How does a Brit take a side trip to Canada while in the US?
October 10, 2006 2:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I travel from the UK, enter the US, stay for a while, take a long weekend in Canada while I deal with a personal situation, then re-enter the US for the rest of my trip without causing too much immigration hassle? Is it even worth it?

Here's the story - I'll be in San Diego, CA for the entirety of March next year, and while I'm there I need to take a side trip to Victoria, BC to pick up some things my best friend is stashing for me (I've been to Canada twice before, and these are leftovers from a long distance relationship breakdown). He's had them for over a year, and I'm now imposing on his good will by leaving them there for so long. Plus, I'd like to catch up with him as we've obviously not seen each other for a while.

If I take this side trip, will I have to fill in one immigration form on my way into the US, hand the little green stub in on the way out, then fill in a second when I return? I find the idea of so. many. forms. and questions at the airport stressful (and causes many paranoid irrational thoughts, such as "what if I got denied re-entry?" et al).

Would it just be easier to get the friend to meet me in Seattle and hang out with him there? I'm from the UK, only hold a British passport, and blame the internet for all this international trouble.
posted by saturnine to Travel & Transportation around Canada (13 answers total)
Probably it would be ok for you to go to Canada, but would be much easier to meet the friend in Seattle. Especially if you would be crossing back over the border with a back seat full of stuff. When he crosses, he can just say the stuff is a gift for a friend, value under $100 or whatever the limit is.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:53 PM on October 10, 2006

I assume you'll be entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.

According to the VWP program:
"Travelers who qualify for visa free travel under the Visa Waiver Program are eligible to transit the United States. Application for entry is made on the arrival/departure form I-94W provided by the airline or shipping company. If transiting the United States to a destination in Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, the traveler may re-enter the United States on the return journey using any mode of transport, as long as the total visit, including both periods of time spent in transit and in Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, does not exceed 90 days. If transiting to a destination outside of Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands, the return journey must be on a participating carrier, but need not be within 90 days, as the traveler will be required to make a new application for admission and therefore, required to complete a new arrival/departure form, I-94W."
So, you'll need to fill out an I-94W (on the original flight into the U.S.) and another when re-entering from Canada. Shouldn't be a problem. I'd suggest mentioning the side trip to the immigration officer on your arrival here. He/she might make note of it on your travel record -- which may make any potential hassle non-existent.

BTW -- the U.S. Embassy in London website might be a helpful resource.
posted by ericb at 2:56 PM on October 10, 2006

Yeah, I haven't done this on the VWP but I really can't see a problem with doing this.
posted by ob at 3:00 PM on October 10, 2006

Save the hassle - just meet in Seattle, as lobstermitten says, or go to Bellingham, which is a cool town in its own right.
posted by pdb at 3:33 PM on October 10, 2006

It would seriously be imposing on your friend to get him to go to Seattle. If you travel from Victoria, BC to Seattle by car/BC Ferries, figure about 8 hours each way for the trip and $100 + gas. Suck it up and fly, the paperwork is routine.
posted by crazycanuck at 4:03 PM on October 10, 2006

A friend of Mine recently came over to new england from Ireland. We went up to montreal for a couple of days and there were no problems whatsoever crossing the border. I wouldnt worry about it at all.

posted by koolkat at 4:04 PM on October 10, 2006

I have flown from the UK to New York, crossed the border into Canada at Niagara, driven to Toronto and then Montreal, crossed the border again in Vermont, drove to NY and flown back out to the UK. It was a 3 week trip, I was on the Visa Waiver Program, and had absolutely no problems. However this was pre 911, so not sure if that would make any difference. I really don't think you have anything to worry about, the worst case is that you have to fill out the I-94 twice, but its only a tiny form, no need to get stressed out by it. I say go ahead, and do the trip as you had planned. As long as you have your passport with you at all times, there is no reason for border control to prevent you returning to the US.
posted by Joh at 4:13 PM on October 10, 2006

Are you white? If so, the border crossing is pretty painless (traffic notwithstanding). If you're of any other ethnicity, then I'd suggest you enter/exit as few times as possible to. No snark intended -- I mean this with absolute seriousness.
posted by randomstriker at 4:34 PM on October 10, 2006

This is done all the time without problem.

But little green form = Visa Waiver.

Visa Waiver = you must "Intend to enter the United States for 90 days or less".

If you will be on a visa, it will be a little white form (still an I-94).

Going to Canada and back during the 90 days does not usually reset the 90 day clock. The time spent in Canada will however, not count.

See overview.

Anyway, I digress. It's no problem either way, as long as your US period of stay is covered by your visa / waiver status.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 6:39 PM on October 10, 2006

Yeah, can you tell us what your visa status will be during your trip or if you will be visa waiver?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:24 PM on October 10, 2006

It's less than three hours Seattle-Victoria on the Clipper.

The BlackBall ferry out of Port Angeles is $11.00 and takes about two hours.

The border guards have been kind of touchy lately. I've had British friends denied re-entry to the US for the flimsiest reasons. I've had US friends denied Canadian entry for dumb reasons.
posted by laptop_lizard at 10:29 PM on October 10, 2006

Pollomancho, I'll be visa waiver, and randomstrike, I'm white :) Sorry guys, should have mentioned those things, because they both matter.

It looks like I'll be flying into Canada and dealing with immigration, as my buddy doesn't feel like heading into the US. The form/visa issue is a lot clearer now (although it does still give me a headache), thank you all so much for the help.

Not to derail, but laptop_lizard do you feel like expanding on the denial of re-entry story? It's good to be prepared (I hear weird things about the US/Canada border people).
posted by saturnine at 2:01 PM on October 11, 2006

The form/visa issue is a lot clearer now (although it does still give me a headache)

The I-94W is a short form. Simple and fast to complete.
posted by ericb at 5:32 PM on October 11, 2006

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