If you drive a commercial truck between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico this page will give you tips and resources to learn what you need, avoid traffic, get through customs easily, and more.
Every day, thousands of commercial trucks drive across the borders in North America, traveling between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Unlike a lot of border traffic, these numbers stay pretty steady throughout the year. While many of the same rules apply to both visitors and commercial truck drivers, there are several resources that truckers will find helpful to make the trip go smoothly.
FAST and Other Required Border Crossing Documentation
There are a few requirements needed to drive a commercial truck and to cross the border with it. Below are the ones specific to commercial truck drivers, but be sure to also check our border crossing documentation page for more information.
Visa to Enter the U.S.
If you’re entering the United States as a commercial driver, you might need a business visa.
Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the U.S., but you will need to show that you are a Canadian citizen. Depending on the border agent, they may accept a verbal declaration (just explaining that you are a Canadian citizen), or they may require concrete proof, such as a passport, birth certificate, etc. Check our documentation page for more information.
Mexican citizens and anyone else (including temporary residents of Canada, etc.) do require visas to enter the United States as a commercial driver. You’ll need either a B-1 or B-2 visa, or a “laser visa,” a credit card type document that includes a B-1 and B-2 visa.
To get a business visa, you’ll need to prove that you:
- Have a permanent home in the country you’re coming from.
- Plan to leave the U.S. at the end of your visa period.
- Have enough money / financial resources to get back out of the U.S. and won’t be stranded in the country.
- Don’t have any reason to be banned from entry (including things like criminal background, health conditions, and so on).
Essentially, they want to make sure you don’t plan to enter the U.S. and stay there – you’ll just drop off your load, maybe pick up a new one, and then head back out.
Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)
In Canada, the United States, and Mexico, you need a CDL to operate a commercial truck. In the U.S. and Canada, these are regulated by states and provinces, which all have their own requirements, so you’ll need to go through your state or provincial government to get one.
In Mexico, you should get a CDL from the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT) if you plan to drive into the U.S., since licenses from Mexican states are not accepted there.
Once you have a CDL from the proper source, it will be accepted by the other countries in North America, so you will be able to drive on both sides of the border. You won’t need separate licenses for the different countries.
Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Lanes at Border Crossings
Several border crossing ports between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico have Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lanes. These are lanes for commercial drivers, and as you might guess from the name, they help you get through quickly. If you meet the right requirements, your FAST card will work as your proof of identification, and you can get through as much as half an hour faster at the border.
To learn more about FAST lanes, where they’re located, their hours of operation, how to apply, and more, visit our FAST page.
Commercial Driver Registration Program (CDRP)
U.S. commercial drivers going into Canada should consider applying for the CDRP. This makes it quicker and more efficient to get freight through customs at the border, and also gives you extended participation in other programs like FAST. To qualify, you need to be a Canadian citizen, or a U.S. citizen who meets visitor requirements.
Easily Check Traffic and Road Conditions
When you’re driving back and forth across the border on a regular basis, you’re going to want to be aware of slowdowns on the roads and backups at customs. We have resources available that can provide helpful and current information on these topics.
Find up-to-date information on the port you’ll be crossing at, including traffic cameras, lane layouts, live maps, and hours of operation.
Check the current road conditions in the state or province you’ll be driving through to anticipate roadwork, major accidents, and hazardous weather conditions.
Certain events and holidays can result in higher traffic than usual on the roads and at border crossing ports. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for these events on our traffic calendar.
Tolls For Bridges Crossing the U.S. Border
Another consideration you may have is paying tolls at the border. If you’re frequently crossing at the same ports, you’ll likely want to look into options like an E-ZPass that will automate the toll paying option for you. Learn more about this and about the border ports that charge tolls on our tolls information page.
Getting Through Customs
No one wants to spend extra time at customs, worrying about the inspection process and going back and forth with border patrol agents. Resources like FAST cards will speed up the process considerably by designating you as a trusted traveler, but there are some other things to keep in mind as well.
To learn more about the inspection experience, visit our pages on preparing for customs and how customs searches at the border work.
What If I Don’t Own My Truck?
If you’re driving a company vehicle or borrowing someone’s truck, you should be fine at the border. To make sure there isn’t any confusion, it’s a good idea to have some written documentation showing that you’re authorized to drive the vehicle, or are the owner of the company. For more information, see our pages on driving a borrowed vehicle or a rental car across the border.
Will a Criminal Record Stop Me From Crossing the Border?
Having a criminal record will most likely make it more difficult for you to cross the border. Whether you will have problems depends on what your offense was, as each country considers some offenses as more serious than others. For example, Canada takes alcohol offenses such as a DUI very seriously and an alcohol related conviction is very likely to block your entry. On the other hand, a DUI, necessarily block you from entry into the U.S. or Mexico. For more detailed information on entering the U.S. or Canada with a DUI see our page on crossing the border with prior criminal offenses.
In addition, you must always keep in mind that the border officers for all three countries have the power to make their own decision on whether to block you from entry if they feel your offense was significant..
Handy Tools for International Travel
Driving your truck into a neighboring country may have a few little complications, like suddenly needing to follow speed limits in kilometers instead of miles, or paying for things with a different money system.
Here are some resources you can reference to quickly make some conversions:
- Currency conversions between the U.S. and Canada
- Speed limits in the U.S. vs Canada (miles and kilometers)
Tips & FAQ
- If you’re bringing commercial goods into Canada, consider going through a designated commercial office, or DCO.
- These are ports that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for commercial services.
- They tend to be large to accommodate big rigs.
- Be prepared to answer questions about your freight and yourself.
- Border agents can ask you your whole route plan or history, and will likely want to know where all of the goods you are carrying came from and where they will end up.
- You can also be asked about the goods you’re hauling, if they’re sealed, who sealed them, and more.
- Have your documentation ready to present, and be ready to answer questions about where you live and how long you’ve been in the country.
- Make sure border agents can hear you.
- You may want to turn off your engine and your truck’s refrigeration unit so that you don’t have to shout to be heard. But if you turn off the refrigeration, be sure to turn it back on afterward!
- Be careful not to bring any restricted or prohibited items in your cab.
- If you’re bringing commercial goods into the U.S., they want drivers to spend as little time in the country as possible.
- You can drop off goods in the U.S. and then pick up a new load to bring back to Canada or Mexico, but you generally have to have pre-planned this. You can’t start looking for new jobs while in the U.S., or do short deliveries within the U.S.
- Visit the Department of Homeland Security website for more detailed information.
- How can I import goods across the border into the U.S., Canada, or Mexico?
- The laws for importing are complex. We have a page on the basics of what is and is not allowed to be taken across the border, but there are often different rules for commercial imports. You will likely need special documentation, and you may need to work with someone like a broker.
- Use the following links to find out more about importing commercial goods: