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Your most interesting border crossing

I wonder if anyone else has had a heart racing border crossing? Here's mine. I was young and bought the cheapest ticket to India, which wasn't actually to India but to Dhaka, and the idea was to cross overland what looked like a short distance on the map but it required more than a day to actually cover it. Bangladesh did not require visas from Americans, India did.

This is a crossing from India to Bangladesh, March 1989. I was returning to Bangladesh after 2 months in India. The border crossing between these two countries at that time was by foot only: there was no through train or bus service.

The journey from Calcutta to the border was to take a local train from the Sealdah rail station, disembark at Bangaon, then get a bicycle rickshaw to the border a few miles away, about a 40 minute ride. There was no bus service to the border. The border facilities on the India side consisted of several detached government buildings. Trucks were lined up on the road waiting for permission to cross the border.

I arrived at the first Indian immigration building, went in and then got a puzzling question. "Where is your visa for Bangladesh?" I explained that Americans didn't need one, and showed that I had entered Bangladesh in January without one. He shook his head and said no, I needed one, and that I had to return to the consulate in Calcutta to obtain one. Then I suggested he let me try crossing without a visa, and if that doesn't work then I will return to Calcutta for a visa. He refused that suggestion, so I kind of lost it and with a raised voice said, "Who are you to say what the Bangladesh government requires?" That was a mistake, I was refused exit, something was handwritten in my passport like "Exit denied. Mr _____ is invited to return to Calcutta to obtain a visa."

So I left that first building, sat on the curb, and contemplated repeating that time consuming trip to Calcutta, there and back, for a visa I didn't need. Then I decided to just go for it. I pretended to walk away from the border but instead circled back around the waiting trucks out of sight and proceeded to the second Indian border building. There they asked to see my passport, she fortunately didn't notice the missing exit stamp or the handwritten admonishment about obtaining a visa, and proceeded to look through everything in my luggage. I recall that all currency had to be produced and counted, and film canisters had to be counted, there was some limit of how much camera film a person could bring in or out of the country, I was under the limit (it was 40 rolls, I think). Everything counted was recorded in a big ledger.

Then came the last hurdle. I walked up to the actual border, heart racing, and an armed Indian soldier again asked to see my passport, flipped through the pages not noticing the missing exit stamp, and waved me on. I then crossed the border into Bangladesh without legally exiting India. I had no idea how my disobedience would play out with the Bangladesh immigration official. He flipped though the passport remarking that I didn't have a visa, but in a positive way. I said I didn't need one, and had crossed from India without an exit stamp. He jumped up and shouted to his coworkers that I was the first person there who had passed from India without a visa. He apologized for the Indian officials and that they always send people back whether they need a visa and or not, he’d heard the complaints. I was almost treated like a celebrity. So it worked out.

Posted by
3191 posts

1982 crossing from west Germany into east Germany by car and then a few days later crossing from West Berlin to East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie. At the Helmstedt auto checkpoint we got through without complications and then a minute later we were signaled over by an armed East German soldier armed with a machine gun. My brother had his lap belt on but not his cross body harness. Lesson learned... A few days later some of us walked through the lines at Checkpoint Charlie while others were waiting in the viewing area. We passed by all of the authorities, heard their warnings and exchanged our obligatory west German Marks for East German Marks. When we got to the end of the gauntlet there was a tall wire gate. I stopped at the gate and pushed it. It didn’t open. I turned around and looked at the last guard. He motioned for me to push it again. Just as I did it vibrated and gave a loud buzz. I thought he had electrified the gate and I jumped back and screamed. The guards all laughed at me and we walked out onto the empty, car-less street.

Posted by
3493 posts

Tom, Much braver than I was in my younger years!

My story is much closer to home. Before passports were required to cross into Canada from the US (ah, the good old days when we trusted each other more), I and several of the people I worked with were in Buffalo for a business trip and we decided to cross over into Canada just because we were right there. A few of us had our passports, just out of habit, but most did not. We drove in a large rented van to the border crossing and a happy US Border patrol guy looked at all of our driver licenses and said we could go across. Same on the Canadian side.

We drove around for a couple hours, had lunch, and then went to cross back into the US. The Canada border guard (same one who let us in to Canada) barely looked at anything and said he hoped we enjoyed our time in Canada.

Then the fun started.

The US guard (once again the same one who let us out of the US earlier) was very serious about verifying our IDs. He asked if we had passports and the few of us who did produced them. Because everyone did not have passports, we were rudely removed from the van and it was sent off to be searched as we were herded into an interrogation room. Those with passports were quickly sent on to wait for the van search to complete. Those with valid driver licenses followed closely after. But 2 of our colleagues had expired licenses and were to be held until someone could return with their passports (not sure what would have happened if they did not have passports!). We vouched for them to no avail. So I asked the border guard why he said nothing to us when we crossed into Canada initially about the expired licenses. His supervisor perked up at that, but the guard denied ever seeing us and swore he would have said something. Once again I spoke up and said since he was the only one on duty for traffic both ways, I didn't expect him to remember us, but once again stated he said nothing about the expired ID. He was not happy at my continued "aggression" as he put it. Those with the expired ID were placed into a holding cell, yes one with bars just like jail, and were not allowed a phone call. The rest of us were told to leave.

