Great vacation destinations lie just over the Canadian border if you know the crossing rules

Watching the Olympics this year with the gorgeous scenery surrounding Vancouver and Whistler put British Columbia on lots of summer and winter trip lists.

A fine wine trail and the Shaw Festival just north and west of Niagara Falls makes Southern Ontario a good summer and early fall vacation destination.

Fall color around Montreal and Quebec City adds incentive to move those places up on the someday list.

These areas are an easy drive from the northern parts of western, central and eastern United States, respectively. They are all also accessible by AmTrak and international airports. But you are crossing an international border so you do have to know the entry and re-entry to the US rules and regs.

Taste the ice wine and tour Peller Estates in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario
Taste the ice wine and tour Peller Estates in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

If you go – what you need to know

What used to be a simple showing of a US driver’s license has changed in recent years. To avoid disappointment, know ahead of time what you need for identification and what can be carried either way across the border.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) resulted in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) which requires a passport or other approved documents regarding citizenship and identity to enter or re-enter the US. The WHTI air travel requirements were in place 2007 and the land and sea documents were necessary as of June 1, 2009.

Entry into Canada

Regulations to cross the border is determined by Canadian law and the Canada Border Services Agency. They require identity and citizenship proof. A valid U.S. passport, passport card or NEXUS card  are OK for US citizens

If you are going to do a camping trip to Canada you need to know about permits and what you can and cannot bring across the border.

Returning to the US

Re-entry is according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP is the law enforcement agency under the Dept. of Homeland Security)and US law.

By air: US citizens must present a valid U.S. passport to enter or re-enter the United States.

By land or sea: US citizens must present either a U.S. passport, passport card, NEXUS card, Enhanced Drivers License or other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)-compliant document.  US citizens under age 16 (or under 19, if with a school, religious, or other youth group) need to present a birth certificate (original, photocopy or certified copy), Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or naturalization certificate.

Vehicle safeguards: No matter what is reported in your local papers, criminal activity is not a US specialty. Indeed, smash and grab thefts in such Canadian cities as Vancouver and Montreal have led to fines on motorists for leaving valuables in view or unlocked vehicles. Vehicle problems, including auto theft, do happen even in parking lots.

Purchases: Be cautious about where you buy items. As in other countries, counterfeit and pirated goods are available but are illegal. Bringing them into the United States may result in a fine or forfeiture. Agricultural items are not allowed back in the US.

Insurance coverage: Accidents happen. Don’t assume your auto and medical insurance companies cover you abroad. Check before you go to see if you need additional coverage.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lists the following items as approved identification documents to board a plane in the US

  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS “Trusted Traveler” cards (NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Military ID (active duty or retired military and their dependents, and DOD civilians)
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • Border Crossing Card
  • DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license
  • Drivers Licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent) that meets REAL ID benchmarks (All states are currently in compliance)
  • A Native American Tribal Photo ID
  • An airline or airport-issued ID (if issued under a TSA-approved security plan)
  • A foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) card
  • Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)

More Canadian travel information and tips