Every country in the world has a border, a political (and sometimes physical) dividing line that marks where one country ends and another country or territory begins. Borders are categorized based upon the guidelines for crossing them. The least restricted type of border policy is an open border, over which people are free to come and go as they please. Whether an individual is a citizen of the host country, an international visitor, a businessperson coming with goods from another country, or an immigrant seeking to relocate permanently, they need not carry specific documents, prove their identity, or explain their purpose in the country.
As of 2022, none of the countries in the world officially have open borders. While a few countries have open border agreements with a select few other countries (Europe's Schengen nations being the most prominent example), the majority of nations opt instead for border policies that place at least a few additional limitations on individuals' ability to enter or exit the country. These restrictions are typically intended to safeguard national security or preserve business ecosystems.
That said, in some countries official policy may differ from actual practice. Modern countries may have unintentionally open borders. These countries either have no laws at all regarding their border policy or have a more restrictive border policy that goes unenforced because the government lacks the funding to finance proper border controls.
While open borders are currently extinct at the international level, multiple countries have had open borders at times throughout history. The early United States, for instance, owed the majority of its population to unfettered immigration enabled by an open border policy and easy citizenship process. Today, however, the situation has changed. U.S. immigration is tightly controlled and the country has gone from being one of the easiest countries to immigrate to to one of most challenging countries to immigrate to thanks to more restrictive policies.
On a sub-national level, open borders between a country's internal divisions, such as states or provinces, are common. For example, the individual states of the United States have open borders, enabling people to freely travel from one state to another at any time and for any reason (though they may still be restricted from carrying certain agricultural products that could spead disease).
In countries with an open border, citizens and non-citizens may cross the border at will without showing a passport or other proof of ID or citizenship. However, it is important to note that while open borders would make visiting or establishing residency in a new country virtually effortless, they would also introduce significant economic concerns and security risks. As such, no country in the world has a deliberately open border policy.
Native citizens may cross the border at will with proof of ID in countries with a conditionally open border, but others may enter the country only under specific circumstances (for example, refugees seeking asylum from dangerous persecution).
The most common border policy in the modern world is the controlled border. Native citizens may cross the border at will with proof of ID, but others must obtain a visa to visit and may not overstay their allotted time. Borders may be guarded or fenced, with legal entry restricted to designated entry points. Both controlled and closed borders may be protected by border walls.
A common variation of conditionally open and controlled borders, a quota controlled border is one in which individuals who meet certain criteria may be allowed to enter, but only in limited numbers. For example, one method of entering the United States is through a "diversity lottery" that selectively awards residency to immigrants from certqin countries—however, the program is limited to 50,000 new residents each year.
The most restrictive border policy is a closed border, in which borders are closed to both entry and exit in nearly every circumstance. Closed borders are quite rare in the modern world, and are most likely to occur in countries where personal freedoms are challenged, such as dictatorships. Examples of closed borders include the Berlin wall, which formerly separated East and West Germany, and the current demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
While no current countries have borders that are truly open to all, Europe's 26 Schengen countries come quite close in many respects—and because the Schengen agreement covers nearly all of Europe (with only a few non-Schengen countries) it includes a significant portion of the Earth's population. In an arrangement similar to a visa-free agreement, Schengen countries have open borders with one another, but not with non-Schengen countries. For example, Belgium has an open border with fellow Schengen countries Germany (along its Eastern border) and Spain (with which it does not share a border), but not with Russia, which is a non-Schengen country.
* Countries marked with * have not signed the Schengen Agreement, but have open borders with Schengen countries.
The concept of open borders is a heavily debated issue in political circles. To some, the question of open borders is primarily an economic concern. To others, open borders are a social issue or even a moral obligation. Both the pro and con side of the open borders argument can offer a plethora of positive and negative potential impacts.
Many positions held by one side of the open borders debate directly contradict the position of the other side. For example, opponents of open borders claim the policy can cause a "brain drain" in which skilled workers leave poorer countries and immigrate to wealthier nations. Supporters of open borders counter that this fear is unproven and posit that the opposite phenomenon would occur, with skilled workers more likely to travel to wherever the need is greatest.
Note: As with the anti-open argument, pro-open points listed below may be disputed theories rather than accepted scientifically or statistically proven facts.
Note: As with the pro-open argument, anti-open points listed below may be disputed theories rather than accepted scientifically or statistically proven facts.
While there aren't any countries that currently have completely open borders, there are several countries that have open-border agreements with specific countries, such as Europe's 26 Schengen countries, which covers the majority of Europe.