We had our office FedEx the passports to our hotel for next morning urgent arrival and then we all went back to the border crossing to get our friends out of jail. The same guard was not on duty that morning and the one that was there was surprised that things went the way they did. He stated that it was very unusual to stop people for expired ID especially since the most expired one was only 3 days and the other had expired 2 days ago.

Oh, the expired driver licenses posed zero problem going through security at the airport flying home other than a reminder to get it renewed.

Posted by
3789 posts

Well, not as gutsy or exotic as yours, but might offer a chuckle.
Picture 4 quilting women from Ontario heading over to New York state for a shopping day and visits to quilt stores to drop off fliers to promote a quilt show. I am driving. As a Cuban born citizen, I take these border crossings seriously....I always get grilled. I pull up to the first light. It is red, but no one in front of me. We wait several minutes. No guards. It is small crossing and some have been known to be rather relaxed in their bureaucracy. We see heads in the office, but no one looking our way. I try to get there attention. Nada. So I move to the second light. Repeat of first. Wait, wave, catch some flack from my peeps. So I start to inch forward and that got their attention. 3 guards come running out pulling their guns out
(Is there a silent alarm for border runners?) I slam car into park and raise my hands telling the others to shut up and raise hands. Once they caught a look at some middle aged bug eyed women with their hands in the air, they slowed to an amble. Yes, they read me the riot act. Did not apologize for keeping us idling for 10 minutes, and then when checking one passport, didn't she have the same name as a flagged traveler? Another series of 20 questions. But we were finally allowed to enter.
Eventually we laughed but we claimed every cent of purchases and made sure we used a different border crossing home. A bigger one, with a line up, to be sure they were actually manning the gates.
My second tale is entering Uganda by road from Tanzania. Me and my driver. African paperwork always takes a long time. We pull up to the arm, jeep windows open. Without telling me, driver hops out with the keys and heads to the shack for paperwork. Soon one guy wanders by...slowly...checking out the old (58 y.o) white female mzungu (traveler). Then another. After 25 minutes of being sized up for my worth and their chances, I got out of the jeep and stuck to my driver's side. But similar impressions at that shack for 10 minutes. Then we have to do the passport paperwork. He recommended the jeep but I wasn't having it. So I sat, trying to be invisible. Nope. "Missus, please come over". Then the 20 questions from the macho head passport least 20 years my junior. Despite me trying to lie about having a husband at home, he eventually gets around to asking for my email address. Sigh.
Despite growing up in the 60's and 70's with the cat calls and derogatory comments, I was just so done with being considered a walking bank account that wouldn't get pregnant after a little something something on the side. But as a solo woman who can afford to travel on her own, that is the first impression.

Posted by
269 posts

In the early 1980's before the EU was formed, I was backpacking through Europe and had camping gear. On the train from Amsterdam to Paris, the train stopped at the French border and the Gendarmerie National entered the train car and started checking passports. Back then, they were armed with compact but scary looking Heckler & Koch submachine guns. When they came to me, they saw my long hair, my college youth and that I had come from Amsterdam (a well-known drug haven) and they made me empty the contents of my backpack on the seat of the train. They found my camping gear which included a salt and pepper shaker. The shaker was a compact container that did not look like your average salt shaker. The gendarmes eyes lit up when he found the white powdery substance. He unscrewed the lid, He moistened his little finger and stuck it on the salt to get a sample to taste. I could see where this was going. I said in my broken French "J'ai faire du camping dans la val du Loire." I am camping in the Loire Valley. "Que por la nourishment". That's for the food. The border guard tasted the white substance and exclaimed "Sel!" Salt.
"Oui" Yes!!.
I saw the disappointed expression on his face. He tossed my passport on the train seat and moved on to the next person. I had to repack my backpack and all of my gear that had been strewn about during the search.
Now 40 years later when the border guards find a white powdery substance in my toiletry bag, I tell them the truth- that's my kaopectate in soluble form.

Posted by
6036 posts

Not sure how interesting, but we were in Germany in 2000, and were venturing into Prague for a long weekend. My Brother was in the Military and made the trip a number of times, so he gave us the drill as we approached the border; which was..."As we get close, get your passport out, and as I slow a bit, hold them up and wave them at the border guard" We did, they pretty much ignored us, and on we went. On the way back out, there was no check at all, I thought the Germans would have had a bit more of a process, but no.

As for difficult crossings, I still say the worst ones were the US/Canadian border, seemed at the time (about the same time as above) seemed like all of the border people had an overestimation of their importance, loved to harass you just to pass the time.

