U.S. or Canadian border agents have a tough job doing quick assessments of your travel intentions when you roll up to the border in a car, truck or motor home. Make it easy on them and yourself. Be specific about your plans. Don’t joke around. Don’t be a smart ass.
The agent on the U.S.side has no way of knowing if you know the rules or not. So he has to ask questions—be polite, specific and be prepared to show some proof that you don’t intend to vanish into the U.S. underground and that you will be returning home after your vacation is over.
If, for example, he asks how long you will be staying, tell him what your planned date of return is. You probably know it. You bought travel insurance to cover you for your days away, so you know when you’re returning. If you didn’t buy insurance, don’t bother reading further; you’re not ready. Have your policy handy in case he asks. It’s good proof that you intend to return to Canada.
And remember—the maximum you can stay in the U.S. is six months per calendar year—no matter which province you live in. You can’t be looking for work in the U.S., or doing business there in any way unless you have a special visa that allows you to do so. This is not a mere formality. Break the rules and you can be barred from entering the U.S. for years.
Have your passport ready. And have some backup documentation that you have a residence to which you will be returning (a rental is fine), a residential phone bill, and a specific address to which you are heading in the U.S. Don’t just say you plan on touring around and you’ll be gone for the winter: you’ll be asking for trouble. If you are just going for a couple of weeks and you are not yet retired, have proof that you are employed. Border guards are especially suspicious of people wandering into the U.S. who are unemployed. If you are unemployed, there’s no way that border guard is going to let you stay for six months without having some means of support.
And on your return, when you face Canadian customs, be aware of what the dollar limits are on bringing articles you purchased back into the country. There are dozens of websites that can tell you that, based on how long you have been away. Oh yes, if you were thinking of filling your golf bag with jugs of cheap Canadian Club, be aware that’s the first place agents look.
Remember, if you intend to be wintering in the U.S., you will be a guest. You have no right to be there. It’s a privilege.