Border Crossings in 2021: Your Ultimate Guide

We’ve all faced crossing a country border in our VW bus, or would like to this holiday season. This year has been especially tricky keeping up with the constant changes during the pandemic. Inspired by past travel experiences and 2020, we’ve created your ultimate 2021 guide to border crossings.

It’s important to stay current with each country’s policies and make sure we’re aware of general guidelines for border crossings, especially this holiday season going into 2021.

At the front lines, border control police have fundamental objectives when carrying out their duties. On the one hand, border police need to regulate the movement of people, animals and goods across country borders to ensure compliance and prevent illegal crossings. On the other hand, Buslifers are looking to explore the next country on their bucket list. So how can you cross borders as stress-free as possible, while making their job easier?

Types of border crossings

First off, it’s good to know the types of border controls you could face when passing from one state or country to the next. It’s also good to get acclimatized to the current situation and what this means for you when you’d like to cross these borders in your VW Bus.

Most countries have regulated or controlled borders. Some go as far as having fortified borders (actual fences and walls – think the wall in china, the USA – Mexico border, etc), and very few have open borders.

Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Border crossing biosecurity
  • What to prepare before you leave
  • Travel insurance
  • How to be ready when crossing a border
  • Difficult borders to cross and how/if this affects your travel plans

Understand biosecurity

Biosecurity can sound like a scary and confusing term, but we’ve actually all been adapting to biosecurity through the Covid-19 pandemic. So think of it as another angle of preventing the spread of disease. Harmful animal and plant viruses are at risk to transmitting infectious diseases or bacteria, so also fall under biosecurity.

To uphold biosecurity, don’t cross borders with plants or seeds that are considered ‘alien’ to the country you will enter. Ensure that if you have a furry family member, that your pet has all of its latest shots and regular checkups (and have them documented and signed by a vet as proof). You may need this proof at border crossing points.

What we learned in 2020 is that quarantine rules are not regulated or fixed. They change rapidly from enforced 14-day quarantines to self-quarantining, to some places advising only for 7 – 14 days of quarantine.

Always check official government sites of your intended location regularly, even the day of cross-border travel with your VW Bus. Things change rapidly and literally overnight as all of us have witnessed throughout the year with first and second-wave Covid-19 cases across the globe. 

Essentially, you want to protect human health and that starts with you.

What to prepare before you leave

So we mentioned you should regularly check official government sites for the very latest information before leaving your last spot. Another way to prepare is to research the place you are going to visit, as well as considering your intended activities.

Chances are that you have already checked a box of activities to do and this is a big reason you want to go to your next destination. This is great because it gives you an idea of how to prepare the ‘protection and prevention’ element of your trip. Are you going somewhere that has no close access to hospitals or medical sites? Or will you be in a remote place, perhaps a place with lots of animals around?

Clothing preparation

Perhaps you’ve planned outdoor activities. If so, pack or stock up on clothing suited for this. Like sufficient long-sleeved and loose-fitting tops and pants. Then get mosquito or insect-repellant sprays and spray your clothing ahead of time. Many options allow for one spray 48 hours before the time that lasts up to 2 weeks. If you are shopping in or around Europe, I highly recommend this repellant spray instead. It is safe for young children and pregnant women too.

This type of preparation can save you from unwanted illnesses, like Izika from mosquito bites if you’re in South America. When I traveled through South America, I had a host of preparation to do in advance. Clothing preparation was part of it.

Vaccinations and medication

Getting vaccinated and taking cycles of medication months in advance was also part of getting prepared. Getting these shots and recording immunizations in my vaccination book (signed off by a doctor) was a critical part of staying safe health-wise. They also prevented hiccups (documentation-wise) while traveling around.

Hygiene and sanitation precautions

One has to think of more than simple hydration, sunscreen, and avoiding wearing perfume because it attracts some insects. Being actively prepared in another way is to be conscious of the foods and drinks you consume on the road. Make sure you’re stocking up on groceries or eating at places that are hygienic and sanitary to avoid falling ill. It’s also a good idea to keep a small kit of paracetamol, anti-allergy tablets, etc in your VW Bus if you haven’t already done so. Take all the precautions that are in your power to avoid getting ill. Unnecessary trips to the hospital and doctors’ rooms cause stress, puts you in contact with other sick people, and can leave a hole in your financial pocket.

Get travel insurance

But if you do fall ill while on the road, avoid making the mistake of not being covered. Some places require obligatory medical insurance while traveling in their country (like Switzerland). If you cross these types of borders, you will run into trouble without travel cover.

What to cover

You’ll want to have cover for yourself (and your furry friend), your VW Bus, and your goods while on the road.

Which travel insurance is best for you

Most of our home country banks offer limited travel insurance for FREE simply if you have a credit card with them. The insurance policy and accompanying official letter are easy to access online, print out, and take with you to show officials or use in a medical emergency. Check with your home bank if they offer this. If you are doing a 3-month travel stint across the border, this is a fantastic option. You’ve got sufficient travel insurance and it’s free. I’ve successfully used this option in the Schengen State area, where their minimum insurance requirement was more than fulfilled by my bank’s free 90-day cover plan.

Buslifer-specific travel insurance

Many insurance companies are keeping up with the times and now focus on Buslifer cover. So you can get insurance coverage while at home or on the road – worldwide. If you’re traveling for a permanent or semi-permanent amount of time this is a better option.

