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By Jordan W. Charness

Now that it’s summer, many of us look forward to spending some time on vacation to get away from what seems to be our endless winters. Since 90% of Canada’s population lives no further than 100 kilometres from the US border, many vacations include a hop into the United States.

Our border with the USA is the world longest undefended border. Crossing the border by car is still fairly easy but don’t be lulled into thinking that no one is watching what you do.

Border guards are responsible for watching out for at least two major types of offences: the first is making sure that anyone entering the United States has the legal capacity to do so. In that regard, recent new regulations require that all people entering the United States, even by car, must have a valid passport in order to be admitted. Although many border crossings are still a bit lenient in that regard, turning up without a passport may very well lead to you spending several hours at the border while they thoroughly check you out.

The keyword in all of this is “valid”. Although technically an expired passport is still proof of citizenship and will usually be sufficient for your re-admittance into Canada, the United States and other countries will refuse to accept an expired passport as a piece of valid identification.

To make matters worse, many countries (not including the United States) will only admit you if your passport is at least six months away from its expiration date. So even though your passport may appear to be valid it still may not be sufficient for all the exigencies of a foreign country. Even if you have a valid passport, it is still not a guarantee that you’ll be admitted into a foreign country.

The second major job of a border guard is to make sure that you do not smuggle anything into or out of the country.

Most people drive across the border at large border crossings across major highways. There are however many smaller border crossings that have fewer Customs agents but also have less traffic and sometimes a shorter wait in line. Don’t think that these smaller stations will be an easy place to smuggle people or illegal goods. Customs and immigration officers are carefully trained to be suspicious and to spot potential smugglers or people who are trying to enter the country illegally.

Although the average time people spend at the border crossing itself is often less than 30 seconds, these are very important seconds if you want to keep your car. The first thing to remember when crossing the border by car is that you have no right to enter the United States. Entering the U.S., or any other country for that matter, is a privilege and not a right. Unless you are a citizen you have no automatic right of entry into any country.

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