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How to prepare for overland border crossings

Some see borders as a barrier; a boundary line that’s considered too challenging to cross. At Sundowners Overland, borders are a mere temptation; a new frontier with alluring cultures and experiences beckoning us from the other side.

A literal gate to adventure, crossing borders can be fun and exciting, but preparation is the key to enjoyment.

Plan ahead

Know which borders you are crossing in advance and do your research to avoid common pitfalls. If you’re travelling with Sundowners Overland, you’ll find the specifics about each border crossing among your journey documents.

Start organising your entry visas three months before travel and carry your passports and paperwork with you. It is your responsibility to ensure you have the right documentation to enter a country.

Applications require time, patience and attention to detail. Our Travel Advisors can support your visa applications by providing all official documentation, guidelines and invitation letters. We can lend an experienced hand to guide you, but the process is controlled by the relevant consulates.

Patience is a virtue

Border crossings take time. The bureaucratic process, together with the time spent travelling on either side of the border, can add up to a tiring day of travel.

Some overland border crossings are done on-foot, other times you’ll remain on board. Your transport will stop at the border for officials to check all documentation. Sometimes this will be at an ungodly hour of the night; you may be woken up by the yell of foreign tongues and a flashlight in your face. An experience which could be alarming if you were unprepared.

You’ll need to fill out arrival and departure cards just like when you fly. Officials will take your passport and paperwork with them to process. Only once they return your documentation will you be allowed to enter the country.

Pack a sense of humour

A little humour goes a long way. Border crossings can be unavoidably long. Be jovial with one another – you’re all in this together. When officials ask you about why you’re visiting their country, spread on the sweet talk – I hear honey bees have no issues with border control.

There have been times when transport arrives at a checkpoint to find it closed with no official in sight. No bathrooms, nowhere to get water or food, and no shrubbery to hide your modesty when you have to ‘go’ outside. These unpredictable hiccups are a reminder that we’re all human, to help each other, and that humour can carry you through just about anything.

Open eyes, open mind

So, you’ve prepared your documents and your mind, and now you’re in for the ride. Each border crossing has its appeals. Observe local travellers draped in sumptuous fabrics. Watch traders as they pull carts on foot, and consider how far they've come. See officials, all serious faces and salutes or jovial and welcoming.

If you’re travelling between China and Mongolia, witness the surreal bogie change. Huge cranes lift each train carriage, allowing a team of engineers to exchange the chassis to fit the tracks across the border.

As you cross borders, be aware and sensitive to the new cultural norms, abide by local laws and take notice of signage. To leave you with one final border-crossing tip: always, expect the unexpected.