We’re a family of five that travels the world full-time in our DIY 4×4 Sprinter van. We started living on the road in 2008 by circling all of the US and Canada. Then in 2015, we downsized and started the international portion of our adventure. With over 40 border crossings overland under our belts, here’s what we do to prepare for a smooth border crossing.
Before crossing a land border with your vehicle, you need to have your basic documentation in order: valid passports, valid driver’s license, current vehicle registration, and your vehicle’s title. That will cover your temporary tourist visas and temporary import permits for your vehicle if needed.
To make your border crossings as seamless as possible, we also do the following things:
- Early start: This is just a good rule of thumb. Getting an early start will work to your benefit, especially if it’s a border that’s notorious for being chaotic or processing lots of buses. The border will be less busy and you’ll get through quicker. This will also give you plenty of time to cross and get to your first campsite while there’s still daylight. And maybe even some time to run errands necessary in a new country like buying a local SIM card or vehicle insurance.
- Photocopies: You should not only have all your documents and IDs scanned digitally but also have physical copies of them as well. We have multiple photocopies of our passports, driver’s licenses, vehicle title, and registration. Some borders will request copies from you and instead of running around to different offices and figuring out how to pay for them, you will already be one step ahead of the game. In addition to documents and IDs, it’s also smart to have some laminated color copies of your license plate. I’m not saying it’s legal to drive with them on but if you have your real plates stolen, then something is better than nothing.
- Money: Always have a bit of cash on you in case your credit cards and debit cards are not an option. Before a crossing, figure out if you need to have their currency on hand to pay for things at the border like permits, fumigation, etc. as well. Also, have at least one credit/debit card backup in case your card gets declined at a store or if it goes missing.
- Offline maps: Depending on what border you are crossing, there is a chance your phone won’t work in the next country. In case this happens, it’s a good idea to download offline maps beforehand. We use Google Maps for the most part and it’s a standard feature they offer. Driving in some countries can be hectic and having to wing it via paper maps or street signs is not ideal.
- Offline languages: Just like we do for maps, we also download that country’s language beforehand on Google Translate for offline use. Having no internet and no way to communicate at the border is an extra layer of stress you don’t need.
- Choose a campsite: Having a spot already selected for your first night in a new country will make your travel day go much smoother. So many campsites now list their WhatsApp number so you can text the owner beforehand to confirm that they will have a spot for you. It’s comforting to know that have a guaranteed spot where you can decompress after a potentially long day.
- Stock up: Before a crossing day, make sure you have a decent supply of food and water, propane, fuel, etc that will last you a couple of days. It’s better not to deal with grocery shopping and errands on your first day.
- Pick your route: Before you start driving to a random border crossing, do a bit of research on user-contributed overland sites like WikiOverland, iOverlander, Park4Night, and Facebook groups. And if you use iOverlander, turn on the “Customs & Immigration”, “Checkpoint” and “Warning” filters to see what others have to say.
- SIM Cards: There’s a good chance that your phone will not work in your next country, your data will be limited or your fees will be outrageous. So more times than not, we find ourselves seeking out local SIM cards. We’ve found this SIM Wiki website to have the best user-contributed info on data plans.
- Pet health certificates: If you travel with pets, you will need to check each country’s pet requirements. More times than not, you will need a health certificate. Health certificates are obtained from a local vet that lists your pet’s international microchip ID, proof of rabies, and identifying information. Some countries will also require an import permit and fee, pre-approved applications, treatment for internal and external parasites, etc. A quick Google search will help you out as well WikiOverland and the “Customs & Immigration” filter on iOverlander.
- International Driver’s Permit: We’ve never been asked to present our International Driver’s Permit (IDP) but try to always have one on hand. We get ours from AAA when we are back in the States. If it expires while out of the US, you can order via mail.
- Pre-registration: Some countries require you to pre-register before showing up at the border. We’ve run into this issue for tourist visas and for pet imports. When a country does require it, the form can take several days to get back to you. Once again, WikiOverland and the “Customs & Immigration” filter on iOverlander will be your friend.
- Insurance: At last but not least, do a little research about vehicle insurance. Some countries will require you to buy liability insurance at the border. If that is the case, find out what the insurance building’s hours are so you don’t arrive at a closed office.
With a little pre-planning, border crossings don’t have to be so hectic. Hope this helps you with your future border-crossing adventures!