Snowbird Border Crossing Alert: 2012

With the approach of snowbird season 2012, we need to warn you of the possibility of increased border crossing surveillance into the United States. But don’t panic.  The rules have not changed. You are still welcome as visitors. Read on, and we’ll give you some tips to make the crossover easier.

For the great majority of you, who plan on spending extended periods in the U.S. this winter, crossing the border will remain no big deal: a little more time, a few more questions, and some increased discretion on your part in deciding what to carry with you in your car trunks, motor homes or RVs. Common sense will still remain the best rule.

But you can make it easier and less stressful on yourself if you are prepared.

Here’s what we suggest.

Have your passport on hand.  Don’t scramble around at the last minute looking for it in your hand luggage or glove compartment. And if you don’t have a passport, shame on you. Get one.  It’s indispensible in the modern world. If you’re going to be an international traveller, act like one.

Be prepared to show some documentation that proves you are a Canadian resident, with a permanent home in Canada (a rental is OK), perhaps a property tax receipt, phone or utility bill, your complete travel insurance policy showing the effective dates of coverage and your planned date of return to Canada. That proves you have paid for your visit and have a firm schedule to return home.

Be specific about where you are going. Have a specific destination address in the U.S. and know exactly when you plan on returning to Canada. Telling the border agent you are “planning on wintering in the South” is an invitation to be hauled over to the side and grilled.

Be polite and patient with the border agent.  He’s only doing his job, and you can’t believe the dingbats he has to deal with who insist on making jokes, telling him their life story, insist on being argumentative about “their rights.”

Be precise and honest about anything you are carrying if asked if you are bringing plants, food, household goods, chemicals, or whatever else into the country. I know of many RVers or motor home occupants who empty out their fridges at home and take the contents south with them because they don’t want to waste good food.  Forget it. And leave that traveller’s lunch behind too. For the most part you are not allowed to bring foodstuff across the border.  Period.  You can’t do it when coming into Canada, you can’t when entering the U.S. Don’t get into an argument with a border agent about an apple. You will not win.

If you’re a legal resident of Canada, but not a citizen, make sure you have the documentation to prove your nationality. You will need your foreign passport, and you will need good documentation that you are in Canada legally: a provincial health insurance card, travel insurance policy, evidence of domicile, proof of either employment or employer-based retirement. Also make sure how long you are entitled to stay in the U.S. before you leave. The rules on that are often governed by your citizenship.

Understand that these heightened border crossing activities are not specific to the U.S. They are in effect now in most countries of Europe. Denmark is the most recent country to announced stiffer border entry rules and procedures. France and Italy have stepped up their entry requirements. Most EU countries are considering doing so even though they have international agreements to encourage borderless travel.

Those agreements are now undergoing strain as individual countries become more concerned about their sovereign security.

Canada too has stepped up its surveillance of foreign entrants. If you understand that, it will help ease your anxiety when approaching a foreign border.

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