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The Customs Inspection Experience

Tips to Make the Border Experience Easier

In addition to having the correct documentation ready to present at the border, here are important tips that will shorten the time you will be talking with Customs and border protection officers.

General Rules for Dealing with Customs Officials

  • Tell the truth.  The U.S. and Canada are sharing criminal and other agency databases that contain a whole lot of information about you.  If you are caught lying you may be turned back or possibly even charged with a crime. The border agencies now keep a record of each time you cross the border so being turned away could make it much tougher, if not impossible, to get across at a later date.
  • If you, or any of your passengers, have a pending warrant, criminal trial, or any type of criminal conviction, you MUST thoroughly check out current border regulations before you leave.   This include minors.  Read our web page on “Prior Criminal Offenses”.
  • Be courteous.  Political commentary or sarcastic comments about police powers could significantly extend your conversation with port officials.   Unless you enjoy spending quality time with law enforcement you should bottle up that attitude until you are safely across the border.
  • Only answer questions you are asked, and avoid trying to be witty.

What The Driver Should Do at a Border Crossing

  • Always remove sunglasses so agents can read your eyes. The Customs Officer is making a judgement about whether you pose a security threat or are trying to hide something. They can ask one question or 100 if they choose. They usually ask your citizenship, destination, intended activity and length of stay. If they have concerns, they can send you to a secondary inspection for further questioning or to search your vehicle.
  • Do not enter using a NEXUS, FAST, or READY LANE unless ALL passengers in the vehicle have that type of card in their possession.
  • Consider this a roadside sobriety checkpoint and don’t be drunk or drugged when you reach the border.  Thousands of people are arrested by Customs Officers every year for driving under the influence.
  • Make sure you have your seat belts buckled.  Some States and Provinces are very strict about seat belt enforcement and occasionally have “blitz enforcement periods” to catch offenders.
  • Recreational vehicles can use car or RV lanes but should not use truck lanes. You should also be prepared that the officer may want to come on-board to look around your vehicle.
  • Make sure you have the right permits or other documents needed to do whatever you want to do in the country you are entering.
  • Be aware of what you can and cannot bring across the border. See our pages on “Prohibited Items” and “Travelling with Pets”.
  • Leave suspicious items at home and only bring things that are consistent with the purpose of your travel.  Empty your trunk of anything you do not need for the trip.

What Your Passengers Should Do at a Border Crossing

  • Always turn off all cellphones and radios in the car.
  • Roll down your front and back windows so that the border officer can see and speak to people seated in the back of the vehicle.
  • Passengers should hand their passports and other ID to the driver before reaching the booth to avoid having to frantically search once you’ve already pulled up.  All passengers must have proper documentation.
  • NEVER bring a stranger across the border. If your passenger is trying to enter the country illegally you could be charged with a crime.
  • If you are travelling with a child that is not your own you must read our page on “Travelling with Children”.
  • One unusual problem can occur if a member of your party has recently undergone any type of medical test involving radiation.  When you cross through most ports you will be scanned to detect any kind of radiological source. If  you test positive you will likely be sent for a secondary inspection.  Patients may want to delay a trip or at least get a note from the doctor explaining the radiation source.