Posted by
268 posts

Here are 2-one as a young working but hippie looking couple and another early in retirement.
Mexico Laredo border: Two couples, long straight hair girls and guys with shoulder length hair arrive at Mexican customs in an old VW we called green bean. In the early 1970’s and they gave young hippies a hard time. My husband did research at a prison and showed his ID. Customs interpreted as a police job. No problem after that. We got our entry permission to Mexico. Now the rest of the story. We go out to start the old VW. It doesn’t start. The guys get out tools and find the problem. It is New Year’s Eve. Had to walk back across the border to the US to buy a used part from a repair shop. We found room several blocks from Customs, pushed the van to the motel, fixed the van in the morning. All went well going forward.

Chesky Krumlov to Vienna before EU- in a guide book (May have been RS) found a direct train to Vienna or so we thought. To start we dragged our RS bag to the bus station to buy tickets and get the shuttle to the train. We left town with 2cents. Back then every country had it’s own currency so the goal was to have the least $ left. Once on the train we realized it was a very little local with no tourists. My husband got out his translation book to “talk “ with students sitting nearby. Fun! This little train was going through woods and farm land that felt very rural. As we neared the Chek Republic/Austrian border a conductor speaking very little English, informed us we had to get off the train, cross the tracks-border and get on the next train to Vienna. With some trepidation, we did as simply told to do in a very remote place. It worked. Upon arrival in Vienna, we got off at the wrong stop. After walking a few blocks with a simple map, we realized the mistake. Back tracked back to metro and made our way to the hostel.

Those were the days before technology and EU with seamless border crossing and Euros.

Posted by
3709 posts

Interesting stories added. I see everyone was able to press on despite the hardships

Mark: I can't remember ever being stopped before leaving Canada for the USA or vice versa, it's always been blast right across the river (or whatever) to the immigration on the far side, and this is a lot of crossings from ports of entry at Vancouver Island all the way to Maine.

Edited to add to my story: A few days later I had another nonsensical experience, at the Dhaka airport. I was about to fly to Bangkok and was called into an interview room at immigration. The issue was I was about to leave the country from a different place than I entered it, without police authorization. I had gotten this written authorization leaving Bangladesh, but since the form was not requested when leaving the country (at the same border referenced above) I forgot about doing it again. I thought fast and proposed to the immigration person that since I had entered Bangladesh in January at the Dhaka airport, then if we ignore the 2 months in India then I was leaving from the same place I entered. It worked. I was sure glad to get out of South Asia and the endless bureaucratic nonsense.

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8888 posts

Back in the days before passports were necessary, we had an issue trying to get back in the U.S. from Canada. We were with another couple and 5 children. The youngest was our daughter, who was 7 years old at the time. Our friends lived in Seattle and 4 of the kids belonged to them. After camping on San Juan Island we packed one van up with camping equipment and left it there. We crammed everyone into the other van and took the ferry to Victoria for a couple of days. We had to go through the border crossing on Vancouver Island to get back on the ferry to return to San Juan Island. No one had passports with them. They started asking our daughter questions. Who were her parents? Where did we live? Where was she born? Where were we born? I’m not sure why they were grilling her. They asked me where I was born. Hey, I got it right! Then they asked my husband. Let the fun begin! He said he was born in Sacramento. That was the correct answer for me and for my daughter. Unfortunately it was not correct for my husband, who was born in New York. What was he thinking? They eventually let us go. We barely made the ferry. During the brief stop on San Juan Island the other van had to be retrieved and driven onto the ferry for the return to the mainland. It was a close call.

Posted by
8020 posts

We were on the beautiful Lakes Crossing from Argentina to Chile where their national park’s borders met. After a lot bureaucratic checks, we were given flimsy little papers with our point of entry into Chile listed. For some reason, I took a photo of the carved wooden sign with “Bienvenidos a Puella, Chile“ carved on it.
Later in the trip, our passports and this piece of paper were stolen. We spent many, many hours with Chilean International Police trying to obtain new Proof of entry/ exit papers. They said there was no border crossing in Puella, and that they had never heard of Puella. There was no proof we had entered Chile legally! We were not telling them the truth! Our names were not found on their lists. And we couldn’t leave Chile without this paper either.
Then I remembered the photo I had taken at border in Puella in the forest! I showed it to these bureaucrats, they changed their minds and immediately gave us new papers and we were free to be in Chile and exit at the end of our trip! It was frightening as well as maddening! They only had names of people who had entered Chile by air. Replacing our US Passports at the US Embassy in Santiago was easy and fast! So much Chilean bureaucracy!

Posted by
3493 posts

Tom, I have not crossed to Canada, or back, on the ground, except for this and one other time going to Vancouver. This one was before 9/11, Vancouver was shortly after. So not much for me to compare to as to what is normal. It happened as I reported.

Posted by
1331 posts

My memorable border crossing was also from Canada to the US.

