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ADV News10 Ways To Annoy Border Agents When Riding The World

10 Ways To Annoy Border Agents When Riding The World

Avoid these border-crossing blunders to increase your chances of a smooth passage.

Published on 04.11.2022
My love affair with travel began the moment I was set free from institutionalized education. Eschewing the pomp and circumstance of a cap and gown, I chose instead to load-up a 70’s-era camper and set-off across the United States to “find myself.” A decade down the road, I traded-up and paired-down to 2 wheels, and haven’t looked back since…

In over 3 decades of travel, I’ve crossed borders nearly every way imaginable – by air, by sea, by moto, on foot… and on a few occasions, “unofficially.” I even survived a decade as a sky pariah – cursed with the scarlet letters of airline travel in a post-911 world. I’ve been nearly arrested in England, locked-up in Mexico, bribed crooked cops in Thailand, detained and accused a spy in Nicaragua, and nearly deported from Chile at 2am in the middle of a snowstorm.

Traveling beyond frequent-fliers “elite club” lounges and all-inclusive resorts, encounters like these are sometimes part of the journey. You learn to embrace, and even appreciate these little set-backs. Overland travel is the boots-on-the-ground, get-your-hands-dirty type of journey that makes for great memories and even better stories. After all, no one wants to hear about the incredible buffet on your last cruise to Cabo. 

Border crossings on a motorcycle

After dozens of countries spanning 5 continents, countless miles and sets of tires, I’ve learned a thing or two about what not to do when dealing with border officials. While security lines at the airport, or an uninvited pat-down by the TSA can be off-putting, nothing compares to a 17-year-old poking you in the chest with an AK-47 demanding explanations you can’t give.


But I realize that having your passport confiscated by the military isn’t everybody’s cup of tea… So, in an effort to help those of you setting your sights on a bit of international intrigue, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 things you should probably avoid doing the next time you’d like to be welcomed into another country (or perhaps more importantly, get out of one).

No need to take off your belt and shoes, but keep in mind that while it may be customary to have a breakfast cocktail while waiting to board your flight, cracking a beer at 8:30 in the morning is not “acceptable” at most land-based border crossings…

1. Not Having Your Paperwork In Order – PART 1

Yeah, passports, vehicle titles, drivers license… We all know the basics! But what about a valid hotel reservation for your first night in the country? What about your yellow fever vaccination on an approved WHO yellow card?? What about the mandatory SOAT insurance that is only available in the village 2 hours away???

Border crossings on a motorcycle

The Internet is your friend, and most entry requirements are just a few clicks away, so get to clicking!  A confused look on your face is no substitute for the correct paperwork. So do your homework and come to class prepared, lest you’ll end up in the corner wearing a dunce cap! 

2. Lying

This one should be obvious, but apparently a lot of people missed the memo! Customs Agents and Immigration Officers are law enforcement officials, inasmuch as they’ve heard it all and have their BS radar on at all times. Something trivial to you, like the aforementioned “address of residence in the country,” could turn into something not so trivial if the officer decides to double-check your hotel reservation. Ask me how I know… 

Tips for Border crossings on a motorcycle

While the truth might not always do the trick, chances are the agents won’t be very helpful if they catch you in a lie. Once the BS starts flying, all bets are off! 

3. Asking Them To Make Copies For You

Remember all that paperwork you need? Well, Immigration and Customs want copies! And no, they’re not going to make copies for you – please do not ask! If you’re lucky, you can find a shop nearby that will charge you for copies. If you’re not lucky… Well, I guess we’ll see you tomorrow…

Bring a folder with WAY MORE copies of your paperwork than you think you’ll need – they go fast!

PRO-TIP: Consolidate multiple documents on one page. Typically your passport, driver’s license, and vehicle title will all fit nicely on a single document. This will drastically cut down on the number of papers you need to carry and shuffle through.

4. Arriving At “Going-Home-O’clock”

Border crossings while riding the world

Don’t be that guy (or gal) that dashes through the door 2 minutes before the office closes. At the end of the day, tempers are short and everyone has already met their nonsense-quota. The officers are likely to assume that if you can’t manage to make it there at a reasonable hour, then chances are you don’t have your paperwork together, are going to ask them to make copies, and are a general mess as a human being.

Don’t give them another reason to give you a hard time!

5. Overstaying Your Welcome

Sometimes getting in is the easy part!! The process for leaving is nearly identical. Same offices, just different lines; same paperwork, just different stamps. But what if that “entry stamp” on your passport or your TVIP (temporary vehicle import permit) has expired? 

Well, best case scenario, you’ll pay a nominal fine and be on your way. Worse case? You go to jail and lose your motorcycle. 

Think I’m kidding?

Border crossings on a motorcycle

A lot of people forced to abandon their vehicles abroad due to COVID found out the hard way! Even an exemption is no guarantee. So your best bet is to get out of the country BEFORE your paperwork expires.

PRO-TIP: Always check your TVIP to make sure it doesn’t expire BEFORE your tourist visa, lest you may find yourself leaving on foot. 

6. Trying To Bribe Them

Remember that fine for overstaying your visa? Well, make sure it’s the officer who initiates that transaction, not vice versa. “Suggesting” or offering to pay a fine to overlook an error can be construed as an attempt to bribe an official. Some officers / countries take this offense more seriously than others – don’t find out which!

Border crossings on a motorcycle

Yes, there are times when a bit of monetary lubricant can help grease the wheels of bureaucracy, but there are definite do’s and don’ts should you ever find yourself in such a predicament. 

