insurance: Insurance can and in some cases must be purchased at the border.
Bribes: We have never been asked for a bribe at a border and often have seen signage giving a number to call if you experience any corruption. Governments are trying to cut this down for the sake of tourism. Usually reading some accounts of the crossing you are going to on iOverland will key you in to any tricks the agents might try, so you can be prepared. (The closest thing to bribery we encountered in our travels was in Mexico. There you pay a fee when you enter the country and are given a receipt, if you don't keep this receipt, when you are exiting the country the agents may try to say that they have no way of knowing you paid and you must pay again. I had read about this and knew to keep my receipt. Sure enough they tried to pull this but because I had my receipt there was no further trouble).
This is something else you will need to research specifically for your trip, as it is always changing and will depend on where you are from. (I have included some helpful links below). As Americans the only countries we needed Visas to enter were Paraguay and Bolivia. In both cases the paperwork could have been handled at the border within a few days, so there wasn't a need to plan too far in advance.
Other things to consider?
Right hand drive vehicles are not allowed in some countries (Costa Rica and Nicaragua). Again this is something that could change so do some research if you have a right hand drive vehicle.
We consulted with a travel doctor before we left to see what they advised as far as vaccines. The only required vaccine for our travels was yellow fever.
You can get shots in Mexico at a much lower cost. With some research this can be a great way to get vaccines on a budget.
Just a few more helpful hints:
Sign up for travel advisories for the countries you will be traveling in and get alerts via email. (Link Below)
If you are traveling through the americas be sure you have plenty of space in your passport as you will cross many borders, often many more than once. We were taken by surprise at how fast our passports filled up with stamps.
Okay that's all I got. Hopefully this gives you some good info and maybe eases your mind a bit. Border crossing are an intimidating part of travel but I think that knowing the general process helps. If we can do it so can you!
Do you need a visa?
Sign up for travel advisories: