Last month, I was travelling on a backpacking trip across Russia and the Baltic states (Schengen zone). I'm an Indian by nationality. So I had to get the respective single entry visa for Russia and Schengen Europe.

At the border crossing into Estonia by road (at Ivangorod-Narva), I exited the Russian border with an exit stamp (so now I can't go back to Russia since I had a single entry visa). When I was at the immigration checkpoint of Estonia, I was heavily questioned on the intent of my travel to Europe while entering Estonia by road.

Though I finally got into Europe, It got me wondering - what happens if a foreign national is denied entry into a country not at the airport but by land between 2 countries he cannot go into ?

Generally, if you are denied entry at the airport the airline has the obligation to fly you back to your country. But what happens when you are stuck between two countries and you cant get into either ? What happens to you then ?

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    Related (but clearly not identical): travel.stackexchange.com/questions/11701/…
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 9:02
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    Hope you have some camping gear with you? ;-)
    – user13044
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 9:52
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    @Tom and do what... pitch a tightrope on the border? ;-)
    – user23030
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 1:58
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    You take up temporary residence in the transit area. You'd better be in an airport terminal, like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 0:29
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    You had perfectly valid single entry schengen visa and i see no reason why the estonians questioned you? Which schengen country issued your visa? is it estonia?
    – pbu
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 15:01

6 Answers 6


If you are at a land border and inadmissible in both directions, you'll be taken to a detention centre. In the scenario you described, most likely Viru. They will book you in and then go over your travel document(s) with a view to determining where you are admissible. They will contact the consulate where you have citizenship and let them know you are in custody.

Once they have determined the next steps, they will serve you with a removal order. If it happens in Russia, you'll go to the Мировой суд (local magistrate) and get a five year ban, you can also expect to get dunned for their expense. Estonia has a similar sanction, but it operates under the EEA judicial system.

Once the paperwork is complete, you'll be escorted to a removal centre. In Estonia, it would be at Tallinn Airport, and in Russia there's one at Sheremetyevo 2. In most cases, you'll be issued a one-way travel document and placed on the appropriate (civil) flight. Nobody gets stuck forever in a gulag. If the receiving country has no problems with you, the removing country will give your actual travel document to the airline staff and you'll get it back once the flight has cleared the removing country's air space.

I've been in the one at Sheremetyevo (on the representation side), the biggest concern they have is finding out the REAL reason you are in their country. Also, you need to really hope there were no crimes committed in the area where you were caught. I have no experience in Tallinn. Overall, it's comparable to detention anywhere; the biggest problem people face is the language barrier in the day-to-day world as their paperwork is getting sorted out. From end-to-end, the process would take a maximum of two weeks.

When you debrief people who have been removed, they invariably report that the conditions are civil, and the most harrowing part of the experience was the screwballs they encountered whilst in detention.

NOTE: your scenario takes place where there are clear land borders. If your scenario took place at a disputed border, like in Morocco, things could get exponentially more complex very quickly. This answer is scoped to stable countries only and the intervention occurs at a control point. If you are caught deeply inland in Russia, you will be in trouble. Also countries and regions not mentioned in this answer are out of scope.

Related: Airline policy when a passenger is refused entry in both departure and arrival countries


Further to the comment by Nate (to whom thanks), depending upon how the control point is laid out, there may be a 'discussion' by the border guards over who has jurisdiction. My best guess is given in the first paragraph. BUT... For the scenario described, the OP should try to get taken into custody by the Russians (even if they have to run to the interior).

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    Nice answer. In the situation described (exiting Russia and refused entrance to Estonia), would the detention / removal take place in Russia or Estonia? Is there a standard protocol to decide which nation is responsible for this? Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 13:30
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    While I do not doubt it actually works like this, could you elaborate on the reason for the five year ban? It's not like the OP would have been caught illegally entering the territory, instead they attempted to enter the territory the regular way, where the border officials decided against allowing the immigration (and, given that a visa is often described not to serve as a guaranteed permission to enter, but as the formal document allowing you to attempt to enter, showing up at the border seems to be the only way to find out whether you may enter at all). For instance, if the OP had ... Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 14:11
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    Why should the traveller try to be detained by the Russians as opposed to the Estonians?
    – CMaster
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 15:13
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    Reading between the lines, you're saying that you're going to pick up a negative record in the country or territory which processes you, and you're just less likely to want to go back to Russia and thus suffer further repercussions from a record there vs. Europe as a whole (as controlled by the EEA)?
    – Jason
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 16:29
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    That awkward moment when the Russian police are your preferred option...
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 17:23

From personal experience on the Thai-Cambodian border (left Thailand but refused entry into Cambodia), the departure stamp gets cancelled and you get back into the country you just left.

