At some point in your RV travels, you may want to cross a border into another country to explore or to enjoy a snowbird trip to the south. Whether it be from Canada into the US or the US into Mexico or vise verse.
Crossing borders in recent years has become a bit more complicated due to increased security. It's unfortunate, but this is the modern world and all of us need to adapt.
If crossing a border into another country is in your plans a few preparations would be prudent to make your experience as painless as possible.
Check the website of the country you plan to visit for restrictions and required documents.
There are different requirements depending on which country you plan to enter. The US has some of the strictest requirements. Remember it is a privilege, not a right to enter a foreign country.
There are different document requirements when crossing by land, air, or water.
The documentation requirements to enter the US and Canada are slightly different. Generally speaking, the documents needed to enter Canada are somewhat less strict than the documents needed to enter the United States. However, if you plan to return to the US focus on the stricter US requirements, that way you will be covered.
If you try to cross the border without the appropriate documentation you may be refused entrance at the officers discretion. Or you may be required to submit to secondary screening at the port. At that time, officers will examine whatever evidence of citizenship and identification you have and will attempt to verify that information against available databases. Obviously, this will take considerably longer than a normal entry and there is no assurance that you will be allowed to proceed into the country.
Be truthful when answering questions at the port of entry. If you get caught lying you may be red flagged and subject to searches every time you cross the border or worse you may be denied entry indefinitely.
Basic Requirements to cross the United States / Canadian Border By Land.
- You must have your vehicle registration. Border officials are always on the lookout for stolen vehicles or people trying to avoid duties on vehicles purchased out of the country.
- Having your proof of insurance showing coverage is recommended.
- Alarm bells will go off anytime you try to cross the border in a car that is not yours. This is especially true if you fly across the border, and then try to come back in someone else’s personal vehicle. You will need a letter of permission from the owner of the vehicle. Check the website for an example of the letter.
- Rental Cars: Generally speaking, an American citizen can cross the border in a rental car without much problem. It is a bit more complicated for Canadian citizens. Check the US border security site for restrictions.
- As a general rule, neither country will prevent one of its own citizens from re-entering the country and return home even if you lack the preferred documentation. Of course, you may be subjected to a secondary screening.
Documents Needed to Enter Canada
To cross the border into Canada you will need the following documents:
- American Citizens: A passport is not required but is strongly recommended. Alternatively, you will need other documentation that shows proof of American citizenship such as a birth certificate, a certificate of citizenship or naturalization or a Certificate of Indian Status, plus a photo ID. Remember, you will need to comply with the stricter U.S. entry requirements to return to the U.S.
- For Canadians returning to Canada: a passport is strongly recommended by the Canadian Border Services Agency. Otherwise, you will need proof of citizenship and a photo identification card. Other forms of identification can include Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL)/Enhanced Identification Card (EIC), NEXUS card, Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card, Canadian citizenship card, Certificate of Indian Status, or a Birth certificate in combination with either a driver’s license or a government-issued photo identification. The CBSA warns that these other forms of documentation may cause significant delay and trigger secondary screening as border officers try to verify your information.
Documents Needed to Enter the United States
There are different documentation requirements depending on how you are entering the country. Generally speaking, you must have a document that complies with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Some of these documents have significant lead times and could delay your trip if you do not order them early enough.
Arriving by land or water you must present one of the following:
- Valid Passport – The passport of a Canadian citizen must be valid for the intended duration of their stay in the U.S. (As of January 2016). An expired passport may prompt a secondary inspection and entry to the U.S. will be at the discretion of the border official. Citizens of other countries may be required to hold passports that are good for up to 6 months after their intended departure date.
- United States Passport Card
- Trusted Traveler's Card – NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST
- State or Provincial Issued Enhanced Driver's License or Enhanced Identification Card – EDL / EIC
- U.S. Military ID with orders. Must be traveling on official orders
- U.S. citizens may present an unexpired Merchant Marine Document in conjunction with maritime business
- Native Americans must have a WHTI compliant document. Some tribes have developed an approved “Enhanced Tribal Card” which is similar to an Enhanced Drivers License and is a valid border crossing document.
- U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents can use their permanent resident card (Form I-551) or other valid evidence of permanent residence status.
Border Patrol Officers are always on the watch for child abduction, and may ask detailed questions about the kids who are traveling with you. In general, if you plan to leave the country with your children, you should get them a passport. Although other forms of documentation may be accepted, the border officials will need to be satisfied with the documentation before allowing you to proceed.
Children under age 16 may enter the U.S. or Canada using one of the following:
- U.S. or Canadian Passport
- Original or copy of Birth Certificate
- Naturalization Certificate
- Canadian Citizenship Card
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad
Important Special Considerations when Traveling with Children
- When traveling in a group of vehicles, parents or guardians should travel in the same vehicle as their children when arriving at the border.
- Kids old enough to speak for themselves may be encouraged to do so by the customs officer. Let them know that and be prepared to let them answer the officer’s questions.
Children Traveling without Both Parents
It is strongly recommended that if only one parent is crossing the border with a child under age 18 that they have a consent letter from the other parent granting permission to take the child out of the country. It is even more important if the child is traveling with a friend or relative without either parent present.
When you roll up to the inspection station border officials will be making a judgment call as to whether something is wrong. If only one parent is present they may ask a question about the child and, if everything seems OK, they may simply wave you through without any further questions. If they have any concerns, they will then begin examining the situation to determine their course of action. A consent letter is useful because it puts all the information they need in one spot, shows you took the extra time to get the necessary approvals, and provides signatures that can be validated by phone calls to the parents.
- There is no legal requirement that you have a Consent Letter. There is no specific format required for a letter. There is no requirement that a letter is notarized. However, border officials for both countries have complete and absolute discretion to allow, or deny, entry to anyone wanting to enter their country. With, or without, a letter they need to be comfortable that everything is above board or they will start digging to determine if a child abduction is in progress.
- You can use a fax copy of the letter but an original is always better. This is only going to matter if the officers are concerned about the situation and feel the need to examine it closer.
- Divorced parents who share custody of their kids should carry copies of the legal custody documents plus a letter of authorization from the other parent.
- If you are a legal guardian transporting the child, a copy of the court order granting guardianship should be brought along.
- If only one parent’s name appears on the birth certificate, and the child is traveling with the other parent, a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate should be carried.
- If one parent has died, it wouldn’t hurt to have a certified copy of the death certificate.
Do not try to cross into a foreign country if you have a criminal record no matter how long ago the offense took place. You may be arrested and charged. Obtaining a pardon may help you to cross a border, but it is not guaranteed.
One Final Note.
Lynda and I have crossed many borders. The simplest way to avoid hassles and delays is to be prepared. Check the border restrictions of any country you are planning to visit.
Information on these websites changes often, some of the officers at the border are not up to date on regulations.
Only answer questions you are asked, do not volunteer information.
Some of the questions you may be asked:
- Where do you live?
- What is your citizenship?
- Where are you headed – have an address?
- How long are you planning to stay?
- How much cash do you have with you?
- Do you have any alcohol or tobacco products?
- Have you ever been refused entry?
- Have you received a pardon.?
- What is the value of the goods you have purchased?
- Have you had any repairs done to your vehicle?
- Has anyone asked you to bring something across with you?
These are examples of some of the questions we have been asked. The border officers alway seem to ask different questions and pay close attention to your answers.
Check out my new ebook on travel preparations.
"The Snowbirds Guide"
Lynda and I have created extensive travel list to help with your preparations.
From Conception to Destination. Not Just for Snowbirds
I hope this article is of some use to you when crossing the US/Canada border.
Thanks for visiting.