The one thing you don’t want to do when crossing an international border is cross the border guard, unless you want to find out what your car and luggage look like turned completely inside out. Here are some tips for border crossings that will help you keep it moving right across those international lines.
1. Have your stuff together.
When you are pulled over by a police offier, you can almost guarantee yourself a ticket if you are scrounging through the glovebox and under seats to find the essential documents that make it legal for you to be on the road at all. However, if you have all your papers together, and have your hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel, at the very least your “upstanding citizen” rap can get a little traction. Hand the officer an insurance card that looks like you kept it in a McDonald’s wrapper, though, and you’ll use up any good will hanging in the air right quick- and you’ll be gasping at the ticket price.
The same is true of border police. Remember that these folks are officers of the Department of Homeland Security, and yet they’re likely often treated like toll takers; you’ll see people who think they’ll breeze through without their wheels ever stopping. Instead, you will want to have the papers of the driver very much together, and have everyone in the vehicle prepared to produce documentation or identification as well. This is something to take care of at home before your trip ever begins — not under the impatient eye of a border guard. Border guards are known neither for a sense of humor nor a tolerance of fools, you’ll want to respect both if you want to keep moving.
2. Have your story together.
Several years back, a companion and I were driving through Maine to Nova Scotia, which requires a border crossing in Calais (which is also the name of the French town where the English Channel ferry lands; always good with a pun, those Mainers). We were pretty tired, so we pulled over before crossing the border to take a nap in the truck.
When we woke up, barely a minute or two had passed before we were in the immigration auto lane, so we pulled up still a little groggy. We fumbled for ID (violating point number one above), and when the officer asked the driver where she was from, she missed a beat. Her hesitation actually made some sense; here the guy is standing there holding her Washington state license, but she had New York plates and was living in New York at the time, so she started to explain….
He interrupted with a wave of his hand. “Pull over.”
They emptied the van, rifled through our bags, and started to pull up the flooring before they took a few good looks at us and figured out that we were not dopeheads, but rather had a bad case of bedhead.
3. Consider the border a No Comedy Zone.
We all know you are hilarious gals and guys, quick with quips and comebacks, but you’ll want to keep the comedy routine to yourself at the border. It would be safe to observe a No Comedy Zone rule for about a half mile on either side of the borderline. These folks hear the same wisecracks all day long, day in and day out, and unless you are a true comedian, your “I’m only a terrorist when it comes to ice cream” jokes will fall on deaf ears — or rather you’ll wish they had when you lose several hours because you just ain’t that funny.
A good example: this item from our recent collection of reader nuisance tales, Your Turn: Best Travel Nuisance Tales in 100 Words or Less:
Borderline Wakefulness: Part Deux
“My stepbrother and my family cross over to Canada. Step-bro gets drunk, and they are on their way back. Border patrol asks the usual questions, and when she gets to ‘Do you have anything to declare?’ drunk step-bro shouts from the backseat ‘Yeah! War on Canada!’ Border Patrol: ‘Pull over…'” (50 words) — pneumandro
That pretty much defines what not to say when crossing any border, any time, anywhere, under any conditions of sobriety or lack thereof. Don’t pull any stunts that you would not try when standing in an airport in your stocking feet waiting for instructions on when to walk through a metal detector.
4. What’s my name?
If you change your name due to marriage or divorce (or as the Passport Agency Web site also mentions, “due to court order,” yeesh) within one year of the original issuance of your passport, you can get a new one at no charge; if more than a year has passed since the issuance of the passport, you have to pay the full freight of a passport renewal.
Think it won’t be a problem for you? Here is one of the entries that did not make the compilation for our Best Nuisance Tales, but is educational in this context:
“Short and skinny of our non-trip. Seems you can not leave the good old U.S. of A. for a Mexican honeymoon if your new wife’s driver’s license and marriage license do not match. Lost $3K on that one. There are of course no such requirements to enter from Mexico to here.” — Nchardee
5. Get ahead of your expiration date.
Passport expiration dates are not quite like expiration dates on a gallon of milk; in fact, some countries require that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry into the country, and airlines are charged with enforcing the requirement. Forget about crossing borders; they won’t even let you through security if it looks like you may not be able to re-enter the United States a few months hence. Allow yourself plenty of time to renew your documents.
I hope these tips help you breeze across borders like a snowdrift in the north or a dust devil in the south. See you on the other side!