Please Help Me Find Border Points in Michigan
June 21, 2007 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Traveling from Chicago, IL to Toronto, Canada. Wondering about border point routes other than the obvious ones, because the obvious ones are awful.

I once traveled from Chicago through Detroit through the Sarnia checkpoint to Toronto, and that was the fastest. But I was carrying a bunch of used books I bought from a library that was closing, and that was enough to cause customs to stop me and thoroughly search everything I owned. Then I got the stink eye from the immigration people who accused me of not wanting to come back to the States because I'm a freelance writer and that's not a "real job".

Needless to say, I'd like to avoid that this time around, and I'm told if you use a different checkpoint your chances at being stopped lessen dramatically. Anyone know some possibly more personable checkpoints on the way from IL to Toronto? Is the Detroit Windsor tunnel better than Sarnia? How do I get to these places? I'd rather not go millions of miles out of my way, if possible.

Please no border advice, I just want to know about the different border crossings available to me.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Two thoughts on Windsor. First off, you are likely to get a much bigger hassle there if you or your passengers are black. There's also much more traffic along the approach, especially during rush hour or on weekends. If either of those applies to you, you might want to avoid it, no matter how funny things got that one time at Sarnia.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:13 AM on June 21, 2007

This is a good resource; it lists all the land crossings and their current wait times. It might be a good idea to check it for the next few days around the time you expect to be crossing and use that to help make your decision.

Speaking from personal experience, though, as someone who has crossed back and forth literally hundreds of times: The chances that you'll be pulled over and searched again like that are very low. And don't be afraid to get badge numbers and complain if inspectors are rude to you; that "not a real job" comment was uncalled for and should have been brought to a supervisor's attention.

Good luck, and enjoy Toronto. It's a fun city.
posted by AV at 9:40 AM on June 21, 2007

Avoid Windsor, the border guards there have major attitude everytime I cross, I think they are specially hired for their personality. For your route however, Sarnia or Windsor is fastest, Queenston/Lewiston (outside of Buffalo/Niagara Falls) would be my (long route around) second choice, and then you have the border crossing "millions of miles" away in Sault Ste Marie. Doesn't it seem odd how few border points there are between the two countries in this area? Good luck, crossing the border can be such a hassel.
posted by saucysault at 9:44 AM on June 21, 2007

Addendum to my comment about the probability of your getting pulled over a second time: that is provided you follow all the little protocols (waiting to pull into the booth, etc.) and don't act suspicious or anything. Since you said you don't want border advice I'm assuming you know all that, but there it is just in case...
posted by AV at 9:45 AM on June 21, 2007

I think there's a ferry at Marine City? I know very little about this.
posted by Lieber Frau at 9:47 AM on June 21, 2007

There are at least two ferries to Southwest Ontario, leaving from:
Marine City, MI - Sombra, ON
Sandusky, OH - Pelee Island, ON
posted by cardboard at 10:05 AM on June 21, 2007

Having been through all of those crossings, Sarnia is the fastest and as others have said, you're not going to find less annoying immigration people somewhere else. They're all just doing their job and they will do it the same everywhere.

I would skip the ferries - the Pelee island one is strictly for tourists. The one in Sombra might be OK, but you'll have to wait for the ferry which will add some time. I'm not sure whether there's any border controls there. Presumably there's someone checking ID and such. But if they want to get pissy with you, they will and are more likely to just turn you back as they don't have the capability to do a longer search or detain you.

I say stick with Sarnia. Relatively speaking, it's a quiet, pleasant border crossing. Mostly just truckers and locals.
posted by GuyZero at 10:25 AM on June 21, 2007

I've done Windsor a couple of times in the past months, bridge and tunnel. My experience is that we had little trouble going into Canada, but got major attitude returning to the US.

Make sure that you time your crossing to avoid rush hours, plan on a delay whenever you elect to cross.

Obey the laws, answer the questions as simply as possible, have the documents you need handy.
posted by HuronBob at 10:31 AM on June 21, 2007

Like others, I don't think there's a particular "culture" that applies to different crossings -- I think the variation is among crossing guards themselves, and their relative degree of hard-assery.

The only other consideration I might add is that if you cross at Windsor, you'll end up taking 401 to London, while if you cross at Sarnia, you'll take 402. Neither are exactly exciting, but the 402 may be the longest, straightest, most unvarying road in the world. If you're prone to drowsiness while driving, I would avoid it. On the other hand, I kind of like it.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:02 AM on June 21, 2007

And to add on to what pardonyou? said, the stretch of the 401 from Windsor to London is the most accident-prone stretch of highway in the country.

Besides, after you cross the Bluewater Bridge, pull off in Sarnia and eat at the Chipican! Or get some fries under the bridge. Enjoy one of Sarnia's several delights!

but good lord, get out before nightfall.
posted by GuyZero at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2007

I've (an American) crossed at Sarnia a million billion times, seriously, and I think I've gotten stopped exactly once. Sarnia people are generally great. Windsor is okay too, but then again, I'm not black and neither is my spouse.

I've done the ferry to Walpole Island -- it was a mess. I got delayed by an hour as Canadian customs did their customs thing. Comign back on the ferry one time we had problems on the American side. I'm sort of spooked on ferries as result.

Want the scenic route? Cross at International in Sault Ste Marie! That'll only add, oh, geez, 12 hours to your trip. But the territory is great!
posted by the dief at 11:47 AM on June 21, 2007

I haven't crossed at Windsor.

If you really want to, you could drive to Buffalo/Niagara and cross at any of the several crossings there. Your odds of being hassled by The Canadian Man are probably about the same at the Peace or Rainbow bridges. I've not crossed at Lewiston.

Any of the WNY crossings would add 2-4 hours to your trip. OTOH, you could get Mighty Taco.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:15 PM on June 21, 2007

Carrying a bunch of books, you look like someone who is moving. Relocating. Not like a tourist.

Don't do that.
posted by jellicle at 1:35 PM on June 21, 2007

I've been hassled going in to Sarnia for having a laptop but never going through Windsor. I always have long wait times on the Port Huron side but never the Detroit side The Detroit-Windsor tunnel and bridge have a much higher capacity as well. Plus there are some nice little restaurants in Windsor to make the rest of the drive/wait more bearable.
posted by tomo at 2:09 PM on June 22, 2007

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