One of the best parts about living in the Buffalo Niagara region during the summer is our ability to easily cross the border to spend cottage season in Canada.
While the majority of border crossings are hassle-free and take approximately 5-10 minutes, it only takes one bad experience to overshadow the easy experiences we’ve had in the past and put a damper on the fun and excitement of a trip across the border.
Customs agents are human beings tasked with the difficult job of protecting our nations’ borders.
Each day they see thousands of people and, while you are most likely a legitimate traveler with no harmful intentions, it is their duty to keep people they see as a threat from crossing the border while still allowing for legitimate trade and travel between countries.
In addition to being respectful and patient with customs agents, the following tips can help expedite your next trip across the border:
Check which bridge to cross: The Peace Bridge was part of a major border wait times technology pilot under the Obama-Harper Beyond the Border Action Plan, as jointly administered by the Federal Highway Administration and Transport Canada. That pilot was successful, has been fully implemented and is now being operated by the Peace Bridge Authority.
The system, using Bluetooth technology, provides accurate, real-time border wait times. It is updated automatically, reported every five minutes and can be easily accessed by the public.
Have the proper documentation needed to cross the border: Both American and Canadian citizens are required to present a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)-compliant document for entry into the United States.
- For travelers 16 years of age and older these include: Enhanced Driver’s License; Enhanced Non-Driver Identification; NEXUS Card; Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551); Passport; U.S. Passport Card.
- Children under 15 years of age need a copy of their birth certificate.
- If traveling with children who are not part of your immediate family, have a note from the child’s parents which states that their child has permission to cross the border with you and includes telephone numbers where the children’s parents can be reached.
When arriving at the booth: Turn off your radio, roll down front and back windows, remove sunglasses and make eye contact with the agent.
Always be truthful: Declare all fruits, vegetables, plants and plant products, animals, birds, eggs and meat products, as well as any purchases made. Having knowledge of your duty free allowances before crossing will help you be prepared at the booth. Note: many times, there will be no duty charge or the charge will still be minimal to what you paid for it.
Declare all items acquired for personal use.
Do not fool around: Both Canadian and American Customs and Immigration agents are law enforcement officials who take their responsibilities very seriously. Approach inspection booths slowly, follow signage instructions and answer all questions directly and honestly.
Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Know your dates, travel plans, and destination.
Crossing the border does not have to be hard, intimidating or time-consuming. Openness, honesty and respect go a long way with customs agents, and applying the best practices listed above should help expedite your next trip across the border.
For the fastest crossing, I recommend the NEXUS Card.
The Canada Border Services Agency recently announced the establishment of a 24/7 NEXUS lane heading into Canada at the Peace Bridge.
NEXUS expedites the border clearance process for low-risk, pre-approved travelers into Canada and the United States. NEXUS dedicated customs inspection lanes are available in the Niagara Region at the Peace Bridge and Rainbow Bridge, in addition to the Whirlpool-Rapids Bridge which can only be used by NEXUS holders.
*Worth noting is that the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge does not have dedicated NEXUS lanes.
The NEXUS program just announced their 1 millionth member since its start 12 years ago. At only $50.00 for five years of use, it is well worth the purchase.
If you are a Buffalo Niagara Partnership member interested in a NEXUS card, contact me to discuss further.