While I have cleared immigration at countless airports around the world, the following destinations will always stand out the most for me.
Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border: To date, this is my only ever “serious” border crossing by land (no, I am not counting driving over the American border into Canada as that is inconsequential I feel). At the end of my internship in Costa Rica, all of the program participants traveled by bus into neighboring Nicaragua (it was also my longest bus ride to date, almost ten hours). When we arrived at the border, we had to get off the bus to clear Nicaraguan immigration. To me, it was like something out of the movies. You went into this sterile looking room with all of your belongings which you then laid out onto a surface in front of you. Immigration officials then came around to inspect your passport. It wasn’t over yet…you then actually left the room sans belongings. I remember being paranoid over this, thinking for sure something would go missing. You waited outside in a landscape that was bleak, hot, and empty. Imagine a building in an arid setting in which nothing else is around…this would be immigration at the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border. On a side note, the two countries have always had a tempestuous relationship stemming from multiple events, so needless to say, crossing the border is somewhat of a big deal. I’ll also never forget this place since it waswhere for the first time ever I saw soda being sold in a plastic bag. Apparently, though, this is quite common in extremely developing nations.
Port of Tangier, Morocco: After crossing the extremely rocky and sea sickness inducing Straits of Gibraltar, the catamaran I had traveled on from Tarifa, Spain arrived in Tangier, a city that is essentially the gateway into Morocco. Even though I would be in Morocco for less than a day, it was a “rigorous” immigration appraisal all the same. Officials boarded the boat and inspected everyone’s passport. When one travels between Canada and the United States, passports are briefly examined but never stamped. In Morocco. however, I received a stamp for the 10 some hours I spent there. To this day it remains my most cherished one, all due to the intriguing Arabic script.
Brussels, Belgium: One always hears of Scandinavian countries as being the most “trusting” of nations. Well, whoever said that has clearly never been to Belgium. On our flight from Chicago to Brussels we were never given any immigration or customs forms, something I found extremely odd since one always expects this when traveling somewhere internationally. However, upon landing at Brussels’ airport, we showed our passports, received a stamp and were on our way. (And on a somewhat related side note, we stood in a terribly long and annoying line to buy tickets for the train that would take us from the airport into the heart of the city. Never once were we asked to show our tickets, no one ever came around. Honor system indeed.)
Houston, Texas (USA): The only time I have ever been “grilled” by immigration officials was in my own country. Upon returning to the United States from Mexico, I was flying back to Pittsburgh by way of Houston. I’m an American citizen (obviously), speak fluent English (obviously again), and could not look any more stereotypically American (red hair, pale skin, blue eyes). The immigration official asked where I had been, what I was doing, etc. I explained that I had been working as a volunteer in Mexico. When he asked if I had a job in the United States lined up, I explained no as I was returning home after being abroad for numerous months and would be looking for employment. He hounded me for at least a couple of minutes in an extremely unfriendly manner, especially considering my clear citizenship. I don’t know if he thought I wasn’t American or would be a drain on the economy. Since this was in Houston after all, I was further annoyed as I doubted I was the first gringa American to travel to Mexico either for work or something school related.
Do you have any unique immigration stories to tell from travel?