I am an avid amateur photographer and love to photograph covered bridges. There is one authentic covered bridge in British Columbia. So on a trip to Oregon and Washington to photograph covered bridges we (my wife and I) took a side trip to British Columbia. We entered BC north of Bellingham, WA; went to the covered bridge that is about half way across BC; and reentered WA just north of Spokane to go to a covered bridge in eastern WA. The US border guards could not believe we had driven that far, entered Canada and were leaving in on the same day to just photograph a bridge. They must have thought we were smuggling drugs or something. They tore apart all of our luggage and searched the interior and exterior of the car. The fact that I had a boat load of camera gear meant nothing to them. Oh, we were both in our mid 70s at the time. After two hours they gave up and let us proceed.

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8888 posts

I just remembered another crossing from Canada to the U.S. Our daughter was living temporarily in Powell River, BC. We drove (and ferried) up to visit. We took our dog with us and made sure to have all the appropriate paperwork from the vet for him. No one ever looked at it. Going into Canada wasn’t a problem. A week later we are on the way back and that’s where the fun started. Apparently we had some fruit with us that our teenaged daughter hadn’t eaten with her lunch. Okay, throw it away. Somehow it seemed to initiate further inspection. They noticed the dog and wanted to see the dog food we had. His regular food was in a Tupperware container, so no labels. We also had treats for him. They were made in Canada, but we purchased them in California. There was some Mad Cow stuff going on in Canada at the time. We had to dump his food and treats. Apparently they thought we might be smuggling who knows what, so they sent us into a building to wait while they tore our vehicle apart. About an hour later we were free to go. The first stop in the U.S. was to buy more food for the dog. I haven’t been inspected that throughly returning from Mexico!

Posted by
1875 posts

In 1975 I spent one month traveling through Eastern and. Central Europe with mom and dad. The train crossed into Romania in the middle of the night, and I only know this because there was a horrific banging on the compartment door accompanied by soldiers screaming in German Geh Raus! Geh raus! Or something like that. We opened the door and three soldiers carrying rifles with attached bayonets ordered us into the hallway to present our documents while two searched the compartment from top to bottom and over again, stabbing bayonets under the seats in a space that couldn’t conceal a kitten and then tore through our luggage. Dad couldn’t quickly find his visa and I thought he was going to pass out. All the while these soldiers are staring us down with drawn weapons. We were literally and truly terrified. Eventually we got our paperwork together, they concluded and we were allowed to return. Odd. This was 45 years ago next month and my heart is pounding as I recall and type. Later in the trip, getting locked in a windowless room for an hour while we were “in transit” in Belgrade was a walk in the park by comparison.

Another border crossing into Canada a few years later may qualify as interesting (the Romanian event was terrifying). We were camping and I had decided this time to get organized, and packed our stuff in labeled cardboard boxes tossed into the van. We were surprised when we were pulled over and asked to empty the van. Next to the box labeled “SLEEPING BAGS” , the officer was pointing to the box labeled “ POT” . I caught my breath, and showed him that the rest of the label was covered by another read “POTS PANS SILVERWARE”. A little unpacking and we were on our way.
Safe travels to all.

Posted by
1896 posts

There's a teeny part of the US next to BC, Canada called Point Roberts, and it's only accessible through BC.
About 20 years ago 3 friends and myself were riding our bikes to there, and stopped to go through the US/Canada border post there.
It was early on a Sunday morning, and not one other car or bicycle in sight.
We rode our bikes into the vehicle lane, and the US guard yelled at us to get off our bikes and get into the office.
(Bikes are vehicles are they not?)
We did so, and the guard in the office said (shouted) for us to go back out to the vehicle lane.
We did so, and the first guard shouted at us again that we should be in the office.
We told him his friend indoors didn't want to know.
He grudgingly let us through after many questions; and one of my friends was getting anxious and whispering at me not to say anything....I'm a wee bit outspoken...
After we got through I was so mad I wanted to tell the guy he was not a real border guard, and if he was he should be guarding a proper sized border...he was just a wee man in a big official jacket.
I held my tongue.
That border was known for overly officious guards, both US and Canadian , for years!

Posted by
5630 posts

1) Crossing from West Berlin to East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie in 1982.
2) Crossing from Hong Kong into the PRC in 1981.
3) Crossing into Mexico from Texas as a kid in 1959.
4) Crossing from East Germany into Poland in 1989 on a bus tour (our tour guide was sick and we had no-one to bribe the border guards with vodka, so we sat there on the bus for 5 hours until our Polish Guide managed to make it across to bribe the border guards.
5) Crossing on a bus from Russia into Estonia in 2011 while on tour. The Russian border guards made everyone in our bus get off the bus and all the luggage had to be hauled out for inspection. Our guide, who was Russian, commented that some officials just couldn't get the Soviet Union out of their system.

Posted by
1588 posts

In the early 70s my sister and husband visited me in California. They wanted to go to Tijuana. He had long hair and brought a short wig ( I warned him about not going with long hair) so he wore it with a hat to cross over to Mexico where he took it off.
He asked a guy in one of the shops if he needed to wear the wig when he returned to the US and was told he didn’t have to. You guessed it! They were pulled aside and stripped searched. They found a Swiss Army knife in my sister’s purse but never had my brother-in-law remover his hat where he had a marijuana cigarette hidden in his hair. I don’t remember why I stayed home. I would have been horrified.

