The Snowbird Border Crossing Kit

Summer 2000 CSANews Issue 35  |  Posted date : Mar 05, 2007.Back to list

Entering the United States is rarely a problem for snowbirds who are Canadian citizens. Yet, being aggressively questioned by a United States Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) officer or denied entry can be a traumatic and frustrating experience. The key to making border crossings quick, easy and stress-free is understanding the immigration regulations that are in place and how they apply to you.

A Canadian entering the United States for pleasure travel is technically admitted on a B-2 (Pleasure Visitor) Visa, even although a formal visa is not issued. There are five specific legal requirements for this type of visitor status. First, you must prove your Canadian citizenship through providing your passport or birth certificate and photo identification. Second, the sole purpose of your trip must be pleasure travel (i.e. wintering or vacationing in the Sunbelt). You cannot work in the United States. Third, you must be entering the United States for a specific and limited duration (generally, six months or less). Fourth, you are required to maintain a residence in Canada that you have no intention of abandoning during your stay in the U.S. And fifth, you must be able to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to cover the expenses of your entire trip.

The level of scrutiny from U.S. immigration officials will vary dramatically from trip to trip. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services officer who questions you is primarily concerned that, as a Canadian, you are not living permanently or working in the United States without having first properly obtained either a Green Card or an appropriate work visa.

To reduce the possibility of a delay at the border or being denied entry to the United States, prepare a simple border crossing kit and carry it with you on each trip. Keep the contents of this border crossing kit in a special envelope, and update the supporting documents each year. Of course be aware that the officer has a complete discretion to deny entry if he is not convinced of your stated intentions, or if he considers your documentation insufficient. There is no guarantee.

Your border crossing kit should consist of the following: (1) either your passport or your birth certificate and photo identification (as proof of Canadian citizenship); (2) a copy of a utility bill and a Canadian property tax notice or rental agreement (as proof of your permanent Canadian home); and (3) bank cards, credit cards and a copy of a recent bank account statement (as proof of financial means). As a fourth suggestion, any proof that you will be returning to Canada is also helpful. A return airline ticket, a health insurance card showing your intended return date, or even written evidence of a future doctor's appointment in Canada could prove helpful.

When crossing the border, do not volunteer the contents of your border crossing kit (other than your passport or birth certificate). Rather, simply verbally declare your citizenship, the purpose of your visit and the anticipated length of stay. Be certain to answer the INS agent's questions truthfully. If, however, you are "called-in" for aggressive questioning, simply produce the documents contained in your border crossing kit as evidence of your eligibility for B-2 (Pleasure Visitor) Visa status entry.

Understanding the law and being properly prepared will minimize your chances of encountering a problem with U.S. immigration officials and allow you to cross the border each time in a confident and stress-free manner.

Andrew Cumming is a Florida and Ontario lawyer. His practice areas include cross-border estate, tax and immigration planning for snowbirds. Mr. Cumming is also the author of Florida Bound: The Essential Guide for Canadian Snowbirds (Macmillan Canada/CDG Books).