What you need to know when crossing the border

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When traveling, a number of visa, customs and immigration issues can arise.  Every case is different, and it is very important to speak with a lawyer who specializes in this area to understand what you need in order to travel safely and properly.  The below information is not legal advice, and does not take the place of speaking to a qualified lawyer in your area.

Traveling can be stressful.  On top of making all of your plans, you have to worry about crossing international borders where the rules are different from country to country.  It’s super important to be prepared by having whatever documents you need in order to enter the country you are visiting, and by being ready to answer any questions asked of you.  This can help to get you past the border and on to enjoying your trip.

The most important thing to remember when crossing a border is that international travel is not a right – it is a privilege.  It may not always feel like a privilege if you’re crossing the border to go to work, for example, but it is a privilege in the sense that you do not have a right to enter any country besides your own.  For this reason, border agents have to decide whether to give you permission to enter their country or not, and this can be done in any number of ways.

You'll be asked questions
When you’re traveling, you will almost definitely encounter questions at the border.  You may be asked where you are going, for how long, with whom, where you are staying, and when you intend to come back.  You may have to show proof that you do intend to come back, because border agents are often concerned about people trying to immigrate illegally to their country.  Questions should be asked without a discriminatory intent, but it is often difficult to find the line between discrimination and legitimate questioning.

It’s really difficult to refuse to answer questions asked of you at the border.  If you want to be let in to whatever country you are visiting, you may be refused if you don’t answer their questions, and this can also prejudice your chances of getting in in the future.  If you are traveling to the United States, for example, there is a record of all of the border interactions you have, and if you get into a dispute there will be a record of it.  For this reason, it’s a good idea to make sure you keep your cool while at the border.

Your phone might get searched
Recently there’s been increased attention on cell phones and social media. Border agents may ask to look at your phone, and in doing so they may see all of your social media posts.  Some people post a lot of political views on social media. The important thing is to remember that your digital footprint can be seen with a simple online search, and you want to make sure that if you are posting political content, you’re prepared for it to be seen by the border.  Whether or not border agents are supposed to use your political views against you, we’ve seen a number of cases where Canadians have been turned away at the U.S. border for political reasons.  Always be aware of what you are putting out there online, and be ready for the consequences.

No-fly lists
No-fly cause problems for a lot of Canadians.  In Canada, the no-fly list is maintained by the Passenger Protect Programme, which uses people’s names to determine whether they are on the list or not.  There have been a number of cases of people (even children) put on the list because of the actions of someone with the same name as them.  This can make traveling very difficult, and it’s hard to get off the list.  It’s a good idea to call your airline before traveling to advise them of the issue.  Some people will get a letter from a member of parliament or other government official that verifies that the person is not the same as the one on the no-fly list.  But you may continue to encounter problems, and it’s a good idea to leave extra time when traveling.

Travelling with kids
A lot of people travel with kids, either their own or sometimes a niece, nephew or family friend.  Border agents are very sensitive to issues of divorce, custody and abduction, and will want to know that you are not taking a child across the border without permission.  If you are traveling alone with children, be prepared to answer a number of questions.  Consider getting a letter signed by both parents stating that you have permission to travel with the child.  Have both parents sign it and get it notarized.  You may still encounter issues when crossing the border, but the letter could help to make it a smoother process.


When traveling, the most important thing to remember is that you need permission to go into another country. They have the right to make sure that you are going to be there visiting, and that you are not trying to immigrate or work without permission.  Be prepared to spend some time at the border and to answer questions that, in your everyday life, you might not be prepared to answer if asked by a stranger.  Always stay calm and remember that what happe
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