Posted by
103 posts

In the early 1980s, I was traveling as an active duty military member from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, to Clark Air Base in the Philippines for some R&R (ultimately Baguio City). Unbeknownst to us (no internet at that time!) as we were flying into Clark, entry requirements changed to require Visas, which prior to that time military members were excluded from needing). So we arrive at Clark and were given a temporary 24 hour Visa, had to take a bus to Manila to the embassy, and sat for 6 hours out of our precious R&R pass, to get a visa--and were actually grilled about why we wanted to be there----spending money seemed to be a better reason than eating lumpia and drinking San Miguel beer! . How did we get along traveling without the internet!!

Posted by
5793 posts

My most interesting boarder crossing was skiing across the frozen Tana River leaving the northern Finnish town of Nuorgam crossing into Norway. The Tana River is the boarder between Finland and Norway. Nuorgam a north most town of Finland. The boarder crossing was the most interesting in that it was the most uneventful with no check points.

Posted by
934 posts

Not a crossing I did but Micheal Palin visting the India/Pakistan border
( Wagah)crossing from way,way back is colouful.
It's on youtube

Posted by
175 posts

In 2004, we were staying at a safari camp in Botswana, near the Zimbabwe border. Driving there from where we landed near Victoria Falls, we took great pains to avoid crossing the border, because at the time, it was said that border officials required anyone leaving Zimbabwe pay a $100 "exit fee". Our hosts sarcastically called it the Robert Mugabe Retirement Fund.

We enjoyed several days of morning and evening jeep safaris around Botswana's Chobe Nat'l Park, with a driver who had a unique way of pointing out wildlife. He'd spot something and point, and say "Egret. SNOWY egret" or "Buffalo. CAPE Buffalo". On the last evening, after dinner, he invited us out for one more short drive into the bush.

It was pitch black, but a few miles in, he spotted some critters on the opposite side of a dry wash/river-bed we had been driving down. He drove across the width of the river bed and up the small incline on the opposite bank for a closer look, and stopped the jeep. He pointed at some large dark shapes behind some bushes, and then turned to us with a sly smile and said "Elephants. ZIMBABWE elephants!"

We then drove back into Botswana and we returned to camp. Not sure if that counts as a border crossing, but for a few seconds there, it sure felt like we were international outlaws.

Posted by
3493 posts

Another "fun" border crossing I experienced.

Back in the 1980's when Coke changed to New Coke and everyone hated it, you could still get the original formula in many foreign countries as their supply had not run out yet. We had been in Jamaica and were returning to the US through IAH (Houston, TX). While in the customs and immigration line, two of the passengers from our flight began talking loudly about what they had brought back from Jamaica in their suitcases. One woman said "I stuffed my suitcase with COKE CANS. I have so much I can barely carry it!" Every one of the border agents immediately perked up, thinking she had said something else. She was immediately surrounded by the armed border police and the drug sniffing dog. She was led off and I never saw her again.

Posted by
493 posts

I grew up on the border w Canada, so border crossings were always boring. 10th HS reunion, pre 9/11, we're done with the reunion, and all the bars in town have closed - but not the Canadian bars.
So myself and 3 HS friends jump into a car, we get to the border and the Canadian border agent asks us where we're from - we all reply, "here." But.... we're in a car with NY plates and we're in VT. The driver has a GA license, I have a MI license, so clearly, we're lying as far as she is concerned. Even though we try to explain that we're ORIGINALLY from here, etc., she denies us entry.

Sooooooooooo.... because we're from here, we run 3 miles down the border to the NEXT crossing and cross with no issue before the first agent can get the car info, etc., into the computer...

And yeah, we drank til 4 am lol.

Posted by
5595 posts

Around 1988, I was traveling with a large business group by train. France had recently re-instituted visa requirements for U.S. travelers. (Whatever year that was.) Our train trip was something like Brussels to Winterthur, but I'm not certain anymore. I think we may have had single-entry France visas from an earlier visit to Paris that month.

When the train entered France, in transit to Switzerland, our travel leader was approached by the border police, passing through the train as you would expect. I overheard him say to the officer that "We are not going to France." The officer replied, "Monsieur, maintenant ... vous etes en France!" It was an uncomfortable interview for our leader, who had little French. He was eventually permitted to buy 40 hadwritten French Transit Visas on the train, even though they were supposed to be obtained in advance, at a consulate. I may have had to lend him some Francs.

Posted by
3709 posts

Just to add a positive re-entry to the USA experience (mine have always been positive, although often too lengthy) in the face of negative ones above.

I was returning to the US at LAX and had been abroad a long time. I was standing near an immigration officer helping out with the long lines, a black woman. I had forgotten how much I missed American black culture so I was overly chatty with her during the wait. Suddenly she parted the rope containing the line and told me I could skip immigration and customs, and just walk out into the terminal! Like I am a diplomat or something, just skipping all the government border formalities. It was great.

