There’s no guaranteed way to avoid secondary screening. Sometimes you will be pulled over for a reason and sometimes it is random. However, these border crossing tips could help you avoid mistakes that can cause you to be pulled aside.

Why do people worry about crossing the border?

Many people have a reason to be nervous at the border. Some people have something that could come up on their criminal record. Some people made a mistake in the past such as overstaying or saying something to a border officer that caused them to be denied entry. Unfortunate stereotypes or prejudice cause a problem for many people.

Getting sent to secondary screening can be a major hassle. Flights can be missed. Relatives start to worry and kids become hungry and tired.

What can come up at secondary screening?

Couple sitting on beachIf you do have a criminal record, it will be discovered at secondary screening. This is because Canada and the United States share criminal record databases. There are some records that will get you banned even if you were never convicted. These include drug charges or crimes of moral turpitude in the United States or DUI and other indictable offences in Canada. If you were charged but the charges were dropped or stayed, the officers may spend time questioning you and deliberating on whether you should be let in to the country. If they don’t let you in, you will need to get a waiver to come back. If you have non-conviction records, you may want to bring your court documents to prove that the case is resolved.

If you are denied entry or decide to withdraw your application to enter for another reason, for example, you refused to comply with a search of your electronic devices, you might be able to return. Just don’t try again at a different crossing that same day. You could be banned for years if you try this.

Keep in mind that your one-time denial or withdrawn application may result in further scrutiny on subsequent entry attempts. That makes it even more important to follow these border crossing tips.

A few border crossing tips

Declare your items: Find out how much you are allowed to bring back duty-free and declare what you are bringing. You also need to declare gifts. Keep your receipts and be honest. Border officers are trained to detect lying. Also, keep in mind that children are notoriously bad at secrets. Shipping is an option if you don’t want to get stuck at the border.

Declare food: There are some types of foods that can’t be brought across the border due to pests and diseases. Declare any food or make things easier on yourself by buying your groceries on the other side. Remember that there are limits on alcohol and cigarettes.

Don’t bring all your money: You need to declare cash over $10,000. You may need to be able to prove that you can afford your trip, but this can also include having major credit cards, a bank statement, or just being employed in your home country.

Get a NEXUS card: If you qualify for NEXUS, this can speed up your screening at the border. If you have a Canadian criminal record, you will need to apply for a pardon in Canada. Keep in mind that if you have a crime that makes you inadmissible to the United States, your NEXUS application will likely be denied. There is also CANPASS, which only assists with entry into Canada, and FAST Cards, which are for drivers transporting goods across the border.

Have a plan: Even if the freedom of the open road is calling, you still need to have some idea of where you are going and where you plan to stay. It’s ideal to have reservations made and to be able to show those reservations. If you don’t want to be pinned down, there are some websites and smaller motels and hotels with less strict booking cancellation policies. You can build a rough itinerary and then cancel within the grace period when your plans change. Border officers will also want to know when you plan to leave the country.

United airplane on tarmacHave the right documents: Bring your passport and any necessary permits. If you have a criminal record, you may need a US Entry Waiver to enter the United States. If you are a US citizen with a record, you may need a Temporary Resident Permit or permanent rehabilitation to enter Canada. If you are travelling for business, you may need a permit depending on what you are planning to do. Attending a meeting may not require a permit. Working onsite on a short-term project likely will require one. Obtain these permissions well in advance. If you bring a gun into Canada, you need to declare it and pay a fee.

Document your kids: If you are crossing by car, you will need a passport, birth certificates or citizenship cards to bring children under 15 into the country. Children need a passport to fly across the border. Bring letters of permission from any parent or guardian who is not accompanying you.

Be cool, but don’t act cool: Nervousness can raise suspicions, but there is also a danger in acting cool, tough or intimidating. Try to dress on the conservative side and be polite and open with your responses to the officers’ questions. Avoid cracking jokes or talking about irrelevant things.

Keep your vehicle clean and take only what you need: If the officer pops your trunk and finds a whole bunch of old documents, books, plastic bags, take-out containers and other loose items, he or she is more likely to send you to secondary screening. If the only thing in your trunk is an overnight bag, the officer can give it a quick search without pulling you over.  If you have more stuff than is reasonable for the length of trip you claimed to be making, he or she might think you are planning to stay illegally.

Out of all of these border crossing tips, having the right documentation is the most important. If you have a criminal record, the best way to reduce your stress at the border is to get the proper waiver for your situation. For Canadians travelling to the United States, this will be a US Entry Waiver. For US citizens entering Canada, there are temporary and permanent waivers available. Contact us today for a free consultation at 1-866-972-7366.

US Waiver Checklist

Not sure if you need a waiver? Download our checklist. By downloading this resource you will be automatically subscribed to our newsletter. You can unsubscribe any time.

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