Chances are, if you’ve flown to a different country you’ve been given a card to fill out on arrival. This form, called an embarkation card, is given to immigration along with your passport to provide information about you and your visit.

This won’t be the most exciting post, but after having my own bad experience, I thought I’d write a quick few tips regarding these little cards.

Shanghai - Apr 2013


Can’t stress this one enough. Usually you’ll be handed an embarkation card before arrival on your airplane, boat, or however you’re entering the country. If your airline does not pass out the cards, ask a flight attendant about it. Many airports will have these forms at a counter in immigration–but not always.

We thought it was a bit strange when we weren’t handed an embarkation card on our flight to Phuket, but didn’t bother asking about it because we assumed we would just fill one out at immigration–WRONG.

Everyone rushed off the plane to get in line at immigration, and quickly came to a halt when they asked everyone where our embarkation cards were. There were no cards at the counter and the immigration officers told us we should have by given them by the airlines. Everyone started arguing that no one was given any on board.

Now for most people, their immigration officer pulled out a new embarkation card from his desk.  Unfortunately for us, we picked the wrong immigration officer. 

“You help me, I help you.”

“Yes! yes!”, we excitedly replied and stood there waiting for him to give us our cards.

He gave us a look and the repeated “You Help me, I help you”.

Oh… the excitement quickly disappeared from my face at the realization of the situation. “You mean you want money?”

“Uh huh”, he grunted.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. Do we really need to bribe this immigration officer to be let in? I looked around as everyone else was quickly scribbling down their information on embarkation cards they had been freely given.

Worried that we’d be denied entry, we opened our wallet– 50 baht. That was all we had managed to pre-exchange with a plan of exchanging money in the morning when stores reopened (our flight landed at 3am). We weren’t sure if we would need cash to get to our hotel, so we asked him if 20 would be enough.

Again he grunted, and we handed him the bill.

Needless to say he stamped our passports in and did not give us any change.

I was bitter the next few hours over my lovely welcome to the “Land of a Thousand Smiles”. But because of this incident, every time I’ve since been on a plane, I make sure to receive an embarkation card during the flight.


Just as you shouldn’t assume immigration will provide embarkation cards for you, you shouldn’t assume they’ll have a pen either. All embarkation cards need to be filled out in pen, so if you know you’ll be traveling, it’s best to throw one in your carry on.

This tip also helps you save time since you can fill out the card on board rather than having to fill it out at the counter before getting in line for immigration.


What you write on your embarkation card needs to match what is on your passport or visa, otherwise they may stop you. If you have your first and middle name on your passport, then you need to write your first and middle name on your embarkation card, etc. And if you’re looking for work in the country you’ll be visiting, but you’re entering as a tourist, make sure to check your purpose as “tourism” and not “employment” if you don’t have the proper visa for it.

Double check that all questions have been answered correctly.  Dates are often written differently in other countries. When I first traveled to Asia, I wrote my birthday wrong the first time. There were two blanks per section and I quickly jotted down my birthday in the American order mm|dd|yy, but when I looked again the form was asking for yy|dd|mm.


Avoid leaving any part of the form blank.

Almost all forms will ask for your hotel address. If you haven’t booked a hotel, that’s okay, but just write down the name of a possible hotel you may stay at. Another common blank that can be hard to answer is the “flight/vessel number” because maybe you arrived by bus, train or foot. I just try to write-in the accurate information. When I went to China from Hong Kong, I simply wrote “by MTR train”.

If something truly doesn’t fit your situation, simply write “N/A” instead of leaving it blank.

Filling out the cards can be a hassle, and it is not uncommon that travelers are denied entry due to mistakes in their embarkation cards. Although most mistakes can be quickly fixed, it is best to get it right the first time in order to have a quick and painless time through immigration.


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