Posted by
459 posts

We were crossing into Russia from Estonia, 2011. Longgg line of trucks backed up for miles, & our tour bus twiddled its thumbs for an hour+/- in the 'fast' lane, hoping to not have to decant all our luggage like some of the busloads ahead. Our Lithuanian leader takes bets on how long it'll all take (winner, close to three hrs), while we creep along the road's 7'-high razor fencing & icy-eyed fingers-on-triggers Russian soldiers, certain element of stomach-tightening. Outside the corrugated steel checkpoint building we're herded off the bus, passports are taken away, eek, we trundle our luggage inside, wait some more, various people ahead are being diverted out of sight into secondary inspection... Our guide cautions No Jokes, No Smiles, just yessir no sir thank you sir. Paperwork table, hairy eyeballs but nobody has to open their luggage, & culminating challenge is to walk thru the intimidating phonebooth-shaped metal detector thingy, then we've made it, huzzah. Safe back on the bus someone says, didja notice, the metal detector was unplugged!
And this was to get into Russia, what was getting out like. (We flew later, Moscow to Frankfurt, normal-ish procedures.)

1988 we'd trained into Poland, another No Joking scene, our guide just about stuck duct tape over our mouths.

Posted by
1331 posts

Had the same experience going from Estonia to Russia in 2019. Nothing has changed.

Posted by
3333 posts

Our first travel after WW II was a road trip from Chicago to Niagara Falls. All went well until we came to the U.S. border on the return drive. The guard examined my parents’ papers and announced to my mother (American born) that as she had married my father before he acquired citizenship, she had lost hers. She was now a citizen of Poland! With no papers! I was only 8 or 9 at the time; but my parents’ dismay must have been palpable, since I still remember the incident. After a good deal of consultation, the guard did let us through.
I had always considered this event a a piece of craziness on the part of the border agent, until recently, when I read, “The Guarded Gates,” by Daniel Okrent. There, in fact, was a period in the early 20th century when a woman was deemed to have relinquished her U.S. citizenship by marrying a foreigner. The law establishing that policy was repealed in 1922, but I guess that particular guard didn’t keep up with the news.

Posted by
126 posts

Not by plane but by car:

A couple of years ago I was living in a city right on the Mexico-Texas border, on the American side. I used to cross the border to Mexico to get cheaper groceries. One time the supermarket I was at had an amazing 3x2 deal on potato chips. I bought 6 party size bags of my favorite chips and got 3 party size bags free!! Of course they had more of these 3x2 deals around the store like laundry detergent and so on.

When I drove back home, I reached the border crossing on the American side and a CBP officer asked me the usual: where are going? Where do you live? What were you doing in Mexico? Do you have any fruits or vegetables? The officer was very friendly.

I told him I bought groceries and he asked me to open my trunk. I remained in my vehicle while he walked back there, hear him laugh while checking the bags and came back saying “So, you like your potato chips?! 🤣🤣” I kid you not, he was laughing so loud I started laughing too. I told him “yeah! I went to town...” and he let me go.

Not particularly interesting but funny.

Posted by
100 posts

Our story is similar to Andrea’s except we were crossing into Canadian Niagara Falls from the USA. We just went grocery shopping and had a few unopened, wrapped deli sandwiches for the kids to take back to our hotel suite.

At the Canadian border, the guard didn’t even look at us: a Saab wagon from the States, two parents with a backseat full of high school aged boys and bags of groceries. Threatening right? He asks If we went shopping and are bringing anything back. Yeah, groceries.

Now he looks up at us from his computer. “Any meat?”
“Just roast beef sandwiches for the kids.”
He then points to the building, tells us to park there, exit the vehicle, placing our hands on our heads after exiting the vehicle.
We thought it was a joke. But then a swarm of guys in uniforms come at us from the building so we pull out of the cue.

Hands on our heads, we are sent into the building and processed while our vehicle is completely ripped apart including door panels and seats.

We are placed in a large cell with about 20 other people looking at us like we must have done something Really Bad because we are the most beneign looking family ever. So everyone else moves to the other side of the cell. By now, our kids are roaring with laughter thinking this is a joke but clearly it isn’t.
At shift change a new Sargent strolls over to the cell, not looking at anyone, says “All right, one by one tell me why you are in here today.” Going down the line, we hear “drugs” “drunk” “drugs”, etc., then “roast beef on rye with mayo and Swiss no veggies”.
The cop looks up from his clipboard at our sons, then us. “” Waving his hand at us. “The same sir except mine was toasted wheat.” Long silence.
“Are you f—-ing kidding me???” He yells first at us, then whipping around to the embarrassed officers behind him.

The entire cell erupted in laughter. Sure enough, we could see the charge sheet, and it said “Charges: Sandwiches”. He unlocks the door, waving us to freedom. But my husband refuses to leave until he is paid for the damages to our new car.
We walked out of there with a check that paid for our car and the entire vacation and a written apology.

But no sandwiches.