They even include nation-wide coverage for those who are Buslifing in their home country permanently. For this, they will ask for a home-base/fixed address though, so you could ask your parents or a sibling to help out with this part.

In the end, don’t skip out on travel insurance, especially if you live in your VW Bus full-time. It means that you have a lot of expensive gear with you 24/7. So make sure that you have the correct coverage and that it remains updated. Having a printout or easy access to a digital copy of your coverage is a good idea. If you do this you can always check the status of your policy and make a call for adjustments when needed.

How to be ready when crossing a border

Whether you are crossing the Mexico border to enter the USA or another country, always have everything you need readily available for checks.

Have documents ready

Always have documents and passports ready at border crossings. Think about your insurance documents, visas, an updated passport (at least 6 months before expiration plus 2 clean pages), VW Bus license papers, and insurance. With your driving license, check if you need an international driving permit conversion for the country you cross into.

Also pack your yellow fever card and immunization documents, pet documents if applicable, and the results of a recent Covid-19 test showing negative status within the last 48 hours. Having a passport and travel document folder is the best way to keep everything neat and handy. I invested in a leather holder and well after 12 years it is still as good as new. Passport and document holders recommendations can be found here.

You also want to have a backup of all these documents. A backup of printed copies held in a different location to the original documents (like your VW Bus safe) and a digital/cloud copy if your documents get stolen or lost.

Keep cash and foreign currency

Be ready with local cash or a widely accepted foreign currency in the exact amount as far as possible to pay for visa entries or tolls. This can help speed up the process. And avoid long and unnecessary queues at the ATM with the other unprepared tourists. Being ready in the Dominican Republic in this way saved over 2 hours of waiting at border control. Think ahead. 

Consider time of day

If you can, get up to date with when and which days are best to cross the border, like avoiding crossing at peak times. For example, some people cross the border every day because they work in a neighboring country. This will impact the amount of time you need to set aside to cross the border. It will also impact the time and efficacy of the border police in some places as they may not have a dedicated passing area (blue convenience channel) for residents.

Keep it tidy at border crossings

Keep your VW Bus neat and also be sure that you look neat and fresh when crossing any borders to avoid being singled out for questions and checks. 

Declare what you have

Always declare your goods and foods especially if you are unsure. Rather avoid the risk of trouble with border police. If in doubt, stop, park your bus and ask. Be respectfully friendly but don’t get familiar with border control police. If you park your bus to go and declare goods at the border control office, have your passport on your person. This will give you a chance to have your passport stamped for entering and exiting a country. 

Get your passport stamped

Some border crossings require mandatory passport entry and exit stamps. The Triple Frontier of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay border is one of these places. When I passed this border in late 2019, I was obligated to get my passport stamped so that I could leave the country. One of the reasons it is mandatory is that Paraguay has no foreign or duty taxes implemented. People sometimes buy electronics in large amounts and these need to be accounted for at border crossings. If any individual has entered and exited this frontier too many times (which they control via your dated passport stamps) it raises questions of excessive goods transportation.

Border crossing delay times

Since this Triple Frontier is also a touristic border (because of the Brazilian and Argentinian Iguazu falls visitors), there are lots of large tourist buses that pass causing delays. You will want to include these factors for your days and timings to cross (we suggest you pass the border outside of peak morning and evening times). This and the exempted foreign taxes are some reasons why crossing the border here can take time.

Some countries can give you an estimate of wait/delay times like between the USA and Canada. But like Brazil and Argentina, it’s not possible to know.

Either way, plan your trips with this advice in mind. Have your documents, luggage, food, and digital devices ready to be checked. Keeping them neat and being organized will speed up the process. 

Bus fumigation

Some countries also require your VW bus to be fumigated (a biosecurity measure). This doesn’t happen very often, but we advise you to have all your electronics stored inside an airtight container. Alternatively, keep it inside a good travel bag that offers protection during fumigation.

Toll gates

In the Schengen States and some other countries, it’s a requirement to either pay for tolls on the highway or to buy a special vignette to stick on your windscreen for general highway access. Be ready to pay for these in local cash. Some credit card machines may not work with your card or they may not accept foreign currency.

Official port of entry

Finally, you absolutely must enter countries via their official port of entry. Failing to do so makes your entry illegal.

Most difficult border crossings

There are a number of known difficult borders to cross. Though a lot of them not applicable to your travel if you are staying on safer adventure paths.

If any of those borders do apply, knowing and preparing for the discussed challenges will help you understand how it may affect your Buslife travel.

2020 Saw one of the most relaxed cross border setups change due to the pandemic. Netherlands and Belgium literally have painted street markings showing the change of country and people never really cared which country they were standing in before.

Then with Covid came the challenge that both countries adopted different rules. The Netherlands relaxed, Belgium strict. Because of these different rules during lockdown, border police patrols started popping up along the country border markings. You could face a similar situation, or much stricter scenarios in 2021.

Challenges and difficulties can occur at border crossings from:

  • Mexico –  USA
  • Canada – USA (or vice versa)
  • Panama – Columbia 
  • Anywhere in Australia (in my experience they are the strictest with biosecurity)
  • Brazil – Argentina – Paraguay Triple Frontier
  • Western Sahara – Mauritania
  • Dominican Republic borders in general (entry by plane or boat, then renting a VW Bus and travel by driving)

We’d love to keep this page up to date, so please add your suggestions in the comments below. If you know of any more borders that may be difficult to cross for our VW Bus community share these with us too. All your stories are welcome!

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