Moving from Ontario to Alberta, drive through US or Canada?
May 13, 2012 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Help me convince my son not to drive through the US from Ontario to his new city, Calgary, Alberta. Or alternatively, convince me it won't be the hassle I think it will...

My son just graduated medical school here in Ontario. His residency is in Calgary, Alberta. He is a Canadian citizen. He is planning to drive with his possessions from Ontario to Calgary, going via the US, since he feels the multi-lane highways will be a better drive.

I am afraid that when he goes through US customs/immigration at the border he will face infinite hassles, which could include complete search of his possessions (as he is permanently moving, so he will have everything with him). He could look to the border guards as a person trying to sneak into the US from Canada.

His response is that since he will have his acceptance form at medical residency and a signed apartment lease, all will go smoothly at the border. I am not convinced. The border guards could simply think that all the documents could be faked.

What can I do to convince him to drive though Canada from Ontario to Calgary, rather than through the US? Alternatively tell me what preparation could be made so that his transit through the Canadian-US (in Ontario) and again through the US-Canadian (at Alberta) borders will go smoothly.
posted by mbarryf to Travel & Transportation (35 answers total)
He already has everything he needs for a smooth drive. He will be fine!
posted by kate blank at 8:30 AM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

It will be fine. If the border guards hassle him, he can turn around and take a different route, but I don't think it's likely.
posted by Zen_warrior at 8:34 AM on May 13, 2012

It was Canadian customs that held me up with a truckload of household items. My employment was sorted out, but they didn't want stuff being imported duty free. In that case he should have an inventory checked by customs when he leaves Canada and then again when he reenters.

He can have a Carnet document for both directions as well.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:35 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've crossed the US-Canadian border with all my belongings in tow, and yes, the did perform a full search, including bringing drug-sniffing dogs into the back of my Uhaul. I doubt he'll be detained or anything, but he should be very careful if his belongings include stuff like houseplants because those can be totally innocent, but not allowed across the border for pest control reasons. Also, it could be troublesome if he has a lot of expensive things - all my furniture was Ikea grade, so there was no worry that I was bringing it to another country duty free. The inventory idea is a good one. Look up the regulations for crossing the border - I think if he has less that 10,000 dollars worth of goods he should be fine. He's not required to have the apartment/job documents, so I don't think the guards are going to be on high alert for fakes, and it will be a bonus to make things smoother.
posted by fermezporte at 8:37 AM on May 13, 2012

If he's not worried about the potential hassle, then you shouldn't be either. He has assessed the risks and is fine with it. I'm sure his paperwork is adequate by the way. Usually they are concerned about cross-border shopping and drugs.
posted by bquarters at 8:49 AM on May 13, 2012

If he made it through med school he is qualified to make this decision himself. Happy Mother's Day!
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:53 AM on May 13, 2012 [29 favorites]

He should be fine, There is, of course, always the chance that he will be postponed on the boarder (either/both times), but that is not a guarantee and the more documentation he has the better. I don't think this (driving though while moving) is a particularly uncommon occurrence so thee is unlikely to be any real increased suspicion.

I've crossed the boarder about, oh, 30 times and have only been detained/searched twice once when actually moving to the States in a huge truck, the other while going into Canada with my younger sister who didn't have the ID they wanted.

given how long a drive it will be ~35 hours, perhaps he can look at it as a potential rest stop, have a lunch packed and a good book. Even If they do search his belongings it is going to be more boring than anything else.

I'd pack smart and especially modular, easy to get/shift stuff around. They are not likely to repack stuff if they do unpack it
posted by edgeways at 8:53 AM on May 13, 2012

(Ooops, just saw that you're not a mom. Sorry.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:54 AM on May 13, 2012

Personally I'd go through Canada, because for less hassle it's only a couple of hours slower, and it wouldn't take much for border delays to wipe out the time advantage of going through the U.S., even if nothing goes wrong. Also, the Canadian route is constantly being improved: Ontario is twinning Highway 69/400 to Sudbury and Highway 11 to North Bay, the Trans-Canada is twinned from the Manitoba-U.S. border all the way to Calgary, and the route through northern Ontario is not that bad. But to be honest, it's a close call either way.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:55 AM on May 13, 2012

