Border Rules Are Confusing? Surely You Jest

Confusing? Crossing the border into the US is confusing? That’s what many visitors to TIF keep telling us. And my response is that those who are confused need to pay attention and forget the rumours.

Here’s a brush-up.

Keep this number in your head: 182 days, or 6 months (which, depending on the months you travel, could be a couple of days less or a couple of days more). That is the maximum amount of time you are allowed to be in the US over the course of a calendar year or the past 12 months.

That can be in one seamless stretch, say from November to April, as snowbirds do it; or it can be done in 12 trips of 15 days each; or one long trip and a few weekenders. And for those of you who live close to the border and are addicted to the price of US gas (or booze), it can mean even more frequent trips. But remember, once you set foot on US soil, you start counting. Put it this way—a single overnight trip is going to count as two days.

Art Lashbrook of Creston, BC, recently expressed confusion on this topic (see his comment). What the US border agents are really looking for are those travellers who overstay their 182-day “allowance.” When they see someone approaching the border who looks as if he or she doesn’t have a job, is vague about their destination, or doesn’t have a permanent home or bank account, border agents are not obligated to give them a 182-day pass. They can put them on a short leash, or deny them entry. They have that power.

Canadians do not have an inalienable right to spend half their life in the US. It is a privilege.

Related: How Long Can Canadians Stay Out of the Country?

Part of the confusion Art may be referring to is that provincial governments have different rules and time limits on how long their residents can stay out of the country or their province before they lose their eligibility for government health insurance. Some travellers assume that because BC, Alberta, and Ontario allow their residents to be out of the province for up to seven months in a year, they can spend all that time in Arizona or Florida or Buffalo. No. Americans have their laws, Canadians theirs, and they don’t always mesh.

We also get many queries from Canadians who believe that if they pay taxes to Uncle Sam they can stay in the US longer than 182 days. Not so. In fact, even if they stay for fewer than 182 days they can become residents for tax purposes. But if they are bona fide Canadian residents and they pay their taxes to Canadian governments, they can be excused from enriching the IRS by just filling out an 8840 form. But now I may be confusing you, so I will refer you to this link so you can figure out where you stand in terms of paying US taxes.

And if you remain confused, we’ll be here to try to de-confuse you.

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