At the border, entering the "country" of Transnistria. Photo taken December 8, 2016.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Tiraspol, Transnistria...the country that doesn't exist.

Where are they going next? Northern Moldova. Arrive December 11th.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Border Crossing Stories

International travel is great, but crossing the actual physical border can be a nightmare. There's almost always some kind of ridiculous story to tell after the fact. Well we've crossed a lot of borders, and here are some of the better stories...

When our son was growing up, he played Little League Baseball. Because our home's location in Ottawa, Canada was only 100 kms (60 miles) from the New York State border our son's team played a lot of weekend tournaments in the U.S. and we would cross the border on a Friday night or Saturday morning and come back Sunday afternoon. We did a LOT of border crossings during those years, probably over fifty times into the U.S. alone.

And then in 2007, we bought a motorhome in New York State. Part of the process to have the paperwork transferred to Canada involved the U.S. doing a background check on the vehicle and the exporter. Well as part of the background check I came up as flagged due to a minor indiscretion with the law when I was 18 years old. I remember the border guard looking at me as I was taking the motorhome out of the U.S. and saying "well, your new RV is welcome back in the U.S. anytime, but you're not".

So, all of those crossings into the U.S. meant nothing to them. All of a sudden I was a criminal due to something that happened well over 25 years prior to this. Long story short, I am still "flagged" in the American system and I have paid over $1,500 since then in paperwork fees to the U.S. government to get the proper permit to enter their country. The current permit is valid for 5 years and then it will be another $585 (if they don't raise the price again!) to get another 5 year permit. Everyone (including the border guards) agree that it's a joke. But, it's my lot in life and we have no choice so have to live with it.

In our experience it is the Unites States border guards that are over the top.

We saw one incident at a crossing into the U.S. where the American border guard had an older Chinese lady in tears because she hadn't reported that she had an orange or something in her car and he was threatening to confiscate her car and not let her in the country. Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard the whole thing myself.

Another time, I'm waiting for secondary inspection (I have to do that all of the time now when entering the U.S., even though they have issued me the proper permit!) and so you get to watch everybody else going through secondary. They had one guy older than me who got flagged because he had been arrested in a bar room brawl back in the 1960's. He and his wife had been heading to Syracuse NY on a weekend shopping trip. They wouldn't let him in and turned him around! The poor guy was almost in tears.

I mean c'mon guys, you can do your jobs and do your jobs efficiently without being so intimidating and bull headed. This is not all of them of course, but it's a good generality. We have had the odd guy who was genial and smiling. On the other hand, we have also encountered the odd Canadian border guard who didn't like our story of why we were out of the country and for how long. Almost like they simply didn't believe us. But for the most part, we have been welcomed back to Canada.

And we can't figure why the guards in your own country question you so much. I mean, if I have a Canadian passport, do they not HAVE to let you in to my own country?

There was one strange Canadian incident where the guy already had our passports, but he insisted on seeing my drivers license. I didn't question him (obviously!) but thought it was odd.

Never had a problem with other international travel. Mexico has always welcomed us with open arms. Guatemalan authorities were great, despite the circus that goes on at land crossings with the "helpers". You can read about that here... http://www.travelwithkevinandruth.com/2013/02/in-to-guatemala.html

And Britain and Europe have always been great too. We've been to the U.K. five or six times over the years and British border authorities have always asked the typical questions "where are you from" and "how long are you staying" and then told us to enjoy our stay, usually with a smile. Same when we went to Czech Republic last year, and Portugal in 2007. Iceland, same thing.

I'm sure there will be other stories we'll be able to tell, and it will be interesting crossing land borders in southern Africa this coming fall and winter. We've heard that it shouldn't be an issue, but you never know!



28 comments:

  1. Any time I've ever had an "issue" at an international border, it's been at the Canada/US crossing. Mostly going INTO the States. And even then, I think I've been very lucky. I "declare" if I think I should. I get rid of stuff that I know I shouldn't have. That kind of thing. It's all on the net, so being uninformed is kind of silly.

