Border Force: The world's toughest customs and immigration

 The funny thing is, it's not the ones you would expect. When you picture hardcore border control officers lording their power over frightened travellers, it's usually in authoritarian countries like Russia or China, or somewhere notoriously dangerous like Colombia or Egypt.

Death stares. Surly attitudes. Intense questioning. Guns on hips, locked and loaded.

But that's not really the case. The Russians aren't so bad. The Chinese border guards can be pretty friendly. Colombia and Egypt? No worries.

If you want to find truly badass border control staff, you need to look closer to home. The people who will frighten you most aren't far away – in fact they're probably just down the road at your nearest airport.

We're not talking about obtaining visas here, or taking long-haul flights. We're just talking about the simple act of dealing with customs and immigration officials to enter or exit the country of your choice. Some are unfriendly, and some are downright scary. Beware.


There's nothing like returning home after a long, tiring journey and being forced into single file on the air bridge while a sniffer dog trots up and down giving everyone a whiff. Welcome to Australia. That doesn't happen every time, but our new, ominously uniformed Border Force officers are notoriously unfriendly and strict, with nary a smile to greet visitors until they've finally made it out into the arrivals hall.

See also: Lee Tulloch - my experience on dealing with customs in Australia


This very much depends on where you're entering the country, and the staff member you get on the day. I've had some great interactions with friendly USA border control officers, even at LAX. However, that's the exception rather than the rule. Usually what you can expect when you touch down in Los Angeles, or Houston, or New York, is a stern face and a generally threatening atmosphere – and a feeling of panic, even though you've done nothing wrong.

See also: How ETSA visa changes could affect your visit to the US

Some people aren't so welcome at LAX.

Some people aren't so welcome at LAX. Photo: iStock


Do. Not. Mess. With Israelis. These guys – and girls – are total bad-asses. The Israeli border control officers might all look like they've barely graduated high school, but they could kill you with their little finger, and most appear to be itching to do so. To enter and leave Israel is to be forced through several levels of security checks and questioning, with absolutely no chances taken by the deadly serious staff.


Just to prove that you can't judge a country by its border control officers, the kind, friendly Cambodians are represented at entry points such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap by some of the grumpiest, surliest guards around. It's hard to say why these guys are so serious, but still, you can rely on receiving no smiles at all until you make it out into the country proper.

Crossing the border into Cambodia at Poipet from Thailand.

Crossing the border into Cambodia at Poipet from Thailand. Photo: iStock


There's a high level of suspicion displayed by most customs and immigration officials at UK border points, probably made even higher lately in the wake of the Brexit vote. Even Australians, good Commonwealth citizens that we are, are regularly hauled over the coals on entry into London airports, questioned about bank balances and passport stamps and even the existence of sporting equipment in their bags. You're not planning to stay, are you?

See also: The visa rules for Australians in Europe


There's nothing particularly frightening about entering the United Arab Emirates – it's just disappointing that everyone has to be so grumpy. As one of the world's major transit points, you'd think staff in Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports would be interested in ensuring travellers have a pleasant experience entering and exiting their country, but that's sadly not the case. It also doesn't help that the queues are usually colossal.


As with Cambodia, it's a surprise to find that such a friendly, welcoming nation as Canada is represented at its airports by border control officers who are anything but. Maybe, for Australians, it's the long flight and the jetlag that makes it especially difficult, but still, most travellers will get a serious grilling upon arrival in Vancouver, and you have to have your wits about you to pass the test.

Customs in Canada, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Customs in Canada, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo: Alamy


The staff at customs and immigration at most Mexican entry points are friendly enough – what is frightening, however, is the lucky draw system they have for searching bags. Press a little button and if you get a green light, you're free to go; get a red light, however, and your luggage will be thoroughly searched. It's not like you've really got anything to worry about either way – but this is Mexico, and you feel like you do.

See also: The biggest border crossing in the western hemisphere

Cars line up to pass into America from Tijuana, Mexico.

Cars line up to pass into America from Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: iStock


Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, if you cross a border by road, particularly coming in from Mozambique, the officers there will want to search every single traveller's bags. That's is always a worry. However, there's a twist. Thoroughly searching all of those bags would be time-consuming and impractical, so the Zimbabwean staff just ask everyone to pack a small daypack to bring into the customs office for them to symbolically search. Everybody wins.

Which countries do you think have the scariest or grumpiest border control officers? Which is the hardest to get in to?



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