Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tips for Breezing Through Immigration

One of the hazards of traveling is being asked for money by some government officials in some banana republic. You fear being shaken down if you don't comply. For a first time independent traveller this can be intimidating business.

And for those who are male, travel alone and into the same country often, you are the perfect candidate. Some tips:

1. Keeping a straight but friendly face. Stay 'Hello' or smile. Do not be chatty. Talk only when talk to.

2. Getting your papers in order esp. your Immigration Forms. Fill up the part on your place of stay carefully and completely. Otherwise you risk being asked and you are stuck. Do your research. If for whatever reasons best known to you have not booked a hotel and want to do so at the airport counters, have a name in hand. You can change your mind later.

Mae Sai (Thailand) and Tachileik (Myanmar) border crossing

3. Keep all your documents ready and at hand esp. your return ticket. I have been asked many times for my return ticket.

4. The Immigration officials may not know everything. For example in ASEAN, all ten countries except Myanmar have 'no visa' bilateral agreements for each other citizens. I have been asked a number of times by Immigration officers on my visa. My answer is always a straight forward, "I do not need a visa to enter your country."

5. I observe that if you are at the end of the queue the chances of being asked a lot of questions are very high. "Why are you entering my country so often?", "You have a girlfriend here?" Are you doing a business here? You will need a business visa." Try to get a seat in the front part of the plane to facilitate your disembarkation. Try to walk briskly to the Immigration Counter and be the first in line. Facing a long line the officer is under pressure to clear the line you they will let you off.

6. What if you are asked to give money like, "Give me ten dollars." Reply with a firm, "No." It also pays (pun intended) not to lean on the counter. Keep half a step away. This way the officer has to speak up and it is embarassing if he/she is asking for money.

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