Posted by
1058 posts

I was on a train in the middle of the night crossing from Austria into Italy in September 1977 when numerous armed border guards came into our compartment with sub machine guns. Evidently, a German Industrialist was kidnapped earlier and when the train crossed the border they were very serious in their search for the victim and the kidnappers. I woke up to the machine gun pointed right at my head. It was slung over the boarder guards shoulder so there was no attempt to intimidate me, but it really scared me when waking up from a sound sleep and seeing it.

Posted by
917 posts

Not nearly as stressful as some of your experiences, thankfully.

My friend is a HUGE fan of Adele, who was performing in Glasgow, Scotland during Spring Break. My friend is a teacher, and our husbands gifted us the trip for Christmas. A week, just us girls, no kids. We were so excited! And it was my friend’s first trip to Europe.

After a LONG travel day and night, including a delayed red eye flight, we arrived at Healthrow with a very tight connection to Glasgow. We were fast-passed through to immigration. When we got to the front of the line, a very grumpy immigration officer asked us “What is the purpose for your visit?” My friend went full fan-girl, school girl giddy, and shrieked “To see ADEEEEEELLLLLE!!!!!” The immigration officer almost laughed, rolled his eyes, stamped our passports and waived us through.

Posted by
1800 posts

In 1973 my brother and I took the postal bus to the St. Bernard pass. While we were there, we walked across the border into Italy and took a picture of a building. I heard the guards sort of laughing, saying in Italian that we were taking a picture of the customs building. We didn‘t care about that, all we wanted was the sign saying Italy.

Posted by
6484 posts

Wasn’t a border crossing but a return from a trip to Istanbul. ( 7 day RS tour)

At LAX it’s Typical that as 4 international flights arrive and are deplaning there’s not enough staff so airline attendants are fretting if they are going to meet their next flights. Guards were surly, spoke poor English and could care less. Female attendants were getting the worst of it till the male pilot and co pilot raised their voices.

My guard kept asking me why I was bringing back a Turkey. 3 times I said in a pleasant non combative reply “ I don’t have a turkey, I went to Turkey, the country!” Finally the other guard yelled at his colleague “ let her through!”

Posted by
1787 posts

Before I knew him, my husband flew back from Australia and his experience at LAX was so horrible I'm surprised I was able to get him to travel out of the country again.

Thanks, Tom, for this topic. I have really enjoyed all the stories.

Posted by
103 posts

We too had a similar border crossing experience from Estonia into Russia. Old habits from the USSR still linger.
When we crossed from Botswana into Zimbabwe it was crowded, no one paid attention to queuing up and the agent starred at us and based on his off the cuff and arbitrary assessment of us decided we could pass through. Some others were told to wait off to the side and wait and wait. Not sure whatever happened to them as they weren't traveling companions of ours.
In the 60's when we were crossing into Mexico from the US with our dog we had to pay (or to use the b word...bribe) the officials x3 to let us in. We had the same experience with the Federales we encountered while traveling around the country.

Posted by
847 posts

Interesting to read about the US Canada crossing issues. My story is essentially the opposite. I was driving across the border from North Dakota. It was a two lane road. At the border were two small shacks with a guy sitting in a lawn chair in front of each. They appeared to be directly opposite each other but one was really on the Canada side and the other the US side. They were playing cards across the street. We stopped and they both got up and looked in the car windows on each side of the car. The car was crammed with stuff as we had spent the summer out west and were heading home back east. They asked where we were coming from and going. We said we'd spent the summer in Colorado and were going home to New York. They said then why are you going through Canada. We said we just wanted to take the 'scenic' route. One guys says to the other "ok with you?" The other guy shrugs and they both sit back down. This was in the late 70s.

I had another totally uneventful experience. I flew into Krakow from Norway, landing late in the evening. The airport was under construction and I didn't see any passport control. I saw the exit and I went through it. When I was leaving Poland a week later upon checking my passport they couldn't find any entrance stamp. I said I didn't get one, just walked in. They shrugged and said, 'have a nice flight'. This was in 2014.

Posted by
169 posts

Flash back to 1975. As the high school Art teacher, I was asked to accompany the Spanish class on their trip to Mexico. Great idea! Off we went. Me - 25 years old, torn jeans and braids with 4 other adults and 28 high school students (most had never been out of Indiana or on a plane). I bought lots of gifts -among them several small silver pill boxes (@1x1x2") that the vendor kindly wrapped in tissue. I carefully packed them in every crack and crevice and shoe of my case. OOPS big mistake. And I thought the kids were naive! HA! What a pain when the customs staff - after finding one - decided to go through every inch of my bags looking for what they were certain were packs of drugs. They were sooooo disappointed.
Lesson learned. Buy fewer trinkets and no torn jeans when traveling through customs ;-}

Posted by
1896 posts

I was flying London to Canada back in the 70's, when you dressed up for a flight.
When I arrived at my home airport, the Customs and Immigration officer just said "Well, off you go then", and didn't want to check my bag or ask any questions.
I then saw the flight crew in front of me, and
I had an identical coat and similar scarf to theirs.
I think he thought I was a flight attendant.

