With cross-border travel increasing: for shopping, visiting family or friends, short or long term vacations, it’s important you keep track of your time spent in the United States. Certainly, American are not trying to keep you out. They welcome Canadians and they appreciate your business. But there are rules about how long you can visit.
Canadians are allowed to visit the U.S. for no more than six months per calendar year, and given the increased sophistication of surveillance technologies, passport scanners, and inter-government data sharing, you can’t take the chance that won’t be detected for the occasional overstay. If you are, you can be banned from entering the U.S. for years—maybe forever if your infractions have become egregious.
Border agents generally think in terms of months, rather than days: May 16 to November 16 will generally count as six months, rather than the 185 days it really is. But don’t try to split hairs with them. They don’t like it. Some do it one way, some another. The rules are not hard and fast on that. So to give yourself a cushion of safety, stick to the 182-day rule. And do count the day you step into or out of the U.S. as one full day, even if it is only an hour: just as you would count the six-hour shopping trip to Buffalo as one full day.
One of the most frequent questions we get here is how long must one stay in Canada before returning to the U.S. after a six month stay? There is no specific rule for that. There is no requirement that you must stay put in Canada for X days before returning to the U.S. What matters is how many days in total over the course of a calendar year (that means between January 1 and December 31) you have been in the United States.
And besides counting your days, you also have to use your common sense. If you spent the last six months of 2011 in the U.S. and you think you can drive home to Ontario for six days and then head back south again for another six months, you’re asking for trouble. Because besides the six month rule, that border agent is going to use his common sense and realize that you are clearly planning on spending more time in the U.S. than in Canada and with that will come a lot of questions . And the agent has a right to do that. And if he or she feels you are trying to take advantage of your rights to visit, you could be turned around in your tracks—no questions asked. Don’t be greedy.
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