    When my wife worked in Horseheads N.Y., I crossed every two weeks without incident. Helps to know when shift change might be, because my impression is that they're reluctant to do any "secondary inspections" if they've been working all night and are about to go home. May be a coincidence, but it worked for me.
    When we moved to Puerto Rico, my wife had an "L1A" visa, and once in a while I would be asked if I was going to be working? Even though the aspect of my visa was such that I COULD NOT work. I would just say, "Ah well, I'll be working on my tan." Which I think was kind of a back handed way of saying that was a stupid question? Never had a problem. Possibly because they were too dim to realize I was being sarcastic? I mean c'mon, why would I work?
    There was only one time when we were flying out of Buffalo and our limo driver looked like "Haystack Calhoon", and for some reason had his also rather large brother with him, that we had to go into the room and wait. Then it was nothing. Just an inconvenience.
    I too had a minor "incident" back when I was a wee bit of a silly young lad, but made sure I got a pardon as soon as I was able to. Something in the back of my head told me that it was the thing to do. I think it's worked so far, but I'll never really know.
    Now, Europe or the UK? Easy peasy. Even back before there was such as thing as the EU, my roommate and I would nip over to France from Freiburg for cheap wine and smokes. Never a problem.
    Some day I'll tell you about my "dream" job.

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    1. The shift change didn't help Kevin this year at the Mexico/US border crossing coming into the US. Kevin hit the shift change and had to go in for secondary screening and he sat there for a good 15/20 minutes because the border agent finishing their shift didn't want to deal with it so he had to wait until the new one came on. Border crossings are part of the travel adventure and if you want to travel to other countries then we all need to learn that it is part of the experience and just factor that in.

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    2. Like Bob and Kevin, I have a minor blip on my record from my youth and like Bob, I got a pardon as soon as I was allowed to apply. It has never come up when crossing the border so I don't think it is "in the system" but I do carry a copy of the pardon with me even though it carries no legal weight outside of Canada.

      Aside from the USA and Mexico, the only other borders we have crossed are Cuba and the Bahamas. No problem with either of these but like you say, getting back into Canada is sometimes a problem.

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    3. Kevin has the pardon now. Unfortunately like you said it means nothing the the US once it was in the system. I don't believe it will show up for any other country. He wishes he had gotten the pardon sooner but he actually forgot about it and thought that the whole thing was resolved once restitution was made.

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  2. Only time we ever have a problem crossing borders in going into the U.S. What gives? I do think it is pretty hilarious that they get all bent out of shape over a tuna sandwich, but could care less if you have an assault rifle mounted in a rack on the back window!

    Cheers

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    1. Yep, sometimes you just have to shake your head!

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  3. Only had the one "incident" with a clueless border guard. My son and I were crossing into the States and I provided our passports and the letter indicating that I have sole custody of my son. The border guard looked at the passports, glanced at the letter and then looked at my son square in the face and asked him where his father was. We haven't seen his father since my son was 2 years old, and the guard was HOLDING the letter that clearly stated I was sole parent, and my son shook his shoulders and said "no idea, haven't seen him in 10 years".
    Good answer son! I told the guard that he was holding a letter stating I was both mother and father, and we haven't seen 'daddy' for almost 10 years so please don't ask those questions again.
    Why would he ask that? My guess is he didn't look at the letter, just a cursory glance. ugh.
    My son was a little embarrassed to be asked that and I was ashamed for the guard for actually asking that.
    We had no problem coming back, waived right on through. No questions asked.

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    1. I guess that they just want to be sure. I can't imagine it being easy to travel as a single parent with a child/children but as you say if they had actually read the letter then they would know. I guess it is sometimes better to err on the side of caution.

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  4. I've had problems leaving Russia twice. Once I was taken aside at the Moscow airport prior to getting to the gate, taken to a private room where I was stripped down to my skivvies and the officials went through my clothing and then opened my suit case. Of course I had about a dozen nesting dolls that I bought for souvenirs. I had to open every one, down to the littlest doll.

    Then they said I could go. Put everything back on and repacked my bag and made my flight.