PRO-TIP: Should you get held-up on a technicality that requires a creative solution, this is one of the few instances where using a “helper” might actually help. Helpers are locals who hang out at border crossings and, for a fee, will assist hapless travelers navigate the perilous bureaucracies that await. 

90% of the time, these people should be avoided at all costs. But the other 10%, they know exactly who to talk to, and will make any ‘untoward offers’ on your behalf, potentially keeping you out of an even stickier situation…

7. Taking Pictures

Border crossings on an adventure motorcycle

If you’re anything like me, and for your sake I hope you’re not, you take a lot of pictures. This is the one rule I’ve personally broken more than any other. For whatever reason, government offices, law enforcement and border agents aren’t fond of shutterbugs, and most borders are adorned with plenty of signs to make that point clear.

Something about national security and blah, blah, blah…

I’ve found that some border agents, especially at remote crossings, are more than happy to pose for a photo. I’ve also found quite a few that are not. Err on the side of caution and ask, lest risk having your SD card (or film, if you’re from the 80’s) confiscated! 

8. Not Having Local Currency

No, not for bribes!! Most countries charge a nominal processing fee for your visa application or TVIP. There’s no guarantee they’ll accept credit cards, traveler’s checks (if you’re from the 80’s), or that there will be an ATM within walking distance.

Border crossings on a motorcycle

And most agents are not prone to accept fists-full of gum wrappers and loose change from 6 different countries you found in the bottom of your backpack.

Carry a bit of local currency with you whenever entering OR leaving a country. At larger border crossings, you’ll usually find plenty of people selling and buying currency. Often, these “Cajeros” have the best exchange rates, and on occasion, bogus bills – so beware!

9. Looking Like A Bum

This one can be difficult for motorcyclists… No matter how expensive that Klim jacket is, we all end up looking, and sometimes smelling, a bit funky after a few months on the road. Do your best to look presentable, and behave like someone requesting the privilege to visit someone else’s home. In some cases you’ll be asked to present “proof of financial solvency” when applying for a tourist visa. This measure helps to ensure you’re there to stimulate the local economy, and not burden it. 

I have seen financial paperwork requested more than once by officers vetting unbathed backpackers who respond “spreading good vibes” as their primary purpose for visiting the country. So unless you want to pack your financial portfolio and 401k statement, it’s best to clean-up a bit before getting in line. 

PRO-TIP: A smile goes a long way!

10. Not Having Your Paperwork In Order – PART II

PCR tests, vaccinations and health-passports… Oh my!! For the final, and most challenging entry, I present to you, the impossible task of navigating the current COVID nightmare.

Many countries now require you to apply for and obtain a “Health Passport” prior to entering the country. In some instances, this process can take over a month. The Health Passport does NOT negate the need for a negative PCR test, obtained within a short window of your arrival. 

Border crossings on a adventure motorcycle

Some countries have agents dedicated to COVID-related requirements and paperwork, others have simply dropped these responsibilities into the laps of the immigration officers. 

This is the one issue I’ve found to be the most frustrating across the board. The ever-changing requirements and lack of manpower has everyone’s nerves frayed, so be sure to cross your T’s, dot your I’s and be patient!! 

Don’t Speak The Language?

One obvious exclusion, and perhaps the most frequent concern people have, is “not speaking the language,” and the reason it’s not on the list might surprise you. 

The border agents know you’re a tourist, the locals know you’re a tourist, the street dogs know you’re a tourist… In fact, more often than not, the only one that doesn’t know you’re a tourist, is you! No one expects you to speak the language. Of course, it’s nice if you do, but it’s not mandatory.  

Border crossings on a motorcycle

Don’t let not speaking a language discourage you from traveling. Some of the best conversations I think I’ve had were in languages I didn’t speak. Laughter and love are universal, and a lot can be said with a smile or a gesture. Travel is about exploring the world, meeting people, and embracing our similarities as much as our differences. 

So remember, be polite, have your paperwork in order, clean yourself up a bit and arrive at a decent hour. With these tips and a little luck, you can avoid pissing border agents off the world over. Unless of course, you’re into that sort of thing…

BONUS PRO-TIP: Never compensate for not speaking a language by shouting, because that annoys everybody! 

Do you have anything to add to the list? We’d love to hear your tips on what ‘not to do’ when dealing with border agents!

Author: Chad Horton

Originally from Los Angeles, Chad threw a leg over a motorcycle for the first time at the ripe old age of 30. Instantly hooked, he competed in his first District-37 NHHA race less than a year later. Whether racing in the Mojave, riding mopeds through Thailand, Route-66 on a Harley, surviving “Mad Sunday” during the Isle of Man TT races, or riding his Honda Africa Twin solo from California to Patagonia, Chad lives and breathes all things two wheels. When not behind bars, Chad is an active SCUBA Diver, skydiver, avid snowboarder, world traveler and below-average surfer.

Author: Chad Horton

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Joe Crennan
Joe Crennan
April 11, 2022 9:45 am

I have driven 400,000 miles in Ireland & the UK w/o license or insurance.
No 3rd world country would ever treat me as badly in comparison so I have no worries. I can also cross borders w/o going through official channels. It just costs more in time & money

Steve Keddington
Steve Keddington
April 13, 2022 5:22 am

The article was both humorous and informative. I really enjoyed that.

Robin Blue
Robin Blue
April 15, 2022 1:37 pm

Good read, absolutely loved it! Makes me want to hang up my 2 wheeled pedal pusher and set out on a motorcycle!…


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