Here's an example of how a cancelled Thai exit stamp looks like (taken from https://rompingandnguyening.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/bangkoking-again/): enter image description here

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    +1, Excellent image! It include the dates too. Any idea what the writing says? And can you include if this was a land crossing? And thanks for adding a great answer with live passport stamps.
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 4:18
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    @GayotFow to clarify, this is not my stamp, but mine (received at land border crossing) was the same with big red "CANCELLED". So, technically you don't "enter" the country again and as far as immigration is concerned you simply have never left.
    – ramirami
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 5:20
  • There are some other questions here on Thailand/Cambodia. Please look them over and see if you can answer some.
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 6:07
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    FWIW, I once got a cancelled departure stamp due to my scheduled flight being unable to take off, and passengers having had to spent one night in a hotel. Just saying there's all sorts of reasons for canceling a departure.
    – deceze
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 7:47
  • It happened to me once between HK and Shenzhen. My HK exit stamp (that was a long time ago) was cancelled and it was as if I hadn't left HK.
    – user67108
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 7:08

It happened to me once in Saudi Arabia - due to a delay at immigration; my visa was marked as invalid because midnight had passed.

They didn't stamp anything on my passport. I was held in a jail at the airport - was not allowed to enter the country.

My passport was with the immigration officials; who then escorted me to the next departing flight to Kuwait and my passport was handed to the flight crew. On arrival in Kuwait, I was handed my passport and I entered the country as if nothing had happened.

There are two land crossings between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; and at each of them there is a "no man's land"; which is a land buffer between the two countries.

Anything in this land is considered in a neutral zone. There are plenty of vehicles and remnants of the Gulf War there (old tanks, etc.)

Here is a picture that I took during one of my road trips to Saudi Arabia that shows the fence around the no-man zone:

enter image description here

The green sign in Arabic is pointing cargo vehicles to the right and passenger vehicles straight forward; and underneath that "immigration and customs"

If you are denied entry into either of the countries, you have to cross over this land border; assuming you can enter either of the bordering countries.

If you are inadmissible to either of the countries, then you are held in the detention center and then subject to deportation.

You're fortunate to have been admitted to Kuwait. Please consider adding a scan of your refusal stamps. Also, did you encounter screwballs whilst in detention? What were the conditions like?

Unfortunately there were no refusal stamps; because the delay was from the immigration's fault (they had a computer glitch).

So it was as if I never entered Saudi Arabia. No entry stamp, no exit stamp. Just an exit and entry stamp from Kuwait. The reason I was admitted into Kuwait is because I had arrived from Kuwait (I have permanent residency there).

The detention conditions were poor by Western standards, but okay for Saudi standards.

There was a cot with some bedding; the room had no light and there were lots of bugs running around; it was a temporary cell till the concerned were either shifted out to the immigration cell or boarded an exit flight.

For the majority of the time I was there alone; and since I was caught in a bureaucratic loop hole (my flight was well on time, and had they not had issues with their systems, my visa was valid) and wasn't trying to enter illegally, I spent most of my time outside the detention area sitting on the waiting chairs at the immigration arrival hall.

During shift changes, I had to go back into the cell, until someone came up and check on me and then they were apologetic and just let me come out again.

I did have one another person from Nepal who was escorted to the cell around midnight the first night I was there. The person didn't speak Arabic or English; but spoke Hindi which I can also speak.

I asked one of the officers what was his situation since they were unable to explain to him why he was in detention.

They explained to me that they suspected he had falsified his date of birth on the passport and appeared underage. The person was coming in on a labor visa.

I explained to him the situation and personally; he did look underage - probably a victim of visa traders.

He didn't have any contact numbers except for one of the person that was supposed to pick him up. I offered my cell phone to make the call, but the number was disconnected.

The officials told me that they would put him back on the first flight to Nepal.

Considering what was waiting for him (labor camps and virtual slavery at the hands of his sponsors) he didn't know it yet, but the Saudi immigration was doing him a favor and sending him back.

I tried to explain it to him but (like most such workers) he was just concerned as he had to take a loan to pay for the visa and ticket.

Honestly - the immigration officials were very understanding - it helped that I understood and spoke some Arabic and I was not panicking/yelling. To me it was one of those situations where I would chalk it up to a great story to tell.

My parents were very upset as they were not told what it going on. So my mother complained to the immigration staff what is going on, etc. and so (as is usually the case in Saudi - women are given priority in matters); they escorted me to an area where they brought my mom in so she could see that I was okay and everything.