    The second time, well, it was even worse. A good campfire story, too long for here. I think all the fun was because I was traveling on an official U. S. Government Agency passport and not a personal passport.

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    1. Can't wait to meet you at the campfire. Sounds like that could be an interesting story!

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  5. Well all the Canadian guards aren't that great. They turned Tiogageorge George away because his 94 was to old and this was several years ago. A Canadian reader intervened and he got on a day or two later. All our LEO s seem to have the same issues or I should say many as there some good ones.

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    1. Actually, George was turned away because he told the border guards that he lived full time in his RV. After proving that he had a permanent address in California, he was let in to Canada.

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    2. Holy crap, this is very timely because I had planned to spend $400+ taking my RV on a ferry from Seattle to Vancouver Island next week. I didn't know fulltime RVing was a crime in Canada.

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    3. And of course it's not a "crime". But unfortunately, both the Americans and the Canadians treat it the same when it comes to deciding your eligibility to entering their countries.

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  6. I too have had problems, just got them resolved and crossed the border to the US last week for the first time in nearly 4 years. It's a relief thanks to my immigration lawyer!

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    1. Glad you were finally able to get yours sorted out and can now get back into the States to visit family.

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  7. It's just a big money grab for both border crossings, Canadian and American!

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  8. Had problems coming back to New Zealand. Almost been given hefty fines for a forgotten banana in my bag and dirty shoes from a race overseas. All to do with our clean and green image I suppose. Happy travels!

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    1. Yikes! Our son missed his connecting flight because he hadn't eaten a chiken sandwich I made for him on his way out of Mexico back to the USA. They pulled him over after he told them he had a sandwich when they asked him about food. Did a thorough search and then let him go and by that time he missed his flight. Ridiculous!

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  9. Like the others, we've been through customs and immigration in quite a few countries... only "incident" was trying to cross from Jackman, Maine into Quebec. Canadian officials held us for a couple of hours while doing a rather sloppy job of going through our motorhome. It could have been worse... they could have done a real good job and left everything sitting in the parking lot for us to put back.

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    1. Wow, it's incredible isn't it?! We have seen where the border agents had pulled a whole car apart, carseats were all taken out and sitting on the pavement along with all the people's belongings and they were left to put it all back together.

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  10. How many pages of comments can you have? Too many stories. The U.S. can be hit and miss for us. When they give us trouble, we turn around and go to the next bridge. My favorite question was, "How is it you were born in the U.S.?", odd, why would an American want to live in Mexico?

    I was held by Interpol once in Panama because someone at the Mexicana counter thought it was odd that an American could speak Spanish.

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    1. I would say "too funny" but I know that the hassles aren't really funny.

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  11. Peter was born In Saudi Arabia, and after 911 he gets hassled. Because of work I used to do for the RCMP I had enhanced clearance and in turn checked Peter out too. No good, the US has him go inside, show them the contents of his wallet, search the car, check him on several computers etc. All this for a day trip to La Connar to look at Tulips!!! Anywhere else in the world we fly in or out of no hassle at all. go figure.

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    1. And they say there is no profiling, ha!

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  12. My folks bought a motorhome (from a dealer in Florida) and headed around the USA. They wanted to go into Canada and up to Alaska.

    Stopped at the border because their vehicle ID number on the dash didn't match the one on their new sales slip and temp registration!

    Turns out that the dealer gave them the WRONG RV at time of sale (2 Coachmen Miradas on their lot) soooo long story short, they were NOT allowed into Canada, and dealer tried to pump them for extra $$$ saying the unit they were given was worth more than the one left behind on their lot! LOL My dad threatened to leave it sit on the side of the road in Washington with the keys in it and door open if the dealer insisted it wasn't their vehicle! LOL The dealer later sent the title with no extra cash being exchanged.

    But if it wasn't for the border crossing guys, they would have never know they had the wrong RV!

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    1. That is a funny story Karen and Steve. I don't see how the dealer could have blamed your parents for the salesman's mistake. I am glad that they got to keep the motorhome with no extra money and were able to continue their trip.

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