Living in Montreal, I guess I've always taken it for granted that the American border is only a 45 minute drive away and we can pretty much pop down any time we want. I've spoken to a lot of Americans, however, who tell me they've never tried crossing by car because they don't know what to expect and are scared.
Hopefully I can demystify things a bit because the Canadian-American border is actually a very easy border to cross and I assure you it's not scary. You will be asked some questions and if you have nothing to hide, it's not a problem at all.
Keep in mind, this is coming from a woman of colour, who has not always maintained employment, often travels with a white man and sometimes our white child, and has crossed the border at some odd times of day and night. If we can all get through, surely you can!
Here's the breakdown of the sorts of questions you'll probably be asked:
- What is the purpose of your trip? Where are you going? When are you coming back?
- How do the people in the car know each other?
- Do you have anything to declare?
- Do you have any alcohol or cigarettes?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- Are you returning any merchandise to the US/Canada or leaving anything there?
- Where are you from?
- What is your occupation?
- Is this your car?
- Can you open your trunk? (Border officer will take a quick peak and will often open any coolers or bags. They do this most often in the summer. Check after because they often neglect to close coolers they've opened, which is annoying!)
- Where will you be staying?
- Do you have any firearms on you?
- How much money do you have on you?
They will usually ask a random combination of a few of the above. It's best to answer directly, "yes," or "no," and make eye contact. Don't start making jokes about the small stow-away you've crammed into your modified dashboard. Don't say you don't know or start making strange sudden movements.
Things that will make your life easier when crossing:
- Have proper identification - that means a valid passport or enhanced license (Licence Plus)
- Supporting documents like a visa, permanent resident card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, letter of permission to take a minor out of the country, or car registration, as the case may be
- Eat or throw out any fruits, vegetables, flowers or plants that are in your car before you cross. They will be confiscated by border agents and thrown out! (Kinder Surprise toys are also not allowed in the US)
- Have everyone take off their sunglasses and hats
- Get a Nexus card so you can go through the express lane and answer fewer questions
Border wait times are longest during the summer and in the afternoon. Crossing at odd hours - pretty much anytime after 10pm and before 8am - will get you through the fastest. Also, if you have the choice of more than one border-crossing, pick the one in the smallest town.
That's pretty much it, so get out there and enjoy the freedom we have here and happy border crossings!