If the border guards hassle him, he can turn around and take a different route

I don't know if this is true, but it sounds like basically the most suspicious thing one could possibly try to do. You or he must consult an expert before attempting that.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:59 AM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

At customs/immigration, he will face finite, not infinite, hassles. They will check his paperwork, determine whether he is being truthful, possibly require a search - but it all only lasts whatever amount of time it lasts, and he will either be allowed to proceed, or will have to turn back and try another route. The consequences for False Declaration can be severe, but they're at the border service's discretion. If he's organized and truthful, it should be fine. At worst, should everything go wrong, the scenario could include fines, vehicle seizure, etc. and he may be denied entrance to the US for a period of time afterward, which may or may not affect his future plans. That's all. He will deal with it as it happens. Once he starts the process though, he must go through with it - after a certain point, there's no turning back and he'll have to follow through.

Sure, it may be an inconvenience to deal with the border crossing, but it's also part of the adventure. He needs to budget his trip to include this time at either end. Other than reading the CBSA website throughly, and being aware of what to declare and what to avoid (like food, plant and animal products, and if he's bringing a mattress, that may be an issue), the best thing he can do is be neatly groomed, polite, prepared, and perhaps be sure to have a way to pay for any duties he might inadvertently incur. Hopefully he has no outstanding warrants or issues that will come up.

When he re-enters Canada, he'll likely need to make a declaration for anything he might have obtained during his trip across the country. Even such things as having emergency repairs made to his vehicle might come up. Keeping his receipts organized will make this smoother.

I'm a permanent resident who moved from the US to Ontario, and I cross regularly, often moving possessions either from or to my parents' home. I check the CBSA site when I'm planning my trip, and just try to be prepared. We had to cross the day my husband had a cardiac stress test, and I knew to have the doctor's letter ready for when he set off the alarms, and that we'd have to pull into the special garage for the search afterward. Even that took less than fifteen minutes.
posted by peagood at 9:04 AM on May 13, 2012

I'm a U.S. citizen and I often drove between my home in Michigan to my employer's location in Syracuse, NY. I can say that I was never once hassled by Canadian border guards, but often by US customs getting back into the states. To me, as a US citizen, the delays were infuriating (it went beyond the simple), but I think part of that is the Windsor/US border being such an inroad for smuggling (people/drugs/goods). I think if his crossing avoids that post, he should be fine.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:07 AM on May 13, 2012

I think the only thing that should be recommended that a bit of contingency time is added to the trip, to ensure your son reaches his destination before he is absolutely needed there. The worst case scenario would be that your son gets delayed by a long time, and says "damn, I should have listened to my parents, they are pretty smart."

The most dangerous part of the trip is actually the driving part, not the customs part - and your son is mitigating that risk by choosing to drive over nice multi-lane highways, with lots of interesting places to stop and rest.
posted by ajackson at 9:13 AM on May 13, 2012

He is planning to drive with his possessions

That could easily turn into a long wait (waiting in line, unpacking, searching, repacking, etc.) and who knows what else at both borders if they are suspicious for any reason.

He should at least be 100 percent sure he does not have (and has never had) drugs in anything he plans to carry, because a dog smelling a little weed could turn into awful stuff.

And doing the documentation to prevent having to pay duty on his own stuff might prove to be a bigger pain in the ass than he wants to deal with.

If he's averse to bureaucracy and inspections and risk, he should avoid the border crossings and enjoy the Trans-Canada. If he wants a little risk and maybe a chance to look at some parts of America he might not otherwise go out of his way to see, he should take the US route, but only after considering and mitigating the avoidable risks.
posted by pracowity at 9:16 AM on May 13, 2012

Even if he does get hassled, well, he loses a day to bureaucracy. It's unpleasant but not the end of the world. Suggest he build in a day or two of padding to ensure he gets where he needs to be in time.
posted by elizeh at 9:17 AM on May 13, 2012

I did exactly this almost twenty years ago when I left college in Ontario. We did get stopped and questioned at the US border and refused entry! Their stated reason was that we did not have 'enough cash', which was odd because these were already the days of ubiquitous ATMs. It was a little weird, on the other hand my partner had a passport from a middle eastern trouble spot so I suspect that was the actual cause of the bother.

