U.S. Border Rules: Know Them

When thousands of Canadians pour into Kansas City this weekend to follow the Toronto Blue Jays’ pursuit of glory, most will find crossing the border into the U.S. not as forbidding as many recent travellers’ reports have portrayed it.

Granted, it’s more onerous than it was a decade or two ago, but the worst part of the crossing (if you’re flying) is usually the physical torture of standing in seemingly endless U.S. Customs preclearance lines in major Canadian airports. Unless of course you’re a pre-determined low-risk frequent traveler with Nexus or Global Entry documents that put you on a fast track.

And even if you’re travelling by car or RV, you need to be prepared and not assume you’ll simply be greeted with a cursory “where do you live, where are you going, how long will you be gone?” and off you go. That’s the case no longer.

Canadians and Americans have become spoiled by generations-long laxity about travelling over borders as if they were just going to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving turkey. Those days are over—fear of terrorism and international unrest ended them.

Nonetheless, travelling to the U.S. for one day to see a baseball or hockey game, or for six months to enjoy a snowless winter in Arizona or Florida, need not be a fearsome undertaking. If you do some basic preparation, bone up on changing rules and procedures (Canadian as well as American), and get your documentation (as well as your attitude) in order, you should be fine.

Basic rule number one: You have no “right” to enter the U.S. (or any other foreign country) as a tourist or visitor. You are a guest, entering at the allowance of the host. And if the Control and Border Protection agent is not satisfied you are a legitimate visitor, prepared and equipped to meet the rules, he or she can turn you back—no explanation needed (and rarely given). No, you don’t need to be servile, but don’t be overly audacious, either.

This is the first of a series of articles designed specifically to help you understand what you need to know, do, and have with you when entering the U.S. (or any other country), as a short-term visitor or a seasoned snowbird. There is a lot of inaccurate information out there. You need to have it right, up to date, accurate, and in plain language. That’s our business.

Stay tuned for the following articles over the next few weeks:

  • How long can Canadians stay in the U.S.?
    This topic is a perennial favourite, and we have some updates on the subject.
  • How long can Canadians stay out of the country/province?
    Did you know there are now only three provinces that require their residents to stay at home for at least six months a year? All others require only five months of actual residency and allow at least seven months out. Newfoundland and Labrador requires only a four-month residency, and up to eight months out. We’ll tell you which require what.
  • When do you become taxable to Uncle Sam?
  • Where is the 240-day U.S. Visitor Visa for Canadians?
  • What you’ll need next summer when visiting Europe.
  • Do you really need to spend all that money on a passport?

For more travel tips or for information on travel insurance products, visit IngleInternational.com.

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