Original article on www.vagabondjourney.com
When you go to enter a country it is common for you to have to fill out a little form in advance to give to the immigration inspector along with your passport. This form just collects some of the basic information about you, as well as a few details about how you arrived to the country, where you plan to stay, and your purpose of visiting.
Always fill in immigration forms accurately, completely, and with the best responses possible. This is not a recommendation, it’s a rule of travel. It’s folly to think of immigration officials as mentally supple human beings who are going to understand/ be empathetic/ give a shit about your special and unique situation. Generally speaking, their job is to be robots. Input comes in, it’s checked to see if it all lines up, output goes out. You give the inspector your passport and arrival card, he or she checks your details and visa, and, if all goes well, stamps you in. Leaving an empty space on the immigration form, not filling it in accurately, and giving too much of the wrong type of information will short circuit this process, and sometimes lead to problems.
What follows are four essential tips to prepare your arrival papers in a way that will get you through immigration as easily as possible.
1. Fill the Form in Correctly
It’s very important to make absolute sure that what you enter onto this card matches what is printed on your passport and, if need be, your visa. In large part, an immigration official’s job is to look for inconsistencies in the documents that you hand over. If you watch them work you’ll see that they look back and forth from your passport to your entry card to what comes up on their computer screen after swiping your passport.
All three information sets have to match perfectly. Arrival forms often ask for the same exact information that’s already printed on your passport, which seems redundant, but I assume the ruse here is that if someone is traveling on false credentials they may “slip up” on the entry card. Perhaps.
Whatever is the case, make sure that your entry card is absolutely consistent with what’s printed in your passport. If you have three names on your passport, make sure you enter them all on the form; if you have five names, enter all five. Be sure to copy down your passport number correctly, as well as its place of issue. Also be sure that you record your birthday right.
Some years back I went through Chinese exit immigration on my way to Mongolia, and, after a long day and night of traveling, I can’t say I was in my best form. I accidentally wrote the current year in for my birthday rather than the one I was actually born in. This set the immigration inspector’s warning lights off.
Clearly, she knew that I was a lot older than two weeks old and had just made an error, but common sense does not always apply when dealing with immigration: I short circuited the process and would need to be inspected more closely. The situation just amounted to having to answer a few extra questions — no big deal — but the fact remains that making even a benign error on an immigration form can get you signaled out for further examination: exactly what you don’t want.
2. Fill in All the Blanks
The blanks on an immigration form are meant to be filled in, so do it. Regardless if it’s absolutely applicable or not every question must be answered. Leaving a blank blank is another way to short circuit the immigration procedure.
Now, most of the fields on an arrival form are pretty straight forward, and there’s little reason to leave them blank. One exception to this is the one that asks for your prospective address in the country. If you’re a traveler you often don’t have an address, but you can’t tell immigration this.
You need to fill in this blank with the name and address of a hotel or hostel, and it’s my experience that just about any will do. If you don’t know where you’re planning on staying, again, keep this to yourself and just give some random hotel address. If you don’t have a booking made pretend you do when going through immigration, and have a hotel address prepared in advance — for the most part it’s impertinent whether you actually stay there or not.
One problem with immigration forms is when they ask for information that truly does not match your situation. One common one is the blank that says something like, “bus/ vessel/ flight number.” If you’re walking or biking across a border you’re not going to have one of these. I try to fill in the blank anyway, and will write something like “on foot,” or “on bicycle.”
3. Be Consistent with Your Visa Type
Be aware that inconsistencies is one of the the things that immigration officials tend to hone in on. Be sure that everything that you submit to them lines up flush and normal. You want to be just another sheep when going through immigration. One of the main ways to be selected out of the herd is if you don’t fill out the “purpose of visit” and “proposed itinerary” fields on the arrival form in a way that’s consistent with your visa type.
For example, if you’re planning on volunteering but you’re entering as a tourist, don’t mention this: your purpose of visit is tourism.
If you’re a tourist but you’re planning to stay with friends, leave this fact out when you’re going through immigration. Looking like a run of the mill tourist with no local connections is always best.
If you’re entering a country as a tourist be sure to give an itinerary that looks like it: don’t go filling these immigration forms with “off the beaten track” destinations.
*Image of an application form for visa entry via Shutterstock