A border checkpoint is an area on the border of two countries where people may pass back and forth between the neighboring nations. As the term “checkpoint” would imply, passing through a border checkpoint typically requires a presentation of documents and a brief interview with a border official to confirm that the crossing is legal. The nature of procedures at a border checkpoint varies, depending on the nations on either side.
Typically, border checkpoints are designed to funnel vehicle and foot traffic through a series of stations manned by border officials. Often, cars have several lanes to choose from, to avoid a bottleneck at the border, and the lanes may divided further for the use of returning citizens, shipping companies, foreign visitors, and so forth. International airports also have a form of border checkpoint in their customs area, which new arrivals must pass through.
Typically, border checkpoints go both ways, with officials manning entrances and exits. When someone enters a border checkpoint, he or she will be asked for identification, and an interview about the nature of the visit may be conducted. Vehicles are typically checked for contraband, and a passport may be required for identification and stamping. People can be detained at border checkpoints for suspected violations of the law, failure to have the right passport stamps, and other issues. Upon exit from a country at a border checkpoint, an official will usually quickly review the traveler's passport and documents to make sure that everything is in order.
Border checkpoints are used to control the flow of people into and out of a nation. They are the first line of defense against illegal immigration, and they are also the first point of call for people seeking asylum, as asylum-seekers must usually declare their intent at the border. A border checkpoint is also used to keep contraband goods including illegal drugs and dangerous agricultural products out of a country, and as a line of defense against entrance into a nation for criminal purposes.
Some border checkpoints are very relaxed, and passing through the border may be a simple formality, typically thanks to treaty agreements between the countries along the border. In other cases, a border checkpoint may be tightly controlled, and the procedures at the checkpoint may be quite extensive. Tight controls are more common along borders with hostile nations, or along borders used for illegal immigration. Checkpoint Charlie, a famous checkpoint between East and West Berlin, was a notable example of a tightly controlled and sometimes even dangerous border checkpoint.
It is a good idea to be prepared for a border crossing before passing through a checkpoint. For foreign nationals crossing borders, contacting the embassy of the nation being crossed into is a good idea, to make sure that all requirements for a smooth crossing, such as visas and permits, are met. At the border crossing, customs declarations forms and other materials may need to be filled out, and people should also be prepared for a brief interview, even if they are returning citizens.