Text by: Raja Nadhirah Raja Hasnan
Illustration by: Adelia Abdul Razak
Go to New York, they’d say. It’ll be fun in London, they’d also say. And so, young travelers, hungry for an adventure and with dreams of traveling to world-class cities in the US, Europe and Australia, are ready and raring to go, only to be left bewildered (“But, our visas have been approved”), heartbroken (“Why can’t we go past these gates?”) and devastated (“What do you mean we don’t look like tourists?”) when immigration officers of First World countries bar their entry, or worse, deport them.
What no one tells these naive young travelers is that obtaining a visa is not a guarantee of entry to a country. It is, at best, a privilege, and it only means you’re halfway there, and yes, you can still be made to take a U-turn back to your country. As immigration checks in First World countries get tougher in the last two decades due to terrorism, illegal stays and human trafficking, young travelers that are ill-prepared may get caught off-guard and traumatized by the process of immigration clearances.
However, traveling to a First World Country is still and absolutely achievable! Just take heed of our advice (we were once young too, OK), and you’ll be fine.
1. Be prepared to answer tough questions
A mistake that young travelers often make is thinking they’re good to go. They have their passport, their visa, what else could be stopping them from embarking on their dream journey? In comes the immigration officer (hereinafter referred to as The Tough Guy), your first obstacle.
Sometimes, immigration officers would probe more by asking you several questions, so it’s good to be prepared. Questions may range from the usual “What is the purpose of your trip?”, “How long do you intend to stay here?” or “What is your occupation?” to the extreme, such as “Are you looking for a boyfriend so you can stay here?”, but don’t be alarmed. Smile, stay calm and answer the questions honestly to the best of your ability.
Although some questions may be infringing one’s privacy, it is important to remember that Tough Guy does not have anything against you personally. It is his or her job to raise a red flag should they find your background suspicious (as in, you’re disguising as a tourist but you actually want to work illegally, or cause harm to the city), and by doing so, they’re important gatekeepers to safeguard the country.
Important note: Do NOT joke around with Tough Guy, particularly jokes related to bombs, drugs, smuggling, and communicable diseases. Tough Guy doesn’t take jokes very well, and besides, you’ll never be able to make him laugh.
2. Know the itinerary yourself
We all have that one friend who is the chief planner of travel itineraries and organizes them as though she runs her own travel agency. We even secretly suspect that she has an Excel spreadsheet for vacation purposes, and all other #nerdthings.
The rest of us prefer to just tag along because, *cough* we can’t work our way around Excel. But, this could spell trouble when you are confronted by Tough Guy. So, make sure you have at least a rough idea of the itineraries, the addresses of your stays and budget estimations, instead of looking clueless (which Tough Guy interprets as suspicious behaviour) when you’re confronted with these questions.
3. Bring some cash, along with supporting documents
You are young, and you want to see the world, but *sigh* you don’t have a lot of money. Unfortunately, in Tough Guy’s eye, you don’t look like an ambitious young traveler, but more like an illegal immigrant in the making. 🤣
We highly recommend you to bring along some supporting documents, especially copies of those you submitted when applying for a visa. In countries that do not require tourists to apply for visas beforehand, you may bring a letter which verifies you’re currently employed, and a statement of your bank account balance. Have ready alternative sources of funds, such as a credit card which bears your name as the cardholder. Cash is always king, and you’ll be surprised that credit card facilities may not be as widely available in First World countries as you think, especially if you venture off to the countryside. So make sure you don’t underestimate your expenses and bring some extra bills, just in case. Remember to keep them safe.
4. Check the food or meds you can bring along
Every now and then, we chance upon the classic story of a Malaysian attempting to bring packets of Milo into a First World country. In said person’s defense, Milo made in Malaysia is one of its kind (we wholeheartedly agree, too) but to Tough Guy in some countries, packets of Milo are perceived as contraband. The story ending? Her Milo packets were confiscated, but what’s worse than Tough Guy’s snide remark which followed, “Milo is available in our country too” (never mind if we said ours is one of its kind).
While some officers wouldn’t even bat their eyelids when you pack sambal into your suitcase, we’d advise you to check what you can and can’t bring into the country via the official immigration website of the country you’re visiting. Certain foods, especially food containing animal products, and fresh fruits are generally a no-no.
A similar rule applies to medications. While over-the-counter medications are generally okay for personal use, be mindful that some medication may contain banned substances in certain countries. It’s best to bring along your doctor’s prescription, and not bring more than 30 days’ use of the medications.
5. Keep your liquids in transparent bottles
In First World countries’ busy airports, getting all clearance before boarding the flight may take up to three hours. The last thing you want is to let questions on the toiletries in your carry-on suitcase hold you back and be the reason you miss your flight.
Standard practice for items in carry-on luggage requires all liquids (which includes drinks, creams, perfumes, sprays, gel, and toothpaste) to be in containers of 100ml. Containers larger than 100ml in size will not be accepted although they are only partially filled. In Europe, standard checks at some airports would also require you to declare the toiletries and cosmetics in your hand-carry luggage, by putting all of them in a transparent re-sealable plastic bag.
It’s important for Tough Guy to see what kind of liquids you are bringing. We have even heard of stories of people who were asked to drink water in their bottles to make sure it’s what’s been declared! Now you know, Tough Guy means serious business.
Now that you’ve read this list, you’ll never have to be pulled aside for looking less like what you’re set out to do — travel the world with a curious mind and an open heart.
Don’t let these horror stories hold you back from traveling the world. Book your travels on Traveloka, take caution of our advice, and you’re good to go!