Whether a person lives close to the border or is just dying for a chance to see what life is like on the other side, driving across to Canada can be tempting. The idea of rich poutine, a unique art scene, and a more laid-back way of life is all too good to pass up. As much as we'd all love to be able to drive over the border at will, modern laws prevent this from happening. For starters, a passport or enhanced license -- which is only available in states that border Canada -- is necessary for entry. In accordance with both country's laws, a list of rules is maintained in order to prevent just anyone from shipping up north.
Some of these laws are funky in ways that only Canada can be while others are practical but not universally known. Both drivers and passengers are routinely questioned during their border crossing and a thorough car check is almost a guarantee. While it sounds like a lot of work, it's really quite a simple process if all these regulations are noted prior to traveling. A road trip to another country doesn't need to be stressful nor does it need to be impossible. In order to help this ring true, we've created a list of 25 things everyone should know before crossing the US/Canada border.
25 A Passport Or Enhanced License Is Necessary
This is quite possibly the most important aspect of border to border travel. A potential traveler won't even be allowed through the border crossing without the necessary documentation. It's not uncommon for people to attempt to cross without either of these things and border security has no issue turning travelers around. In addition to one of these two forms of identification, a valid license should also be present, especially for the driver of the vehicle. Any other form of personal identification will be accepted in order to prove a passport or enhanced license is legitimate.
24 If Traveling With Someone Else's Children, Have Proof Of Permission
This goes without saying but it's something that many don't think of. When an officer greets a traveler, they're greeting a stranger they know nothing about. It's not clear to them if a traveler is a child's aunt making a trip to Toronto for the weekend, or if she's a stranger with someone else's child. In order to make this entire process go quickly and efficiently, a letter stating one's intention as well as their relation to the child is the best thing to have, if not some other form of proof and identification.
23 Don't Forget To Check The Trunk!
This is important to note when both going to and coming back from Canada. Border security won't hesitate to check the trunk of the vehicle, especially if they suspect something. A positive attitude and complete transparency will help this go much smoother but it's probably easier just to check the trunk. Something as simple as a hard hat can bring about questions such as, "do you plan to stay and work in Canada?" which can only add to problems rather than take away. Always declare items and check vehicles thoroughly before trips.
22 Surprisingly, Dogs Are Allowed To Cross
We were just as surprised to find out that while fruit is not allowed over the border, dogs most certainly are. It's comforting to know that travelers can bring their four-legged friends as most of the time, they are part of the family. The only condition is that every dog must have the proper documentation as this is no different than traveling via plane or ship. As long as all the paperwork is in order for your pup's shots, veterinary history, etc., you should be good to go.
21 Also Surprisingly, Fruit Is Not Allowed To Cross The Border
In regard to fruit, bringing any type of produce across the border is a big no-no. Just like any other country, allowing food to transcend borders can lead to various insects, spores, seeds, etc. ending up in a country they're not native to. It's similar to how invasive species will hitch rides across the ocean on ships and spawn wherever they stop. Other produce could show signs of weakness and be susceptible to whatever produce is coming in, which is why deliveries are examined so carefully when crossing the border.
20 Swap Out That American Dollar
Obviously, money varies from country to country. While many people who live near the border are aware that the money in Canada is completely different from the US dollar, some might not be aware of it. It's easy enough to exchange money but it should really be done before crossing the border or as soon as you arrive. Some locations in Canada won't accept credit cards and many don't accept American money at all. Just as we'd expect them to use American money, Canada expects us to use Canadian money.
19 Sales Tax Is A Wee Bit Higher
Many don't expect -- or account for -- the conversion when traveling to Canada. The tricky thing is that each province has its own tax so this is definitely something to be researched prior to traveling. Tax can be as much as 15-percent in some places which can be quite the surprise if someone isn't expecting it. This is because Canada adds federal sales tax onto everything, including goods as well as services. It's something to account for in the budget if you hadn't previously done so. Allotting money specifically to cover this can prevent stress later on.
18 Roaming Charges On Cell Phones Might Apply
It's always a good idea to check with cell phone providers to find out where roaming charges begin and end. These specifications vary from plan to plan and also from provider to provider, meaning every company has different roaming bounds. Additionally, the price of roaming charges will vary between plans and service providers. Therefore, it's easier to make the choice of whether or not to bite the bullet and deal with charges or go sans cell phone if a quick inquiry is made beforehand.
17 Don't Worry... Driver's Licenses Are Valid Once Crossed
While Canada is another country, it's not so foreign that driver's licenses from the US are no longer valid once its border is crossed. While many places will prohibit the use of a license that was earned out of the country, Canada is not one of them. The road laws, for the most part, are very similar and provide no significant challenge to those visiting from out of the country. If this were the case, there would be no such thing as a border crossing via automobile.
16 Have ID Present And Ready
Border security will expect travelers to be ready and familiar with the process of crossing the border. If a traveler isn't familiar with it personally, then they should at least have versed themselves well in the rules prior to travel (such as reading this article). The border patrol officer will not hesitate to ask questions -- something we'll go into further on -- and will want to push cars through or send them back as quickly as possible, as there will usually be a long line behind you.
15 Properly Addressing Border Control Goes A Long Way
Manners matter, especially when it comes to international travel. There are no ways around the process and while it is just that -- a process -- it's one that's necessary in order for officers to allow travelers to go their merry way. By starting off the process with a courteous and knowledgable attitude and continuing to be respectful, security will be more inclined to explain things and help you to understand if anything goes awry. A poor attitude will only get travelers sent to the back of the line or sent home for the day.
