Because of Canada’s close proximity, many Americans can quickly and easily drive there for short visits and vacations. But don’t let Canada’s close proximity let you forget that it is a foreign nation. When planning a trip to Canada, be sure to remember that you will have to drive across an international border, and make sure you are prepared. There a re few things to consider to make sure your trip to “The Great White North” doesn’t get shut down before it even starts.
Remember that by driving into a Canadian border crossing, you are asking for permission to enter, and the Customs Agents there can chose to allow you in or deny you (or anyone traveling with you) entry. Customs agents may also choose to search your vehicle as thoroughly as they desire and/or detain and question you or anyone traveling with you. Just be aware that you essentially agree to these possibilities by entering Canada and be respectful, cooperative and honest.
Customs Agents can (and do) randomly search vehicles and question people, but more often they do so based on their observations or intuition. Treat Customs Agents like you treat Police. Be respectful in your speech and actions, cooperate with their requests, and answer their questions honestly. The Agent will notice your cooperation and will be much less likely to excessively scrutinize you.
The first rule of international travel is to have your passport ready. For a long time, Canada and Mexico were the exceptions for Americans. That is no longer the case. Americans traveling to Canada must now have a passport to reenter the United States. To make sure you can get back to America, Canada won’t even let you in if you don’t have a passport. When traveling with babies and young children without passports, be sure to bring their original birth certificates.
Know who you’re traveling with. Canadian Customs will deny entry to foreign felons, foreigners convicted of drunk driving and foreigners who have been previously arrested in Canada. Even if one of these things happened 30 years ago, Canadian Customs can and might deny entry because of it.
Before you head to Canada, clean out your car. You’re not allowed bring any type of weapon into Canada. Obviously, leave your gun and Samurai sword at home, but also make sure you don’t have a pocket or utility knife in the trunk.
Bring some cash… but not too much cash. A virtually unknown law requires visitors to Canada to have sufficient means to cover their expenses while in Canada. Potential visitors to Canada can be (though rarely are) denied entry for having less than $300 cash with them. Credit cards and debit cards do not count. However, visitors may not bring more than $10,000 cash with them, so leave the briefcase full of hundreds at home.
There might be a shortcut into Canada. Many north/south interstate freeways lead right up to the Canadian border, and on holidays the border crossings can get busy and congested. To potentially circumvent hours of waiting, consult a map and see if there is a smaller border crossing near by. Some times there is a commercial or “truck crossing” that you can use. Sometimes you might need to drive 30 minutes to get there, but you’ll save 2 hours of waiting in line to cross. Just be careful because some of the smaller border crossings close at night.
In nearly all cases, driving into Canada involves a few questions, then a smile and a wave. But you never know when you might get a random search or a few more questions. Remember you’re going into a sovereign nation, be prepared and courteous and you can help make you border crossing into Canada easy. Then you’ll be free to enjoy this beautiful nation to our north.