Gone are the days of nonchalant border crossings where you could just waltz right into a new country to explore with little to no preparation. Since covid became a world-wide issue, worldschoolers have found themselves in new and precarious positions at the border.
It’s not uncommon to run into immigration officers who have a difficult time wrapping their heads around traveling, especially open-ended travel…with a family…during a pandemic. Heck, our friends, and family who know us well can’t always grasp why we’re still travelling, so it is rather foolish to expect instant sympathy from a border official.
So how do we orchestrate a seamless entry and the proper visas with the smallest amount of headache?
The answer is be prepared – be very prepared. If this tourist visa matters to you, make sure it looks like it matters to you.
Hard Truth: No country has to let you into their borders for tourism purposes
Plenty of Paperwork
Before you go, scrounge through the immigration pages of your desired country’s tourist visa website. Usually there is a suggested list of documents for tourists to bring to the border. Honestly, I’ve never had to do this in the past, and maybe I’ve just been lucky, but now is the time to be super diligent.
Here is a general list of requirements. This varies by country and is subject to change, so check again before your arrival date:
Exit ticket: Countries are much less likely to grant entry to open-ended travelers. If you don’t have a departure ticket you can book a fully refundable ticket or use a service such as BestOnwardTicket to purchase a temporary flight. Note: Also know the exact number of days you need from entry date to your exit ticket.
Proof of funds: Typically three months of bank statements and other proof of finances such as investment statements, retirement accounts, credit card limits, etc. Some countries will denote the exact amount needed per person on their website.
Proof of healthcare insurance: This is different than travel insurance, this is proof that your family has coverage for accidents and illnesses while abroad. We personally carry the ‘cover page’ of our policy along with our individual health insurance cards.
Covid documents: These are constantly changing. Verify with the country’s website that you have all the proper documents, tests, forms, etc, for entry. Some countries require online forms filled out ahead of time. Do your due diligence here, leave no room for errors.
Have Your Story Straight
Immigration officials will want to know that you’re going to be living like a tourist while you’re visiting the country.
Unfortunately, while some countries are welcoming digital nomads, others are cracking down. Their opinion is that if you’re working online while you’re in the country, you are not necessarily acting as a typical tourist. They may insist that a residency / temporary residency application is a better fit for your purposes.
To show that you’re truly there for tourism purposes have the following information on hand:
A list of all your rental and transportation receipts.
A copy of your itinerary demonstrating how you plan to move around the country.
A mental list of specific areas you will explore including museums, historical areas, art and cultural events, etc, to prove your visit is for tourism and educational purposes for your children.
A way to honestly describe your lifestyle in an easily understood manner – You’re on a gap year. You’re living on passive or retirement income. You’re using cultural immersion as part of your children’s education.
Note: There’s no need to have an essay prepared or to launch into your full background saga. Just prepare a handful of succinct answers to have ready if you’re asked for supporting details. Short and sweet is key.
Look the Part
Yes, we know you just had a long flight. You’re probably wearing lounge wear, have some crumbs on your shirt, and everyone’s hair looks like it just came out of the spin cycle. I used to not care because I didn’t have to care. Guess what? Now’s the time to care.
Do not underestimate a quick stop in the restroom prior to getting into the immigration line. Give yourself a 5-minute makeover, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy: brush your teeth, fix your hair, splash some cold water on your face, freshen your deodorant (or even your outfit) and, if necessary, apply a squirt of Visine (those red-eye flights are no joke)!
Why is this so important now? Due to covid, many countries, especially those with universal healthcare programs, are on the lookout for tourists who may burden their system. A scruffy appearance can signal that your family does not have sufficient means for travel, healthcare, or onward journey expenses.
So do yourself a favor and spruce everyone up a little bit.
Choose Your Agent
As much as I don’t like to discriminate against anyone, we have anecdotal evidence that younger border officials appear to be more open to the idea of families traveling during covid. Of course everyone means well, but it may be difficult for border agents of an older generation to see the risk vs reward in the same manner that we do.
In the case your family has the option to choose which border line you use, take a quick peek to see if a younger officer is available.
Meditate and Relax
Easier said than done. It’s very easy to get caught up in the stress and anxiety of the whole experience but find a way to center yourself and feel confident in your desire to continue traveling.
I belong to a handful of online travel groups and one person mentioned that they work in the counseling and therapy fields. A tactic they suggested to dispel anxieties is to practice meditation prior to your border crossing. This can be visualization, deep breathing, an actual podcast, or guided meditation…whatever works for you.
Prior to our last border crossing (where we knew the country was cracking down on full 180-day tourist visas) I took this advice. I repeatedly visualized the 180 days being written on my visa along with me holding that piece of paperwork while we trotted out into the new country to explore.
The practiced meditation helped me to remain calm, centered, and relaxed while we waited in the immigration lines. Because I had loads of paperwork with us, I felt secure that we could effectively communicate our plans and desires to immerse ourselves in a new culture.
The best you can do is be as prepared as possible for any questions or requested paperwork. If you hit a snag, stay calm and composed. Stay in control of your words and speak slowly and politely. Respectfully ask what other paperwork you can show to prove your family’s interest in visiting this country. Ask if there is anything you can do to help clear up the misunderstanding.
There are no guarantees, but even if things don’t pan out in a favorable manner, do your best to stay polite, calm and relaxed. As stewards of travel and guests of other countries, keeping your cool will help you pave the best possible outcome for any situation.
Planning ahead with paperwork, answers to questions, and a calm, collected demeanor is the best you can do for any border crossing. Having all this at your fingertips can give you the confidence and composure you need to cross borders.
Our recent crossing into Mexico went very smoothly, I give a lot of credit to the meditation. And yes, we did have a back-up plan if we were not allowed into the country for our desired stay. I didn’t put a lot of time or energy into it because my energies were better focused on securing our visa stay rather than worrying about all the ‘what ifs’.
Times have changed, but with a little foresight, borders do remain open especially for well-prepared travelers.