Posted by
787 posts

In July 2016 I went to England. My plane landed at London Heathrow. The official in the booth who's job it was to stamp passports, asked for my itinerary. I had bought my plane tickets from Expedia. This was before I got wiser and switched to buying plane tickets directly from the airlines. I had printed a confirmation page from Expedia. I had left the confirmation page on my couch as home. A guard gave me a few minutes to use my tablet computer to find my information. It took me too many minutes to search through my e-mail. I had forgotten my password to Expedia. They wouldn't let me finish looking through my e-mail for the message from Expedia, until 4 hours later. They fingerprinted me, took my picture, and made me wait in a medium-security jail-cell-like holding tank for almost 4 hours. The took my stuff from me and put in in a closet so I had no access to it. Finally a woman official interviewed me. I recited a lot of drivel about my parents and my hometown and some museums I wanted to see. She took 4 pages of notes and then let me look through my e-mail on my tablet computer until I found my information from Expedia. Then two officials thoroughly searched my bags, stamped my passport, gave it back to me, told me I was allowed to stay for up to 6 months, and then I was free to leave the airport. My trip was 8 days. This was when I was unsophisticated and I wrongly thought I could only go to one city per trip. The rest of my trip was fine. I thought there was a big risk I would have to get right back on a flight home without being allowed to leave the airport.

Posted by
3333 posts

All these tales remind me that different countries differ in how seriously they monitor their borders. The U.K. Is VERY serious.

In 1994, we arrived in London for the purpose of me taking up a 1 year Fulbright teacher exchange. My visa had been handled through the consulate in L.A. No problem.
Up to that time, there was a policy that wives of foreign men who were granted working visas also qualified for them. However, the reverse was not true. The purpose, evidently, was to prevent women, who were hired as nannies (a booming job market) from getting their spouses the ability to get into the U.K. and get jobs.
The law was about to change, so presumably, the consulate issued my husband the visa that would be valid in two weeks. Great consternation reigned! The agent called over a colleague, who in turn, called over another. They consulted weighty rule books. They phoned authorities. When the first explained the problem to us, my husband assured him he had no intention of working. Not sufficient. His assurances to the next two also achieved nothing.
Finally (after maybe an hour of this wacky flutter) someone had the wit and authority to point out that the visa conditions would be valid in 2 weeks and it probably was inadvisable to create an international incident (the Fulbright exchange was a U.S. government program) over such a minor bureaucratic screw up.
Otoh, every time we have entered Italy, the immigration agents have barely glanced at our passports, stamped them, and waved us through.

Posted by
3709 posts

different countries differ in how seriously they monitor their borders

Adding another story, a similar detention room interview, this time Australia. My sense is that English speaking people entering English speaking countries are at the greatest risk of enhanced treatment.

Arriving from Singapore to Perth, I was singled out for interview because after a thorough luggage search they found a seashell I found on a beach that I had not declared, for having a 6 month visa, and for having a "Singapore ticket" which apparently were cheap and an indication of someone intending to enter the country to work. I had only about $50 with me and had considered getting more in Singapore before leaving but that would mean changing money twice (US $ to Singapore $ to Australian $) with the resultant fees and losses and I didn't want to do that. This was before ATMs (at the airport or anywhere) could be used to obtain cash.

I went into a detention room and was interviewed for about 10 minutes. I was on the edge of being refused entry but remembered that I had copied my financial documents and had them with me, one was an IRA statement with about $5000 in a fund called "Cash Management." I was challenged that these funds were not accessible but I said that they were cash and I could access them (I'm thinking that this is true, that IRA funds are always accessible after paying a penalty if under a certain age?).

Even though the whole thing probably was over in 20 minutes and I was allowed my 6 month entry, it was nerve racking. I did get a nice apology for the delay from the interviewer. Lesson: printed proof of funds and proof of an onward ticket should be on hand for border crossings.

Posted by
3191 posts

Tom, and again it could have been just the shell. When we spent a month is NZ and AU in 2020 we were warned over and over to declare every bit of natural product we had on us when leaving NZ to enter AU. If we had any acquired wooden, shell or other natural object we were told to declare it. Every shop and craft market had these warnings posted prominently so we kept things together and did declare our shell and wood things. I can see how you would be pulled out of an easy line for a second look over with a shell in your suitcase given their very strict rules.

Posted by
3709 posts

Obviously the shell didn’t help, but I got the feeling that if not the shell it would have been something else. I had posted home a bunch of stuff from Singapore and thought I had taken care of all the shells. I ran across a German woman later who had been admitted to Australia for just 3 days, enough time to have money wired and presented to immigration authorities, or be deported. I guess one advantage of group or cruise travelers is they are never subjected to this type of scrutiny.

I should have added to my earlier list that immigration officers think nothing of reading your personal letters or journals (aloud in front of you) or to go through your address book and challenge you who people are, so think about what you are carrying.