14 A List Of What Not To Bring Into Canada
The guidelines on what one can bring into Canada are rather lax but do include some notable items. Any type of firearm, ammunition, fireworks and the like, etc., are not allowed at all although some can be declared. Consumer products, such as baby carriers and certain jewelry-making items, are to be checked against the approved consumer list. All foods and animal-related products must be declared before entering the country. Vehicles are allowed, but only if they're declared and proof of reason is produced.
13 A Car Registration Should Be Available
Just like when someone gets pulled over, border patrol is fully within their right to check a car's registration. This is not only to ensure the car belongs to the driver but to ensure that the car is valid and legal. Obviously, illegal vehicles are not allowed over the border -- this is a well-known fact on the US side. Until crossing that border, US rules still apply, and that very much means the road rules as well. If driving someone else's car, evidence for permission to use it is also recommended.
12 Playing 21 Questions Is Part Of The Process
It's just something travelers should accept when crossing the border. This is to weed out those who are crossing for illegal means, such as remaining in Canada to work without a visa or citizenship. Intense questioning may also proceed if a traveler is found with any questionable items that they haven't declared prior to crossing the border or are found coming back with them. More often than not, if a traveler follows the rules, they'll only be asked typical, expected questions before being let through.
11 Have Receipts Ready In Case Of Questioning
It's better to be safe rather than sorry. With both currency and sales tax differing drastically between the two countries, holding onto receipts can only help. When going through the border crossing it's not really necessary, but coming back is a different story. Receipts provide the necessary proof of purchase and not having them can definitely prolong passage back into the states. It's easy enough to hold onto receipts and store them in a wallet or bag until it's time to head home.
10 Roll Down Front And Back Windows If Traveling With Passengers
Just because someone is in the driver's seat doesn't mean that border control won't chit chat with the passengers in the backseat. It's not unusual for security to pose questions to different people, especially if they suspect something. When coming up to border control, simply roll down both the front and back windows. This not only shows that you have nothing to hide but also allows the officer attending to check the backseat without requesting it. It will make their job easier and allow you to be on your way much quicker.
9 Knowing The Language Can Be Helpful
Depending on where in Canada a group is heading, having a basic knowledge of French can be incredibly helpful. While many places use the English language, there are some that don't, just like any other country. The same goes for things such as street signs, restaurant and store signs, and transactions. Knowing the basics can help make a trip go much smoother and prevent the need to scramble when trying to decode something. If nothing else, having a translation book or app handy is helpful.
8 Laws Apply Even If They're Not Our Own
Don't think that just because a person's citizenship lies in another country that it's a "get out of jail free" card. Rules are rules and they apply despite which country a traveler is from. Claiming ignorance will only land a person in even more trouble. There's no leniency for the excuse that there was no awareness of the rules. Most people know that brushing up on another country's laws is absolutely necessary to be a respectful and good traveler, even if it's only just over the border.
7 Take A Gander At The Metric System
This is very, very optional for those seeking travel out of the country. It's not likely that a potential traveler will be stuck trying to convert a measurement with the metric system but it doesn't hurt to know. If only to stave off ignorance, giving a once-over to a metric system chart can be helpful just so one knows what to expect. You'll likely encounter it everywhere, including on restaurant menus when it comes to beverages. It's not necessary but it's smart.
6 Weather Can Be Drastically Different, Plan Accordingly
Depending on where in Canada one is traveling to, the weather can change in a heartbeat. While it does get extremely cold in the northernmost states of the US, Canada can see more than double those frigid temperatures. Weather conditions are not always ideal for travel and it's important to be aware of the forecast before planning a trip or heading out for the day. This is easy to do when traveling in advance and the best times to visit are late spring, summer, and early fall.
5 Parking Laws And Road Rules Differ
While a license from the US is still valid in Canada, that doesn't mean that every single road rule is similar. The actual laws for driving are the same, but each province and territory will vary slightly based on the terrain and how populated the roadways are. It's important to know parking laws as the last thing anyone wants to do is get towed in another country. What someone is used to in the US might not be what Canada dictates as correct so before crossing the border, simply check the road rules for your destination.
4 The Glory Of A NEXUS Card
A NEXUS card is one of the beautiful things about crossing the border. If someone is or is about to be, one who transcends the border frequently, having this card will be a lifesaver. Similar to an EZ-Pass, the NEXUS card allows travelers a designated set of lanes as well as quick entry and exit between countries. It's very affordable and comes out to roughly $10 each year for five years and is free for those who are under 18. It's a helpful tool that can make travel much smoother and is well worth the investment.
3 Travel Smart And Canborder Apps
There are apps out there which are designed to help travelers going to and coming back from Canada. Two of these apps -- Travel Smart and Canborder -- will provide travelers with need-to-know information before their trip. The most useful thing that comes out of these apps is knowing the wait time when it comes to border security. The lines can be long and the wait can be ridiculous at times but with these apps, travelers will know well ahead of time what to expect and when to expect it.
2 Be Aware Of Paying Duty On Items
Paying duty on items from another country is not a foreign (no pun intended) concept. Canada practices this as well which is something that many people might not realize. For those who love to shop, calculating duty, as well as taxes on all items, can be helpful in budgeting before planning a trip or before heading back. This can be done with some help from Canada currency apps as well as online through travel sites. It's better to know than to be surprised later on.
1 Avoid Super Busy Ports And Try Lesser-Known Crossings
A trick to avoiding the lines starts with an app that's intended to help you do so, but also to know where to cross. In states that border Canada, there will often be several different ports of entry. While it might not always be the case that one is far less busy than the others, it never hurts to check. Even if it means going a little out of the way, it could be well worth it if the wait time at another line is extraordinarily long. These can easily be found on map apps as well as via an internet search.