"May these gates never be closed" Canada-US travel is normally a very smooth process but if you're thinking about traveling to Canada with a DUI on your record or if you anticipate other complications, it's time to do some research.
Canada and the United States share the longest undefended international border in the world. At one of the busiest crossing points, Peace Arch Park in British Columbia, an inscription reads "May These Gates Never Be Closed" and, for the most part, that hope has rang true. Each year, millions of people and millions of dollars of goods cross the border , the vast majority doing so in a timely and pleasant fashion. But tightened security and long lines can lead to frayed nerves. And who wants to take time away from their trip to be tied up in traffic and regulations? If you're wondering about the rules that apply when traveling to Canada with a DUI, entering Canada with a gun or other weapon, or trying to get a handle on Canada-US border crossing times, here are some tips to make your trip go smoothly.
Traveling to Canada with a DUI
One of the most common questions American readers send to us concerns information about traveling to Canada with a DUI on their record. First of all, if you're frustrated trying to track down solid information on this, you're not alone. I blame the Canadian government for not investing enough in website search engine optimization - it's REALLY hard to find a government source on Canada border crossing requirements but there's no shortage of ads on services that promise to take care of your legal issues for a "small" fee.
Here's the official information, directly from the Canadian government. A DUI is a criminal conviction, so it's found under the category of "overcoming criminal convictions". It doesn't matter if you never served jail time or the offense happened a long time or even if you've applied for a pardon at home in the United States. A criminal record is just that and it will bar you from entering Canada in most circumstances.
The good news is that you can apply for something called "individual rehabilitation" with the Canadian government. This process takes into account things like how severe the crime was and the likelihood that you will re offend again while in Canada.
Traveling to Canada with guns and weapons
Traveling to Canada with guns is a serious thing. You MUST declare all guns - and anything that could be considered a weapon - at your Canada-US border crossing or other port of entry. If you do no declare a weapon and it is found upon inspection, you're in big trouble. The weapon will be seized and you may very well face criminal convictions.
Declaring weapons is just the first step. You cannot declare any and every weapon or gun and expect to take it into Canada. There is an exhaustive list of weapons and firearms that are prohibited in Canada in all circumstances. But wait, you might say. If so many of these items are prohibited, why would I declare them? Because at least if you are upfront and honest about what you have, the agents can make a determination about its legality, which can save you tremendous legal headaches should you say nothing and the item in question is found on a vehicle inspection.
Based on an extensive amount of time spent watching Border Security (which totally makes me an expert, right? ha ha), I can tell you that every year hundreds of American travelers are stunned by some of the items on the list of prohibited weapons. It contains several items that may surprise you, like replicas of weapons and things that would be used in fights, like brass knuckles. It's important to remember that Canada has a very different culture and point of view when it comes to firearms and weapons. Things that might be considered innocuous in the US might be considered a serious crime in Canada. Research, research, research.
So if you are prepared to fully declare all the items you have AND you are confident that you don't have anything on the Canadian list of prohibited weapons, you should be good to go, right? Guess again! There's still paperwork that's required! You can find more information here, on the section about procedures for individuals importing firearms to Canada. There are different requirements based on whether you hold a Canadian firearms license and the kind of weapon that it is.
Even with all of that taken into consideration, please remember that even permitted, declared weapons with all the proper paperwork are then only admissible for very, very limited and specific purposes. Those purposes include things like taking part in historic reenactments, repairs requiring specialist services, hunting (again, with appropriate hunting licenses and during the legal hunting season), and for transportation reasons (like for someone who is moving to Alaska and has to travel through Canada).
Bottom line: You need to do your research and you need to be organized.
Canada Border Crossing Times: Ask Your App For Help.
Crossing land borders can be stressful and a long lineup doesn't help. Happily, assuming that you don't have to have a conversation about traveling to Canada with a DUI or bringing guns into Canada, the process is usually pretty straightforward and painless. Assuming, of course, that you don't get stuck in a line!
We have been on the receiving end of this, lining up for hours to re-enter Canada after a long weekend in Cape Cod. Fortunately there are tools to help lighten your load and predict US -Canada border crossings and their wait times. And they're tools I should have used! Now I know better and I can recommend Border Buddy, Border Times, and Border Wait as apps that give you updates on border lineups and crossing times. Know before you go! We use a special cell phone mount like this one to keep our GPS and border apps right in front of us.
Get Your Paperwork in Order.
There's more to border crossings than just passports! In addition to having your passport open and ready for inspection...
-Be prepared to show visas and NEXUS/Global Entry cards, if applicable.
-If you are travelling with children who are not your own, bring along a written permission note from their parents.
-If you’re travelling with furry friends, you must present their vaccination records. If your pet appears unwell (for example, they are wearing a cast or they just got over a stomach bug), border agents can request a veterinarian’s certificate stating your animal is in good health.
-Even your car needs paperwork! Be prepared to show your car's registration papers.
-Keep your receipts organized. If you have done any cross border shopping, officers will likely want to see your receipts.
I travel with a document organizer that's very similar to this one (though mine is purple and this one has jaunty flamingos!). It's just the right size to keep our passports, our NEXUS cards, Oliver the dog's vaccination records, plus a folder for all our trip receipts. Easy peasy!
Get Ready To Talk.
Get ready to talk - take your sunglasses off, turn off your cellphone, turn down the radio, and roll down your window -all before you pull up to the officer's booth.
If you have passengers in the back seat, their window will need to be rolled down as well. And if you're anything like me, you'll also want to tell your dog to stop barking and behave! And don't be surprised if the border agents come over to the car to give your dog a biscuit - it's a clever way to make sure your animal is healthy and that you car looks safe without make a dog nervous.
Declare or Despair!
When crossing into the US from Canada or vice versa, be aware of restrictions on firearms and other weapons aren't the only tricky items. Taxable items like tobacco and alcohol, and agricultural products like fresh food and farm materials all face serious restrictions. You can find more information on those items here. It is much, much better to declare the item and have options than to face seizures and heavy penalties for lying to a border agent.
Hold the Jokes!
The job of a border agent can encompass everything from extreme boredom to extreme danger – but it’s not your job to brighten their day with your “jokes” or liven up their repetitive routine with an ill-timed comment about terrorism. Your job is to be polite, professional, honest, and cooperative – a combination so rare it will both brighten anyone's day!
Get Ready for Adventure!
North America is the perfect place for an epic road trip and, with a bit of planning, there's no reason why a border crossing should hold you up or slow you down.
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