Family Magazine

Driving Through U.S. Customs and Coming out the Other Side

By Sarahanneconnors @thenmousette
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For many of us Canucks who live near the U.S. border and plan to fly south, it is often exponentially cheaper to drive across the line to catch a flight. A little planning can make the process hassle free for all involved and you will be through as quick as possible.

First things first. When driving across and bringing any expensive items with you on your trip (especially laptops, cameras and tablets) take a minute to stop at CANADIAN customs. They will give you a nice little sticker that lets U.S. customs know you already owned it before your trip when you return. It can save you from trying to prove you didn’t buy it in the U.S. and unnecessary tax or duty.


STOP at the stop sign before heading through to the booth when the light turns green. No one likes an over eager beaver (especially a customs officer).

Required Travel Documents- As of June 1, 2009 (Valid currently as of February, 2013) You can use either a valid Passport, a NEXUS card or a FAST card to enter from Canada. To see an explanation of these see When arriving at customs have these ready to hand to the Officer (We like to open up the passports as that is how they hand them back). Before you leave on your trip check the expiration date on your identification.

Proof of Travel- One of the first question they WILL ask you is where you are going and how long you will be staying. If you are flying tell them where you are flying from and too and when you will be flying back and returning to Canada. They will almost always ask to see proof of these plans. I always print off the following

  • Hotel reservations (For your destination and if you have an airport hotel)
  • Flight Itinerary (Roundtrip)
  • Car rental reservation (if you have one)

Questions, Questions, Questions- They can often ask a lot of questions. Sometime they can seem intrusive like “What do you do for work?” and “How much to do you make?”. They are looking for suspicious behavior, answer them honestly and things will go smoother. We have had some fun ones :

Officer: What is your relationship?

MousekeDad: We are married.

Officer: I see that your last names are different and you don’t wear a ring…

MousekeDad: My wife’s passport is from before we got married and I lost my wedding band.

Officer: Oh, (looks at me) Well she can’t be very happy about that (Chuckles).

He then let us proceed. Try not to take offense when they ask you things they are just doing their job.

Searching your vehicle- It is usually on the way back into Canada that we get searched but sometimes they will search the car at U.S. customs. Pack your trunk so they can easily get at things (This saves time and prevents damage to luggage). Also if you are like us and like to have extra space for souvenirs, resist the urge to bring an empty suitcase. This draws suspicion as they think you are trying to smuggle goods from the U.S. and not claim them. We were once flagged at both borders for an empty Disney princess children’s suitcase for over a year. This meant automatic searches EACH time we crossed. What we do now is bring an extra bag and move half of our clothes into it!

And finally…

Crossing With Children- Explain the process to kids before you cross. It can be stressful for little ones. We like to tell our kids (2 and 5) that driving through customs is quiet time. This means no hitting, whining, crying or kicking MouskeDad’s seat. We also tell them that if they nice officer asks them anything that they need to answer (In our experience a gruff officer changes into a very nice happy person when talking to kids!). They can ask anyone in the vehicle questions so it is good to be prepared!

All in all if you relax, answer questions politely and have neccesary documents it is usually a pain free process! It means one less thing between you and making magical memories!


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