Stress-free border crossing – how to enter a country

As routine as a border crossing is, it can still be intimidating. Whether you’re travelling by air, water, or land, it’s worth putting a little thought into the process so you are prepared.

Have your documents ready

Our number one tip is to keep your passport and any other travel documents like a visa or passenger card handy. You want to be able to retrieve them when asked so you don’t hold up people behind you. 

Know your facts – have a simple, clear story

Immigration personnel may ask where you are going to stay and a reason for your travels. It’s important that you, and any others travelling with you, all give the same answers. It sounds straight forward enough, but if you are travelling for multiple reasons, such as visiting family, attending a work conference and having a holiday, decide on the main reason and stick with it. The conversation will go much more smoothly if you have thought about your response and have your travel details with you, like an itinerary with dates and the address where you will be staying. If you come across sounding unsure (maybe due to some horrible jet lag!) it could cause an official to question your answers, which brings more scrutiny and really makes the whole process more stressful than it needs to be.

Keep your luggage organised 

Have specific places for your belongings. Then you can retrieve them right away. Some people are more organised than others, but when going through customs, it pays to be more organised. In the past I have carried my phone and water bottle with me through customs and inevitably end up dropping something. Having a spot for each item in your luggage will mean you can retrieve it quickly and get through with your dignity intact.  Some travel bags will be more useful than others and come with specific pockets that will assist in storing those smaller items which need to be accessed during a customs check.

Give straight answers

When immigration asks you questions about your luggage or trip, avoid the temptation to lighten the mood with a joke. They will not always appreciate it, and instead of lightening the mood, it may look like you’re trying to hide something or even just being disrespectful. 

Don’t bring fresh fruit and veggies as a snack 

You are allowed to bring some foods through airport security. It’s best though to remove any food and snacks from your carry-on bag to be screened separately. 

Here are some solid foods that are allowed:

  • Baby food
  • Bread
  • Cake 
  • Candy
  • Cereal
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Cooked meat, seafood, and vegetables without liquid
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Pies 
  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Snacks

Here are some foods that are treated as liquids and must adhere to the 100 ml/3.4oz rules:

  • Creamy cheese
  • Liquid chocolate
  • Dips and spreads
  • Gravy
  • Honey and maple syrup
  • Hummus
  • Ice cream
  • Jam and jelly
  • Oils and vinegars
  • Peanut butter
  • Salsas and sauces
  • Yogurt

Many countries, and even different states within countries, will not allow fresh fruits and vegetables to cross the border due to the risk of spreading plant pests.

Remember the final decision rests with the security officer on duty as to whether they allow the item through security. 

Declare all items

Check what items you need to declare. For instance in Australia, being an island nation it has extremely strict policy on what you can bring into the country. If you do not declare something you could be handed a massive fine.

Each country will vary so if you are doubtful about an item, then go to their official government website and check. 

Officials at the border may ask you questions about your luggage, such as: 

  • the nature and content of the baggage
  • the person’s knowledge of what is in the bags
  • who packed the bags
  • where the person has travelled from
  • where the person commenced the journey
  • the source of any goods in the bag
  • the price of the goods
  • the manner in which the goods were obtained.

Be prepared to provide a quick and confident answer to these questions to avoid any suspicion by border force officials.

In general, going through customs is straight forward. Just be sure to follow instructions from border security and staff, take the time to have all your documents prepared and accessible, follow any security rules and it should be a smooth process. 

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