I hate travel days, packing up your bag, dealing with whatever means of transport is necessary to get to your next destination, and especially crossing borders. Borders are some of the most stressful places on earth, they’re generally crowded, everybody is nervous, excited, tired, and just wants to get through and move on. It’s not much better for the people working at them either, they have to deal with these people who are tired and stressed out, which in turn wears them down. Borders are also a place of great opportunity for locals; tourists are generally out of place, uncomfortable, unable to properly communicate, and easy to take advantage of. This translates to dollar signs for the clever, tricky, and/or dishonest locals looking to make a buck off the passing tourist, and even more stress and uncertainty for that tourist.
Surely there are other borders not on this list that are painfully slow, dangerous, or tedious to no end. If you know of others or have had bad experiences, lets talk about it in the comments section at the bottom.
Intense. If you’re not a fluent Spanish speaker, and even if you are, navigating the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua can be quite difficult and lengthy. You’ll have to do this one on foot, so if you came in a bus, grab all your belongings and say goodbye to it. Don’t expect signs or people there to tell you where to go or how to cross, you’ll have to get social and ask around. This is one of the least tourist friendly borders I’ve ever been too. You’ll have to wait in long lines on both the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan sides. There are people everywhere, it’s unorganized, people cut the lines constantly, and you’re never really confident you’re where you’re supposed to be. You’ll also have to practice your skills fighting off scammers, schemers and beggers. For a first time traveler, and even an experienced one, this border can be pretty intense.
Slow. When taking the train from China to Mongolia, you’re guaranteed long delays as they change the wheels on the trains. Every train on the Trans-Mongolian Railway has to undergo this gauge change because the tracks change fittings at the border. During your 6-8 hour wait you can expect to get covered in sand, a tedious identification check, heat, and there’s always a fairly good chance you’ll get to test the limits of your bladder as guards frequently won’t allow use of the toilet. Bring your patience to this border crossing party.
Irritating. London is one of the best travel hubs in the world, offering dirt cheap discount flights across the European continent, and some of the best deals to other continents as well. This is one of the reasons I’ve been in and out of England something like 10 times, possibly more. In these 10ish arrivals at the border, I’ve had rude agents process me 9 times. I’m always patient, organized and polite when entering a country, the last thing I try to do when crossing a border is give them a reason not to let me in, so it’s not like I’m giving them a reason to treat me poorly. There was also the time I was detained, thoroughly searched, and interviewed for hours at the Manchester Airport, only for them to tell me I wasn’t allowed back in the country the next time I came, but that’s a story in itself.
Scary. Crossing from Lebanon to Syria by car is not all that common for tourists. If you have no Syrian visa, it is possible to get at the border, but you don’t really have any idea of how long it may take if they give you one at all. For this reason, if you’re taking public transport, your ride will most likely not be waiting for you. I took a shared taxi from Beirut, which meant I was on my own from the border. Lines were not very long at immigration, however they had to take my passport and pointed me towards the waiting area with no indication of how long I’d be waiting. I patiently sat for around 2 hours when they called my name, and from stories I’ve heard I was fortunate to only have to wait the 2 hours. From there I had to find a new ride, which was a bit difficult not speaking Arabic or French. However there are shared taxis crossing through the no mans land regularly which you should be able to flag down for a ride to Damascus. Get comfortable with large guns, sand bag and barb wire barricades, and sniper towers for this border crossing.
Hassle. Entering the U.S. is a crap shoot, it can be incredibly quick and easy, or dreadful. Since 9/11, the borders around the world have gotten increasingly strict, but the U.S. takes it more seriously than pretty much any other country. Depending on time of day, crowds, where you’re coming from, where you’re from, where you’re currently living, where you’ve been, and who is working your line at customs, it’s not uncommon to be stopped and detained for questioning and a search of both your bags and your person. Often people lose 30 minutes, an hour, even more to interrogation by sometimes rude border agents while entering the United States. If you look at it from a numbers standpoint, most people get through quick and easy, but if you’re the one who gets picked on you won’t be happy.
First you have to pass through the exit customs line in Costa Rica. This line can be quite long, and there are several lines, so make sure you find the proper one. If you can’t speak Spanish, you’re better off asking a foreigner in line for help rather than someone working, don’t expect much help from the border staff. You don’t have to pay any exit fees at the time of this writing, just submit your papers, get your stamp, and move on. Once through Costa Rican customs, you’ll have to walk through a long dirt covered no-mans land area between the borders. Just go with the flow of people, pretty much all of them will be headed to the Nicaragua entrance queue. Here you’ll have to fill out a form and pay an entrance fee of around 7$ US. People will approach you and offer you the form, to help you fill it out, and maybe help cut the line, but you’ll have to tip them for this service. Entrance forms are free at the counter, just ignore them and grab one yourself. As a rule of thumb, ignore most any local trying to talk to you as it’ll likely lead to them expecting a tip for some service. The line moves slow, and when people cut in front of you it’s really irritating. After clearing Nicaraguan customs you’ll have to pay another $1 US fee to exit the area and you’re on your way. Depending on where you’re headed you can catch a chicken bus from the Nicaraguan side of the border, we caught one to San Juan Del Sur fairly quickly. Note, there are money changers on both sides of the border, but it’s better to use them on the Nicaragua side. They’re generally safe, reliable, and not far from the accurate current exchange rates.
TheCheapRoute.com is the site where you find fresh new travel destinations & ideas. We don't provide guidebook style writeups, we normally don't even offer you all the specifics, you can find that elsewhere. What we do provide are high quality photos & videos, useful tips, and a fresh perspective on travelling the world for cheap.