|Crossing the US-Canadian Border|
|What you need, when and where to do it easiest.|
Bring Your Passport!
If you have a valid passport, that's the best proof of identity and citizenship. You'll need it both to enter Canada and to re-enter the USA. (No, they won't just let you re-enter the USA because you say you're an American citizen. You must prove your identity and citizenship!)
Passports are kind of expensive ($145 for your first one), especially if you have to get one for each member of your family. Passport cards are cheaper ($65), but the cost for a family still adds up. More...
Enhanced Driver's License
Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a program that allows US citizens to use some alternative identification documents to enter Canada and to re-enter the USA by land, some US states (Michigan, Nevada, New York, Vermont, Washington and others) issue enhanced driver's licenses (EDL, also called REAL ID) to their residents which employ up-to-date security features so they can act as land or sea border-crossing documents. (But Enhanced drivers licenses are not valid for international air travel.)
Check with your state Department of Motor Vehicles to see if your driver's license qualifies as a border-crossing document under WHTI. If you're not a driver, ask for an enhanced non-driver photo ID card (ENDID).
What if I Forget or Lose It?
Uh-oh... To re-enter the USA, you are required to prove your identity and citizenship. How will you do that? The US Customs and Immigration officers at the border may be willing and able to help, but it will take time, not to mention hassle....
Crossing the Border
Every person and vehicle entering Canada or the USA must be inspected and approved. In my experience, the entry into Canada is usually quicker than the entry into the USA. Expect to wait in line between 10 minutes and 45 minutes, or even more to go through the US border post.
The first question the Immigration Officer will ask is "Where do you live?" Both countries' officers will want to know how long you plan to stay, or did stay; whether you are carrying alcoholic beverages, drugs legal or illegal, firearms and/or weapon-like substances such as pepper spray (Mace). They will also ask if you are importing anything you plan to leave in Canada, or if you are bringing anything acquired in Canada into the USA.
Untruthful answers can result in rigorous inspection, confiscation of undeclared items, fines, denial of entry, or criminal prosecution.
How to Behave at the Border
Customs and Immigration officers have important security duties. Border inspections are serious business, so you should behave that way. Answer their questions simply, clearly, briefly, and truthfully. Avoid idle chat and humor, and all should go well and quickly, and you'll be on your way.
Although most businesses in Canadian towns accept major US credit cards, and many near the US border may accept US dollar cash, in general you'll want to spend Canadian dollars when you spend cash in Canada. You can obtain Canadian money by using your US bank cash or debit card in a Canadian ATM, or at a Canadian bank.
—by Tom Brosnahan