We spent this weekend visiting our dear friend and mentor, Dwight McLemore and his lovely wife, Jeneene (she makes a delicious peanut soup, by the way!). During this trip, we remembered a few key things about driving across borders, so I thought it would be helpful to share.
Have proper documentation
Most people know that you need your passport to get into another country, including Canadians entering the States, however, there’s a few more things that make everyone’s life a bit easier. Border guards are generally concerned with whether you’re importing things or whether you are working, and if so, are you doing so legally. If you’re working, be sure to have all of the proper legal documentation, and know that the guards at the American border still have the right to refuse your entry. If you’ve decided to work under the table — which I do not recommend — know that you can be deported and barred future entry into the States*. “How do I work in the States legally?” you ask. That’s a post for another day. If you’re entering the country to attend a workshop, have a print out of your proof of registration. If you’re getting private training, print out a copy of your correspondence, or ask your instructor to write a letter confirming the purpose of your visit and the dates. It can also be useful to have a record of where you’re staying. Again, that’s a letter from the people who are lending you their couch, or a printout of hotel confirmations.
Describing what you’re doing
Remember that what we do is weird to a lot of people. If you’re attending a stage combat workshop, it may be clearer to say “theatre or drama workshop” or “choreography for theatre and films”. If you’re doing a Western Martial Arts or fencing workshop, it may be easier to say “martial arts”. If you’re questioned further, it’s helpful to have your fencing mask in an easily accessible place, or on the very top of everything in the trunk. If they ask “will I find weapons in there?” you say “well, you’ll find a theatre prop” or “You’ll find a stage weapon” and follow-up with “but no firearms”. They may ask for further clarification, and then you can add something to the effect of “yes, it’s steel, but it’s not sharp because we don’t use them for real, just on stage (or on film)”. Again, they’re concerned that you’re entering the country and working illegally. When they ask you what you do for a living, it can be expedient to say that your day job is what you do. You’re not lying, and you don’t set off the alarm in their head that says, “it’s another actor trying to work illegally”.
They’re just doing their jobs. They ask the same questions again and again with slightly different wording to catch the people who actually are trying to do illegal things. They’re not trying to be jerks. There was an audio recording circulating on the internet a while back wherein the travellers crossing the border took every question personally and was, frankly, quite rude and indignant. I am completely unsurprised that the traveller was asked to hand over their keys and submit to further questioning. Entering another country is a privelege, not a right. The border guards are doing their job trying to stop the actual “bad guys”. Just as you wouldn’t be beligerent towards a police officer who pulled you over as part of routine RIDE check, don’t be rude to the border guards. Simply answer their questions. Matt and I had forgotten to print out our correspondence for arranging our visit this weekend, and so we were asked to go into the building and answer further questions. Yes, it took time out of our day, but by answering questions clearly, politely and honestly, we were on our way soon enough. Plus, we got to Dina’s in Ellicottville in time for the breakfast menu. Delicious!**
Keep a clear record of your purchases. Should you choose to purchase beyond the free limits, it’s very helpful to have a list of everything you bought, and have your receipts easily accessible, in case they should require you to pay duty (taxes). Read “I Declare” before you leave to confirm what you can bring back duty-free.
There’s no telling how long the line will be. Crossing the border can delay you 5 minutes or 3 hours. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re driving or flying. Plan for a long delay, and be pleasantly surprised when it’s quick. That’s really the only way around it. Bring a book.
These are just a few things that make border crossings go more smoothly. If something unexpected happens, just remember to be honest, polite and respectful.
*I’ve been looking online for better details in this regard, but haven’t had much luck. The first consequence I had heard was “barred from working in USA for life”, but some websites say that you’ll be barred from entering USA for 3 to 10 years. Either way, it’s illegal.
**I highly recommend Dina’s! 15 Washington Ave, Ellicottville. Great food, and they were AWESOME at accommodating my allergies!