Border Crossing Hassle-Minimization Checklist

Here are some lessons I’ve learned after crossing every border (and almost every border crossing) in Latin America over the last two decades. I’m not going to discuss specific crossings because there are too many to mention and crossings are constantly being added, expanded, or even removed. (But please add any specific information you feel would be helpful in the comment section below).

Uruguay-Brazil Border• Look into visa requirements for all the countries you plan to visit (and for those you may possibly visit) before leaving home. Although it’s possible to arrange visas in bordering countries (I’ve done this in Panama City and Buenos Aires, both times for a Brazilian visa) it can take weeks to process; time I’d rather spend touring.

• Unless you’re 100% certain you won’t be returning to the country you are exiting, don’t try to avoid exit fees by dodging the first border post and riding over to the second. This trick is all too easy for cyclists and I’ve gotten away with it several times. But I’ve also learned the hard way that it can be a big mistake. I skipped Honduras’ exit tax when I crossed into El Salvador, thinking I’d be able to take a boat directly to Nicaragua later. Unfortunately, the boat service was cancelled so I had to ride through more of Honduras to get to Nicaragua. I had some serious egg on my face at the border! After a lengthy detainment and threats of prison, I ended up paying both the original exit fee and a bribe. Lesson learned.

• Spend remaining coins before leaving the current country – they have no value in the next. Despite my best efforts in this regard, I have nevertheless ended up with an enormous (and worthless) moneda collection from all my tours.

• Buy currency for the next country well before leaving the current country. Moneychangers and banks have the worst rates at or near borders. Plus, you could encounter problems withdrawing cash in the new country and you may need it right away.

• Eat any fruits or vegetables you’re carrying. Most borders will confiscate them. But …

• … keep enough dry, packaged food with you to last several days. If you run into trouble getting money on the other side you’ll need to eat. In remote areas, you may not see a shop or even people for several days.

• Cross borders early in the morning, before 7 a.m. if possible. (See full post here).

• Don’t pay any fees at a border that you don’t already know about. Find out what the exit fee is and pay nothing more! Beware of anyone approaching you with customs forms for sale – it’s a scam! The customs forms are genuine, but they’re also free inside the customs office. These scammers simply grab a stack of forms from the office and spend the day selling them to unsuspecting drivers and travellers. Of course, once you clear customs, it’s almost impossiblle to return to the previous country and confront the scammer.

• Try not to look or smell dirty. It’s not always easy after weeks on the road, but if you clean up a little and wear your least-scuzzy clothes you’ll minimize potential hassles. Most guards are cool, but you have no control over which agent you talk to, so don’t give them any excuse to not like you.

• Don’t volunteer information. Answer questions with the briefest answers possible. Only speak when spoken to. Don’t say anything that gives them cause to search you or your bags or to detain you.

Border Crossing in Brazil• Don’t smile too much. Don’t frown either. Remain neutral. I like to read a book if I’m waiting in line. It passes the time and makes me look dispassionate.

• Don’t get caught taking photos. Hypocrite warning: I’ve taken many photos at borders (as you can see). But I’ve also taken a risk each time. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take photos, but be careful. There are interesting photo subjects at borders and it’s tempting to start snapping away. But don’t be obvious about it. Don’t give a crooked guard an excuse to confiscate (i.e. steal) your camera or extort a bribe.

• Once you’ve cleared customs, get the hell out of there! Don’t loiter around the border, reorganizing your panniers, making them perfect. You can do that later. If you’ve had your bags searched, pack up quickly and leave. Strange things go on at borders, illicit activities, things you don’t want to know too much about.





border: frontera f

customs: aduana f

passport: pasaporte m

passport stamp: sello m de pasaporte

cross the border: pasar la frontera

border with: limitar con

Brazil borders nine countries: Brasil limita con nueve países

declaration form: formulario m de declaración

guard: guardia mf

moneychangers: cambistas mfpl


Feature image (top of page): The Argentina/Bolivia border crossing at La Quiaca-Villazón.


© El Pedalero, 2012.



2 Responses to “Border Crossing Hassle-Minimization Checklist”
  1. Roberto says:

    I part agree with this, although having cycled through Central America, I can say that at 9 borders now they haven’t even checked our bikes so taking things like vegetables or fruit through has been no issue whatsoever. Also most laces have a cash point within good range apart from Belize to Guatemala, I am actually going to do a blog on this, but focusing on Central America, as of yet I have no experience of South.

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