A Dozen Tips for Crossing the Canada-US Border by Land

The 8,891 kilometre (5,525 mile) long border between Canada and the United States of America is the longest border between any two countries in the world. About 300,000 people use the 119 Canada/US border crossings every day, almost 141,000 of them in passenger vehicles. Here are a dozen tips for crossing from Canada into the US by land:

1. Have the necessary ID with you. You will need a valid passport, an enhanced driver’s licence or identification card, a Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card, a NEXUS card, or a Secure Certificate of Indian Status to cross from Canada into the US. Children aged 15 or under can present proof of citizenship such as their birth certificate or citizenship card.

2. When you arrive at the border crossing, roll down your window, remove your sunglasses, turn off the radio, and make eye contact with the border guard. Make sure everyone in the car is visible, and has his or her identification ready.

3. Be prepared to answer standard questions such as “What is the purpose of your visit?”, “How long will you be in the country?”, “What address will you be staying at?”, “What is your citizenship?” and “Are you carrying any firearms?” on the way across. On your return trip, you will likely be asked, “Where do you live?”, “How long were you gone?”, “What are you bringing back with you?”, and specific questions about cigarettes, alcohol, and possibly firearms.

4. If you are travelling with your child/children but not their other parent, carry a signed letter of consent with contact information from the absent father or mother. If you are separated or divorced, bring a copy of your legal custody agreement. If you are travelling with children that are not your own, make sure you have a signed letter of consent from their parents or legal guardian, with their complete contact information. Don’t be surprised if the border guard questions the child/children directly about their relationship with you.

5. If you are travelling with pets over three months old, make sure they appear healthy, and that you have their rabies vaccination certificates. If you are travelling into the US, the shot must have been given at least a month earlier, and not more than a year earlier.

6. Be aware that the United States Department of Agriculture restricts or prohibits many items from entering the country because “they could carry pests or diseases that could threaten human health or devastate the environment, crops, agricultural animals, ornamental plants, and community landscapes.” These items include citrus or tropical fruits purchased but not grown in Canada, raw potatoes, and products containing sheep, lamb, or goat. You may be asked to provide a proof of origin (such as a receipt or label) for any meat or poultry, including pet food.

7. If you are going to be gone any length of time, have your travel itinerary and confirmation documents (hotels or address where you will be staying, tickets to events, wedding invitation, conference information, etc.) ready to show the border guard.

8. Be prepared to wait up to several hours in a border line up at the busier crossing, especially on Canadian and/or US holidays such as July 1st (Canada Day) or July 4th (Independence Day in the US). You can check border wait times on the radio or online:

Canada to US: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/bwt-taf/menu-eng.html

US to Canada: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/

9. Don’t have any unnecessary items in your trunk or back seat that could arouse curiosity or suspicion. Make the inspection process as quick and simple as possible.

10. If you are carrying any prescription medications, make sure they are in their original labelled containers.

11. When returning to Canada, know your personal exemption limits for goods purchased outside of the country if you want to avoid paying duty and taxes. Be aware these exemptions may not apply to alcohol and cigarettes, depending on how long you were out of the country. Be ready to declare their value in Canadian dollars. Keep the tags on your purchases, and have your receipts together. There are no personal exemptions for same-day cross-border shoppers.

12. A heads up – Both Canadian and American border guards are empowered to carry out arrests and detentions for suspected immigration violations, outstanding warrants, and crimes such as driving under the influence of alcohol. They can also legally search everything on your electronic devices such as cell phones, cameras, iPads and computers.