Back on the Canadian side they rolled their eyes and said to try again, which we did, at the same crossing, after stocking up on travellers cheques. We said they had told us to get more cash, and we showed our travellers cheques, and they waved us through. If you want a scare story I guess mine would be it, but the hassle was not that huge in the end. I would still do it again because it's a fun drive!

I don't know if it's totally worth it in terms of speed vs potential hassle; for us it was more for the sights (House on the Rock!! and Chicago!) and general adventuring.
posted by Erasmouse at 9:23 AM on May 13, 2012

Your son just went through all the years of schooling to become a doctor and become gainfully employed. I think the best thing you can do is trust that he has the mental faculties to make these kinds of decisions himself, and back off.

Also: your sons arguments make perfect sense to me. And if for some reason he's wrong, the absolute worst case scenario is that he's not allowed in, and he has to drive through Canada. Relax.
posted by Kololo at 9:34 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been detained, searched, questioned, harrassed, etc going in and out of Canada every time I've crossed the border. I have tattoos on my hands and face, including some that are considered gang tattoos (they're not). I've been affiliated with suspected terrorists (they're not and I'm not). I've had dogs in the car wearing "potentially dangerous animal" tags. I have tried to bring things into either country that are illegal there (I didn't know).
Despite all that I've never spent longer than about an hour and fifteen minutes at the border. He'll be fine.
posted by gally99 at 9:42 AM on May 13, 2012

A couple of years ago we traveled from Atlanta to Toronto. We drove so I saw no reason to pack light. We didn't have too much of a hassle geting into Canada, but coming back across the Ambassador bridge our car was unpacked and searched. (BOY did I have to pee!)

It took an hour and it was a giant hassle.

There's nothing wrong with the Canadian highway system and why subject yourself to immigration issues?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:53 AM on May 13, 2012

Hitched from Ann Arbor to Buffalo to Norfolk. Strip searched at the border at the Peace Bridge. An unpleasant experience that lasted 22 minutes in total from being stopped, searched and sent on our way. That was 27 years ago. Now they are much more efficient.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:10 AM on May 13, 2012

You're not worried about his safety, right? You haven't mentioned any reason to believe he'll be kidnapped or murdered or that anything really bad will happen to him. You're worried that he'll be delayed and that the authorities will ask him some intrusive questions. Guess what? That'll be just fine. The absolute worst case scenario is that he loses a day or so to bureaucracy and learns a valuable lesson about how "the man" tries to keep us down. Your child will be fine, and if the most you have to worry about is that he's living his life slightly inefficiently, you've been an amazing parent and given him all the tools he needs to succeed in life. Let him have this one. If it blows up in his face, you have my permission to say "I told you so." (Kindly, and accompanied by a cold beer and/or a big hug.)
posted by decathecting at 10:19 AM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hm, I am really surprised by all the comments saying this will be fine. I mean, obviously nothing truly horrible will happen, but I wouldn't do it, myself.

I've crossed the Canada/US border by car about fifty times, including the trip your son is planning, and I've crossed from the United States into Canada with all my possessions by car once.

Once driving back into Canada after a few days in the US, the Canadian side ripped apart my car. I had to take everything out (camping equipment, mostly) and pile it at the side of the road. The customs officials went through everything, including searching the car for secret hideaway spots. I think they assumed I was trying to smuggle in booze or something. It was a hassle, stressful, and a little embarrassing.

When I moved back to Canada from living a few years in the US, I drove a rental van with everything I owned in it. Furniture, books, clothes, household equipment. That was surprisingly unproblematic, but I'd done good planning, and had with me printouts from government websites saying what was okay/not okay to bring in, plus a detailed list of everything in the van. The customs guys did a brief inspection and let me through. That trip was fine. But I've had friends hassled making similar trips: one friend told me he had his entire wine cellar (about 40 bottles) seized, although I don't know the specifics of how or why.

Normally the United States is worried you're going to want to stay there illegally, and Canada is worried about people bringing in illegal stuff, or evading tax and duties. Those are the concerns he'll face. I'd bet he won't have too much trouble going into the US, but he might get his stuff ripped apart when he tries to reenter Canada.

I wouldn't do this, if I were him. It'll be fine in the end, but it could be really annoying and stressful. I'd just drive through Canada, if it were me.
posted by Susan PG at 11:16 AM on May 13, 2012

There's nothing wrong with the Canadian highway system

...apart from the substantially lower speed limits, and IIRC not being limited-access the whole way, and if he's going from Toronto or points west, having to go pretty far east just to get to the highway system that will take him west.

