Friday, January 31, 2014

The Longest Undefended Border in the World, But You Better Not Have Too Much Wine

Living in the US for 17 years and being from Canada means we have crossed the US-Canada border many times in both directions by car and plane.  For about 10 years, we did it as Canadian citizens, but lately as Americans, so we have a diversity of experience as well.  There are distinct differences between entering the US and entering Canada.

Entering Canada and dealing with Canadian border officials
  • Generally not very friendly.
  • Always ask about what you are bringing into Canada, gifts, alcohol, tobacco, and lately guns.  If you answer incorrectly about alcohol, you are in trouble, always say it is for personal drinking, just a little tip.  Also see anecdote below.
  • Once said "welcome back" in the last 17 years
Entering USA and dealing with US border officials
  • Generally friendly
  • Always check your visa status and carefully check your documents
  • Lots of technology at their desks: computers, cameras, fingerprint scanners..
  • Generally say "welcome home" or similar
An anecdote about Canada: we were crossing the border at the Thousand Islands bridge and I put some wine and whiskey in the car absentmindedly.  When questioned by the Canadian customs dude, I admitted that I was not sure exactly what I had so they pulled us over and found out we had one extra bottle of cheap supermarket wine.  I said that I would throw it out and they said no, you cannot throw it out, you have to fill out a surrender form, then officially throw it out.  This caused me to ask with annoyance what involves less paperwork, paying the duty or tossing the $5 bottle of wine?  I got a stern rebuke from the customs lady and ended up paying $11 in duty.

Why are there differences?  My theory: The US is mostly concerned about illegal immigration and terrorists, so they want to know who you are and your status.  The tax and duties for bringing in goods are so low they don't really care. Canada wants to make sure that they get their tax and duty so they care more about what you have, particularly stuff that is heavily taxed like liquor and tobacco.  Canada wants to make sure that the high domestic prices for liquor and tobacco are not threatened by smugglers.

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