Recently our content team received several queries concerning the ways US border authorities apply the so-called 30-day rule for Canadian visitors who temporarily leave the US and then return, having perhaps taken a cruise out of Florida or after making a side-trip to Mexico or the Caribbean.
How do such trips affect the Canadian visitor’s B2 visa allowance? (The B2 is the visa category under which Canadians are allowed to visit the US for vacation or tourism purposes for a total of 6 months during any continuous 12 month period. It’s a paperless visa and is usually recorded by a passport stamp).
The simplest explanation is that if you are already in the US and you take, say, a 1 or 2 week cruise out of a US port, and return to that port, those days—even though spent in international waters, will count against your B2 visa 6month allowance. Similar consequence for a side-trip to Mexico, or Costa Rica, or even back to Canada to spend Christmas with the family. If the trip is less than 30 days, it will be counted against your 6month allowance.
If, however, your trip out of the US is 30 days or longer, the rule changes and you will not be docked those 30 or more days. Instead, your return to the US will be recorded as a new, separate trip. No extra days tallied.
Exceptions, and Alerts for Cruisers
But as with all established rules, there are exceptions.
If you’re one of the approximately 750,000 Canadians who take cruise trips each year—and you fly directly from Canada to your embarkation city (e.g. Fort Lauderdale or Miami), and you go from the airport to the sea port (no 1 or 2day pre or post sailing trips to visit friends), your cruise days will not be tallied against your 6month allowance. Ditto if you’re flying from Montreal to Rome via Boston, or through Miami on route to Buenos Aires. No big deal if you’re only a casual visitor to the US, but a potential concern if you’re a snowbird who counts on spending every last possible day in the sun.
I was recently asked by a seasoned traveler how these rules applied to his recent itinerary: by air from Canada to Tahiti, then to Hawaii where he boarded a cruise ship to Los Angeles, and from there returned by air to Canada.
I responded that from the time he entered Hawaii (a US state), sailed to Los Angeles, and finally re-entered Canada, he would have been on the B2 US visa clock—just as if he had sailed out of Miami into the Caribbean and returned to Miami 14 days later. That he sailed in international waters is irrelevant.
The Eyes are on You
With US and Canadian border officials sharing their data, you must assume that any time you cross over into US territory and step back into Canada from the US, you will leave a paper (or a cyber) trail.
And while you’re counting, remember that any part of any day you are on US soil—whether you’re just arriving, or departing, will be counted as one full day of your 6 month allowance.
You’ll notice that I’m using the term “6 month” allowance as opposed to the 182 days most snowbirds have imprinted on their brains. That’s because I recommend you stay on the safe side, keep to 180 and leave one at least a 1 or 2 day cushion in your B2 visa allotment—for the unexpected.
Border protection agents have a lot of discretion when it comes to allowing visitors into the country. And they also have differing interpretations about how to apply the 6 month B2 rule—some will generally consider it as meaning 180 days; others as continuous calendar months (April 15 to October 15–actually 183 days); some as 182—the snowbird mantra.
Don’t try to split hairs with border agents. They may not have a sense of humour. Play it safe.
Heading to the United States this winter? Make your days and insurance count.