New Rules!: Traveling to Canada
July 26, 2011
Nothing beats a fly-in fishing trip to the Canadian wild for pure angling pleasure, escape, quality time with family and friends, and just plain relaxation. Some things never change. Unfortunately, some do. Change is never easy, but the better we're equipped to handle it, the smoother the adaptation process becomes.
Tourism from the U. S. to Canada has been down approximately 12 percent the past couple of years, reflecting perhaps the instability of the U. S. economy, the worsening exchange rate, and a reduced comfort level among U. S. citizens traveling abroad, even on short jaunts to visit our good neighbors to the north. All signs point to improvement along most of those lines, however, and we foresee a large contingent of fishing-rod tubes and happy campers once again winging their way north this summer. Plus a steady procession of vehicles and boat trailers rolling through customs at border crossings from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Which begs the question: Post-9/11, how have things changed for U. S. citizens traveling into Canada, and are they in the process of changing even further in the months and years ahead?
While we've always enjoyed a terrific relationship with our close northern cousins and that relationship isn't cooling, the visitation process is unfortunately becoming just a tad more complex and formal. Chalk it all up to Homeland Security and the world we now live in.
First and foremost, we've always enjoyed the privilege of driving across the border, at least into the central provinces and northwestern Ontario, with nothing more than a driver's license. But the rules are tightening, and for the past two years, customs officials on both sides of the borders have been recommending that U. S. citizens carry a passport or birth certificate in addition to their regular photo I. D. And don't even think about getting on an international flight without your passport or copy of your birth certificate anymore -- not even to Canada. Desperate times, desperate measures.
Beyond that, the usual restrictions apply. Declare any firearms, alcohol, or tobacco products at the border. Politely answer any questions the customs agent might ask. Basically, be sure everyone in your party has his or her proper photo I. D., copies of kids' birth certificates plus written permission from both parents to allow grandparents or guardians to bring kids or grandkids across the border, and even complete and up-to-date veterinary records for accompanying pets.
And especially, don't let the wise guy in your group (every party seems to have one) make any jokes about contraband or worse. That'll guarantee you get a much closer inspection, involving an extended interview and a computer records check; tossing your vehicle and luggage; and perhaps even a close encounter with a surgical rubber glove. "Friends are friends, but business is business." And security is serious business, nowadays.
While attending the Saskatchewan Outfitters Association conference in Saskatoon last December, I was surprised to hear some additional advice from Lucy Perillo, an immigration consultant from Canada Border Crossing Services (800-438-7020; bordercrossing.ca) in Winnipeg, Manitoba -- not a government entity but a private firm assisting travelers to and from Canada with visitor/residency permits and legal documentation falling outside ordinary circumstances.
Continued -- click on page link below.
Traveling to Canada (cont.)
"In the U. S., a DUI [driving under the influence] offense is almost considered a slap on the wrist," Perillo advises, "but in Canada it is quite a serious offense that can deny entry to visitors. Similarly, past drug offenses, robbery, assault, or other serious convictions detected through routine or random background checks by border officials or airlines personnel can deny entry. Many people don't realize it, but if you potentially fall into one of these categories, you're required to obtain the proper information and permits in advance to ensure your trip will take place. Failure to do so may unnecessarily jeopardize your party's trip or tour, create financial risks due to cancellation of lodging or business meetings, or create other problems. Similarly, non-U. S. citizens traveling into Canada from the U. S. may need to obtain a visa prior to entry.
"I suggest that visitors investigate these requirements at least three months in advance to allow for filing paperwork and processing time. It can be done more quickly, but typically that involves additional hassle and expense."
Importantly, following Perillo's advice is not an attempt to evade regulations, but rather to be in compliance with the letter of the law. Her firm obviously charges for assisting and advising travelers, with fees ranging in the hundreds of dollars depending on the complexity of the situation. "There are also government websites and toll-free numbers to help smooth the process," Perillo adds, "but like anything that involves government, it's often difficult and time-consuming to fight your way through the system and reach the right person to answer questions and accomplish your goal. But with one phone call to me, a free short consultation -- often as little as 20 seconds -- usually reveals if there's a necessity to file documentation."
This information is not meant to scare you or diminish your enthusiasm for traveling to Canada on a fishing trip or extended vacation. Quite the opposite; it's about the most delightful and safe place outdoors-oriented folks can go for a memorable adventure. But the process isn't as pleasantly informal as it once was, and we simply want to help you smooth any bumps you might encounter in the road prior to your departure. The funny thing is, you might repeat every simple step you've taken in prior years and never even notice any differences. But forewarned is forearmed, and there's nothing sadder than seeing an enthusiastic group being denied entry due to some unforeseen technicality uncovered during enforcement -- especially if you're the one who's been randomly picked at the border for closer inspection.
So, if you're planning a northbound excursion this summer, take a moment in advance to discuss with your camp operator, friends, family, or business associates the information discussed here. Check with your travel agent or airline as to how many pieces of luggage you can bring without necessitating additional charges, and share a rod case with your buddy if necessary to fall within the limit. When flying, expect your luggage to be inspected on both sides of the border, coming and going. And carry some extra duct tape somewhere in your luggage: The old standby of sealing coolers with duct tape may require a few re-tapings along the way.
In the end, try to anticipate little things that might turn into bigger ones halfway into your visit. If nothing else, it's nice to have peace of mind prior to your trip. We know for sure that you'll have it once you reach your destination, 'eh?