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    +1 for a great personal experience. You're fortunate to have been admitted to Kuwait. Please consider adding a scan of your refusal stamps. Also, did you encounter screwballs whilst in detention? What were the conditions like? Great answer!
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 17:54
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    Women are given priority in Saudi Arabia???
    – GMA
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 9:53
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    Yes, odd as it sounds - women have priority queues everywhere and special privileges; its the other side of the "women can't drive" coin. For example, at the national zoo in Riyadh, they have days where only families and women are allowed (bachelors/single men are not). Similarly malls have separate entrances, etc. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 14:40
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    @GeorgeMilo - yes, in an earlier life I used to fly in and out of Arabic countries on my own, and I was astounded! Women get to board first, extra waiting areas and so on. Having had occasion to wait a long time in the middle of the night in an airport in the area, I also know what happens when these privileges disappear as the offices close. Not good.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 8:52
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    @GeorgeMillo Interestingly enough, the Arabic/Eastern culture is not as one-sided in this aspect as we westerners may be led to think by some of our very vocal activists.
    – Pavel
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 8:54

It's happened to me--single entry visa, the officials at the destination country decided the whole group of us weren't getting in. (Internal issues, not a problem with us.) I think the border guards of the country we left were used to the situation, we had no trouble getting back in as if we had never left. I don't have that passport anymore to see if they put any special notation in it when this happened.

Edit: As per request: This was on the Burundi/Congo border, 1982.

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    +1 Personal experience is great. Can you tart this up a bit to include the countries and approximate dates and what the premise of your trip was?
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 2:58
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    @GayotFow I can confirm as well that this is exactly what happens (Thailand-Cambodia border, departure stamp simply gets cancelled and you get back to the country you just left). I suspect that the situation you described in your answer (detention center etc.) only happens very rarely if at all.
    – ramirami
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 3:01
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    @ramirami, I only know from clients I had. If you have a personal experience in Thailand-Cambodia, please add an answer. We might be able to make a canonical question out of this if there's enough countries.
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 3:04

It depends on the foreign policies of the involved countries and the relations between your country(ies) of origin and those.

Unless the nation is currently under a civil war, revolution, invasion or under a dictatorship, your basic human rights are granted on the signataries of UN treaties. The list of countries is here:

A good resource is the US Department of State report on foreign countries:
While it is only fully valid for US citizens, the foreign policies of the countries is listed there.

For the Mercosul countries, you can expect a fair treatment and even some time to fix your documents without being deported. While I will focus on Brazil, the other countries follow a very similar policy.

Also, Mercosul citizens have free pass on most of the member states' borders, but foreign visitors must have a valid visa for each of the countries visited.

The answer assumes you are a tourist having visa troubles, not that you are illegally entering the country (my sentiments with all the refugees that are attempting that right now, may you find a safe place to live).


Brazilian law dictates that foreign visitors without a valid visa have to be sent back immediately. The responsability falls with the transportation company (air, water or ground borders) [art55].

You have the right to contact your country consulate or embassy, and the right to assistance from your diplomatic representative.

If they cannot be sent back, the barred visitor can be assigned a temporary stay on a limited region (the don't leave the city kind of thing).

The border officers are most concerned with drug and gun smuggling and contraband. Attempt to cross the border on popular tourist checkpoints, not in the middle of the amazon or other known smuggler's routes.

Detainment is only reserved for clandestine visitors, and can last for 30 days maximum renewable for 30 more days.

If you cannot get the visa, you will be given 3 days to leave the country by your own means (book a flight or something else). Otherwise you will be deported [art98].

You can request political asylum from within the country, and Brazil is known for granting even controversial requests (Ronald Biggs, Cesare Battisti). More info:

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    +1, Great to know more about South America. Do these countries differentiate between an airport and a land control point?
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 3:00

From what I have gathered these years. Bottom line is that there are these standard treatments:

a. You'll be arrested if they judge you as illegal entrant (immigrant who jumped over the fence)

b. You'll be detained in detention centre if they judge that you're not a genuine tourist.

c. You'll be taken to spend some time in the land detention centre (at airport or somewhere inside the country for your case). As for the illegal immigrant he will be jailed for trials, receive his verdict and punishment (serving jailtime up to one year or more), afterwhich he gets deported.

d. Finally you'll be escorted to a point of exit, usually to plane back to your country, or by a custodian bus if it is a neighboring country.

e. Your reputation will be damaged forever if you have had passport, that usually you'll have to change your data and passport and start everything over from anew. You are doomed.

f. You are regarded as a criminal. Expect harsh, inhumane treatment and extortion if they feel you have money to cover your self-expulsion and all your belongings may be confiscated.

g. All the above can be alleviated if you have good connections, be them with influential friends or people inside the country, lawyer, agency, etc.

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    This doesn't seem to address the specifics of the question.
    – CMaster
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 13:36
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    e. Your reputation will be damaged forever if you have had passport, that usually you'll have to change your data and passport and start everything over from anew. You are doomed. - this has never happened to me, despite being deported. Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 8:22

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