Conference trip - business or pleasure?
October 27, 2012 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm a Canadian software developer. I'm going to a conference in the US next month, and I'm not sure what to say when they ask if the trip is for business or pleasure.

On the one hand, it's not a vacation - I'm going to the conference to improve my professional skills, and to network with other developers.

On the other hand, I'm paying my own way, and I won't be representing my employer at the conference. I won't actually be conducting any business on the trip.

What do you think? Or does it matter if I answer wrong?
posted by problemspace to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
Just because it's not for your company doesn't mean it's not a business/career task. If I were you, I'd say "I'm here for a business conference."

But I'm not you, so instead I'll say Welcome to America.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:36 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Someone will have a more precise answer, but I'd say "I'm going to a conference" and let them figure it out. If my experience entering Canada is any indication (which, er, it isn't) they'll be interested in who's paying more than anything else.
posted by hoyland at 7:38 PM on October 27, 2012

Business. It doesn't have to be related to your primary job and it's not a vacation.
posted by fshgrl at 7:43 PM on October 27, 2012

I'm not sure there's any reason in the world not to say "I'm here for a vacation." If you tell them you're coming for work, they may take a harder look at your documents and whatnot, and just give you a bigger unnecessary hassle. Unless you're going to be here for a year directing the construction of a data center or something, "holiday" is always the right answer.
posted by colin_l at 7:55 PM on October 27, 2012

There's nothing "bad" about traveling for business. It's not like you will pay special business-travel taxes or something. I've done what the problemspace is doing something like, oh, six billion times (give or take). Like hoyland, I usually answer with a specific thing like "I'm going to a conference" and let them ask followups as they wish.

(Then again, I also sometimes answer "for baseball", "for a concert" or "to surprise a friend on her birthday" when appropriate, too.)
posted by rokusan at 7:57 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm fairly sure that as a Canadian you can get a B-1 Visa on the spot (so you can honestly say you're going to a conference.) That said, please don't trust my advice without verification.
posted by grudgebgon at 8:00 PM on October 27, 2012

Say it's a vacation. Business always raises questions in the minds of immigration authorities as they think you may be working and earning income in the country or competing with citizens for jobs.
posted by 3491again at 8:05 PM on October 27, 2012

Border Protection will not ask you "is your trip for business or pleasure". They will ask what the purpose of your visit is. Say, "I am attending a professional conference". They will want to know the length of your stay, and that's about as far as it will go.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:21 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Border Protection will not ask you "is your trip for business or pleasure".

While it is true that the CBP person is unlikely to phrase it this way, the 6059B form, which everyone fills out, has a field whose wording is "The primary purpose of this trip is business: yes/no". So, anyone entering the US does have to answer the question, and the CBP officer typically looks at the form before asking verbal questions. (As a US citizen, I've often wondered what the role of this question is, too.)
posted by advil at 8:30 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm Canadian and travel 2-3 times a year to the U.S. for conferences, meetings or training. There's no reason not to declare this as the purpose of your trip and in no manner requires a special visa or permit (as far as has been my experience). US immigration is concerned only if you intend to live or work illegally in their country. Attending a conference is not work.
posted by dismitree at 8:43 PM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a Canadian engineer who has gone to the US, on my dime, for conferences before. I check the box that says "business" and tell them when they ask that I'm going for a conference. They often ask things like how long I'm staying (a couple of days) or what the name of the conference is (i.e. am I making it up). Thirty seconds later, I'm on my way.

You need visas (which I've gotten before) to actually do work in the US, but not to go to a conference or even to "fully participate in a meeting". The main point is that they are satisfied you aren't going to work illegally or stay for a long time.

Enjoy the conference!
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:48 PM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: advil is correct: The form you have to fill out asks whether you are going for business. If you are attending a conference to networks and build skills - that's business.

You are allowed to go to the US to attend a conference. I've gone through the border a number of times doing that, and have never been asked any questions, etc. It is a very routine thing. (So much so that, in my experience, Canadian friends who are going to do business in the US where they are not so sure it will be simple to get in, will sometimes bend the truth and say they are going to a conference, to get in without hassle). Say "I'm going to a conference". *Maybe* they will ask what sort of conference. That's about it.

Telling the guys at the border you are going on vacation if you are in fact going to conference is probably not a good idea. I think that would be considered a lie, and my understanding is that lying to those guys is against the law (or, at least, grounds for serious future border trouble).

Here is an article in the Globe and Mail on the subject, basically saying the same things I've said here.

btw: a really good forum for these sort of questions is Canuck Abroad.
posted by ManInSuit at 9:15 PM on October 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I always found that telling them the truth is what works best.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:34 PM on October 27, 2012

I'm also a Canadian who has done similar trips. Just say it's business; you're attending a conference. Since you're not billing for your time (and even if you were, since you're not billing a US company for your time) then you won't be required to have any special work permit. The only difference from vacation travel will be the B1 stamp you'll get in your passport, as grudgebgon mentioned. Provided you return when you said you would, there's nothing to worry about.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:37 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Business. I've never had a problem when going for a conference.
posted by stp123 at 9:53 PM on October 27, 2012

Ditto: I just say "I'm going to a conference" and then they ask me what it's about, where it is, how long I'm staying. I often attend academic conferences that my employer doesn't pay for. It's still business.
posted by jrochest at 10:16 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Business is fine. I do this regularly. They only care if you're going to be paid for work in the States. They don't want you to be working on a tourist visa. If no one is paying for your time, e.g., an appearance fee, then you don't need to worry.
posted by bonehead at 10:18 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, business, definitely. "I am going to a conference."

It's totally fine: you don't need a visa, and they won't ask you any tough questions. The type of people who get hassled are people who go frequently to the US for week-long or longer visits, specifically to work. Trigger phrases are things like "working," "visiting clients," "doing some work in the U.S. office," and, sometimes, "meetings." If you are speaking at the conference, it's best and simplest not to say that.

Going to the U.S. for training or to attend a conference is totally okay. The Americans are happy to have you spending money in their country. What they don't want is you *making* money and not paying income tax.
posted by Susan PG at 10:23 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Glad to hear there's nothing to worry about. I'll just tell them I'm going to a conference, and I'll check the "business" box on the form that asks if it's business or pleasure.
posted by problemspace at 11:16 PM on October 27, 2012

Imagine explaining how going to a conference is for pleasure. Business.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:59 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I go to Canada for conferences often. They may ask you the name of the conference and/or if you are bringing samples, stuff to sell, whatever. Every time I say I'm going to a library conference the border people have a nice chuckle over it. They'll sometimes ask where you're staying and how long you've been there, but I'd just tell the truth and you will be fine in this circumstance.
posted by jessamyn at 10:42 AM on October 28, 2012

Definitely say business, and the best way to head off any hastles is to have a copy of the conference itinerary handy. That's the most they are ever going to ask for. And that's mostly an attempt to catch the folks that use "conference" as their way to get around not having the right visa to work there.
posted by cirhosis at 10:47 AM on October 30, 2012

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