With snowbird season well underway—the number of Quebec cars in Fort Lauderdale seems higher than normal this year—a little catch-up on cross border rules might be in order.
Even if you came across the border with little apparent attention from US border control officers, the tracking of inbound (and now outbound) visitors is getting tighter and you must assume your record of crossings is being kept—accurately.
But with a total of 6 months out of 12 in your annual US travel allotment, you should have no problem enjoying your vacation in full.
Still, here are some reminder tips.
That 30-day rule again
If, while in the US you leave the country on a side trip or a cruise (say to Mexico or the Caribbean), remember that if the trip is less than 15 days, it will count as part of your total 6-month (i.e. 180-day) B2 visa quota in the US. If that trip exceeds 30 days, it will not be counted as such: it will be counted as a second, separate trip, and the 30 days or more spent out will remain in your 6-month bucket. And it doesn’t matter that your cruise is in international waters. They still count as US stay-days.
That also goes if you make a trip back to Canada for the Christmas holidays. If that trip is less than 15 days, those days will still be counted as part of your stay in the US.
The cruise rule
If you’re not a snowbird and simply flying into Florida, Texas or California to board a cruise, and you transit directly from your flight to the ship, you will not be deducted any US stay-days. But if you fly to your port city a day or two earlier to tour or visit friends, those days will be counted as US stay-days as will all of your cruise days. Same rule for your return. In effect, so far as entry-exit records show, you simply came to the US and returned home 15 or 20 days later.
As much as possible, plan your trip. Know how long you intend to stay in the US and stick to your schedule. When you cross into the US (increasingly you will do that while still in Canada—thanks to the expanded pre-clearance stations), the border patrol agent will ask how long you intend to stay and will likely ask for your return plane ticket if travelling by air. Make sure you stick to that schedule.
If you’re not sure how long you will stay, say you are visiting a sick relative and you’re return may vary by a week or two, tell the border control agent. He or she can give you some leeway.
It has taken US border control agencies many years to implement the “exit” part of their entry/exit process. But now that they are synchronizing their data with Canadian border agencies, it is possible, and you should expect that every time you enter and exit the US, your crossings are being recorded.
This increased surveillance should not worry you. Ultimately it’s there for your protection. If you have nothing to hide. Don’t hide it.