If he's leaving from London, frex, google says staying in Canada adds about 30% to the trip.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:17 AM on May 13, 2012

I mean, obviously nothing truly horrible will happen, but I wouldn't do it, myself.

Right, but the question isn't, "Is this a good idea?" The question is, "What should I do about my son who has decided for himself that he wants to do this and is sticking with his plan after I advised him that I didn't think it was a good idea?" And while the answer to the first question might be that it's not the world's greatest idea, the answer to the second question is pretty clearly that the son is an adult, and given that we're talking about comfort or convenience, not safety, the parents should wish the son all the best and let him make his own decisions without butting in.
posted by decathecting at 11:42 AM on May 13, 2012

decathecting writes "The absolute worst case scenario is that he loses a day or so to bureaucracy and learns a valuable lesson about how 'the man' tries to keep us down. "

That's not remotely the worst case scenario. He might have a Peter Watts encounter.
posted by Mitheral at 12:02 PM on May 13, 2012

Decathecting I dunno, I didn't get the sense the OP was planning to bully or forbid the son to do this. Sounds to me like he/she wants advce on pros and cons, which I think is reasonable. (The OP said "alternatively, convince me it won't be a hassle.")

The OP's not actually asking for parenting advice. He/she is asking for a sanity check on this particular idea. I don't think it matters whether it's their son, a friend, colleague, whatever.

(I find people on Metafilter pretty touchy about freedom and autonomy. That's fine but I think in this situation it's a little misplaced.)
posted by Susan PG at 12:11 PM on May 13, 2012

*advice. Bah, tiny phone keyboard.
posted by Susan PG at 12:13 PM on May 13, 2012

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the cost! I drove across eastern Canada to Atlantic Canada and found the cost of gas so prohibitively expensive that I routed my return trip through the States and back into the bit of Canada I could not avoid crossing again. I saved a lot of money on fuel during the return trip!

As long has he's done the research, has proper documentation, dresses nicely and cooperates without hesitation, he'll be fine even if they do a search.
posted by kuppajava at 4:30 PM on May 13, 2012

The border guards could simply think that all the documents could be faked.

They can also fairly easily verify that the documents are not fake by calling the medical school or the apartments' management office, etc.

Another thing that might be useful would be for him to get a Trip-Tik from a CAA office showing that the route he's taking was recommended as the most efficient (rather than him choosing that route in order to smuggle poutine and Timbits into the US, or whatever they're worried about).
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2012

When I was considering driving from BC to Ontario through the US, I was told by customs officials that I would have to unpack everything at each border crossing to demonstrate I wasn't trying to import US goods into Canada.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:48 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was told by customs officials that I would have to unpack everything at each border crossing to demonstrate I wasn't trying to import US goods into Canada.

At Montreal, they told me that this one midi keyboard I had, as determined by serial number lookup, required a $100+ duty.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:44 PM on May 13, 2012

The Canadian drive is slower, but at this time of year it will be gorgeous.

I made the trip from Vancouver to Ottawa, without crossing over into the US, as I had plants and things that I knew would be confiscated. (And hell, if I could navigate a loaded-up Tercel through a late May snowfall warning grade blizzard into Thunder Bay, then your son shouldn't find the Canadian drive that difficult.)
posted by Kurichina at 12:46 PM on May 14, 2012

I'm just coming back to say, because I just remembered about insurance! If he isn't covered by a policy for any health emergencies in the US, he may want to pick up a policy through AAA before he goes - it's another layer of hassle, but it's good to be prepared.
posted by peagood at 8:56 PM on May 14, 2012

Response by poster: Update (by OP):
My son had a great trip to Calgary, driving through Canada. He made the decision for the following reasons:
1. In contacting Canada Customs, he learned that he would have to make a complete list of his belongings, stop on exit from Canada to have that list verified. Then enter the US, then stop again at Canada customs with the verified list. This meant three border crossings.
2. Cell phone text and data would be (expensive) roaming in the US.

Thank you all for your responses.
posted by mbarryf at 5:32 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oooops. Not three border crossings; rather three stops at customs stations.
posted by mbarryf at 5:33 AM on June 4, 2012

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