When Crossing The Border...

Fall 2004 CSANews Issue 52  |  Posted date : May 15, 2007.Back to list

By far, the majority of Canadians have very little trouble entering the U.S. Over the years, I have heard lots of stories about how easy it is – and I've also heard lots of stories about how difficult it can be. It seems as if it depends on the time, place and the mood of the interrogating officer. And since 9/11, it depends to a great extent on the status of the "terrorist warning system" implemented by U.S. Homeland Security.

Before I tell you some of the stories, I want to remind you that the interrogating Customs and Border Protection officers now have complete authority to "make his/her decision on the spot!" In other words, if they are not satisfied with your answers to their questions and/or you don't have the proper identification or documents (whatever they might be), you could be denied entry to the U.S. Scary, eh?

Legally, you do not need a Canadian passport to enter the U.S. However, I believe that this is going to change in the near future, so I suggest that if you don't have one – get it! It's a simple process that takes about 10 days and the cost is $85. Information for applying in person or by mail is available by calling toll-free, 1-800-567-6868 or you can download the forms at www.ppt.gc.ca.

The CSA, on your behalf, has lobbied to get a special "U.S. Retiree Visa" for Canadian visitors. Unfortunately, Congressman Bill McCollum of Orlando, Florida, who sponsored the bill, was defeated in the last election. He is running for election again in November '04 and if successful, will hopefully resume his efforts to get this bill passed. We will remind him!

Now, let's get to the stories – by the way, I'm not going to use names. This incident took place at the U.S. border-crossing point at Sweet Pass, Montana at 5:30 in the morning. It was so early, because the folks from Calgary thought that it would be easier at that time. No way. The officer on duty was obviously not in a good mood or whatever, because he interrogated them for almost an hour. He wanted to know why they had applied for an Arizona Identification permit. Apparently this info was obtained from his computer. He then wanted to see proof of home ownership in Arizona, which they didn't have with them, so he asked them to fill out personal information forms. Finally, he agreed to let them enter after warning them to have the necessary proof of home-ownership documents the next time.

On the subject of a U.S. State Identification Card, apparently these are available in some states, including Arizona and Florida, and can be obtained at a driver's licence bureau. Some Canadians even have a state driver's licence – why I don't know, because it could make it harder to prove their closer connection to Canada for U.S. tax purposes, if the need were ever necessary.

A couple who spends the winter in Hawaii (nice, eh?) was challenged by a customs officer who started to count the number of days they expected to be there. He was very adamant about making them prove how long they had previously been visiting the U.S. and how long their 2003/04 visit would be. Superfluous to say, they are going to start filing a U.S. 8840 Closer Connection Statement each year.

In a similar situation, a couple from Barrie, Ontario told the U.S. Customs officer at Detroit that they owned a home in Florida and spent five months there. The officer asked for proof of home-ownership which, unfortunately, they didn't have with them. Ouch. He denied entry and told them to return home for the proof. However, the couple finally remembered that they had copies of their U.S. Closer Connection (8840) Statements in their glove box that contained the ownership information. They were then allowed to enter. At their first stop, they had a tall cool one – you know what I mean!

A couple from New Brunswick entered the U.S. at the Vanceboro, Maine border point at about eight in the morning. It wasn't very busy and two officers came out to greet them. Questions were asked about their destination and planned length of stay, but the most interesting question was, "how do you plan on supporting yourselves while you are in the U.S.?" They explained that they had insurance to cover any medical emergencies and offered to show their Florida bank account book, but the officers backed off at that point and allowed them to enter. The couple told me that they felt the officers had just spent a long night and were looking for some entertainment for a few minutes (grin).

This is the one I like! A couple who was lucky enough to bag two antelopes while hunting in B.C. had them butchered and prepared for human consumption. They wanted to take some of this meat to friends in Texas, so they applied for and obtained a special export/import permit. Upon reaching the U.S. border, they were greeted by several customs officers who were co-operative, but sent them to two other officers and a supervisor who apparently was a "power tripper." The supervisor had the officers thoroughly search the couple's motor home and belongings and then insisted upon seeing their hunting licences, which they didn't have. They did, however, have all of the documents necessary to transport the meat. That wasn't good enough and although the two other officers were very apologetic, the supervisor confiscated the meat. Guess what she had for dinner?

Here's one that will make you chuckle! A young man from the Ottawa area married an American girl in Syracuse. They packed all of their unopened wedding gifts in the back seat of their car and headed for the Detroit/Windsor border point with the best man in his car following behind, also loaded with presents in the back seat. The bride and groom were allowed to cross into Canada with no problem – just good wishes. But the unfortunate best man (who might have said the wrong thing) was asked to open all of the gifts for the inspecting officers. It took more than two hours and resulted in a lot of frustration.

In closing, I want to tell you about the "tracking" system when travelling by car to and from the U.S. The U.S. Department of Customs and Border Enforcement and Canada Customs and Immigration confirmed with me (very evasively) that they do this with computers and cameras. I was told that they do collaborate and share information in specific situations. This means that they know when you entered the U.S. and when you returned to Canada, and vice versa. The program is appropriately called, "Partners in Protection!"

So remember, when crossing the border the next time – SMILE!