Crossing the Border by Bill Teeter

Posted by Toby W. Silhavy
Posted on 2/15/2020

     I feel very blessed to have such great ARD’s in our district.  Our ARD Bill Teeter; from the great white north, has written another great article about crossing the border between Canada and the US.  I know my family will be making it to some Canadian contests this year and I hope you can too!


Cross Border IMAC Travel

Over the past ten years I have been fortunate to fly at a number of events in the U.S.. I have really enjoyed getting to know so many great pilots in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and also at the U.S. Nats and IMAC World Championship.

One of the most common questions I get asked is about how hard is it to cross the U.S. / Canadian border with airplanes. The bottom line is that it has generally been very easy, and I have had no real issues going into the U.S. or coming back into Canada.

The first thing to mention is proper travel documents. In a general sense the best document to have is a government issued Passport. There are some exceptions, but to keep this simple the passport is the preferred document.

Questioning by border officers: this is always an area of concern, but the easiest approach to this is honesty and disclosure and there should be little to worry about. In my experience the questioning is similar but with some differences depending on which direction you are going - into the U.S. or into Canada.

You will often be asked the following: Citizenship ? Where do you live /residence? Purpose of trip? Where are you going? Why? How long will you stay or when are you coming back? What are you bringing with you? Do you have anything to declare?

Since I am usually pulling the trailer with airplanes, I find that I can pre-empt a lot of questioning by responding that I am going to a model airplane contest at whatever location, for the weekend, and coming back Sunday night (usually). Followed by - the trailer has my airplane(s) and chairs, tools etc.

You will also be asked if you have anything to declare? Typically this relates to alcohol or tobacco or other purchases. Did you stop at Duty Free to purchase either of the above? Be aware that bringing certain foods into the U.S. from Canada is not allowed. Raw meat is generally not admissible. Many processed foods are allowed. It is best to check with the websites for U.S. Customs and Border Protection as to what items are prohibited. One key thing here - they will commonly ask if you are bringing food into the U.S. or Canada and you should always tell them what food you have. The penalties for not declaring food are substantial and you do not want to get caught not declaring items.

Knowing what you are allowed in terms of food, alcohol and tobacco is important, and you can readily find the information for U.S. at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website and likewise for Canada at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Since there are a lot of details, I would refer you to those websites.

Also important to know your exemption limits for purchases and bringing goods back into the country where you live. The CBP or CBSA websites have specifics on exemption limits. They depend on how long you have been out of the country and the type of product you are bringing back. Note - there are specific limits for alcohol and tobacco. If you exceed those limits there are certain taxes that must be paid.

OK, I need to say this - leave your guns at home. Seriously, bringing hand guns into Canada will get you stopped and turned around at the border. Rifles are allowed during hunting season but there are many specific requirements. Keep it simple and leave the guns at home.

Crossing into Canada is not difficult. Bring your passport, answer the questions openly and honestly, declare alcohol, tobacco and food etc.

Airplane Specifics: just a few comments related to bringing airplanes back and forth. Firstly, I have never had a serious issue or problem.

Going into the U.S. I am sometimes asked to open the trailer - maybe one in five times. Usually the CBP officer just wants to have a quick look to verify what is in the trailer. The typical comment I get is, “wow, it’s big” or “look at the little pilot.” They sometimes ask what else is in the trailer and I tell them, folding chairs, sun canopy, tools for the planes etc. More often I get questions like “how high will it fly”, “how fast will it fly”, “how far will it fly”, stuff like that.

I have never been asked for a receipt or proof of ownership. However, if you have purchase receipts for your transmitter or plane / engine then always a good idea to have copies with you.

In Canada we have a way to register any expensive item that we are taking to the U.S.. Our local CBSA offices can issue you a Green Card for items like transmitters or cameras. The green card lists the item and the serial number so that you ever have to provide proof of origin you just show them your green card. I am also not sure if there is an equivalent system in the U.S. if you want to register your equipment prior to coming to Canada. Not saying that it is essential, just sometimes simplifies crossing.

Tips For Border Crossing: A few things to make your trip easier.

Always have the travel documents ready when you pull up to the inspection booth. Make sure the driver has every passenger’s passport in hand ready to hand over to the customs officer.

Turn off the radio, put the cell phone down and always take off your sunglasses. Border officers do not like looking at people with sunglasses on if they are comparing passport photos to who is in the vehicle. Often a good idea to lower the windows for your rear passenger seats so the border guard can see who else is in the vehicle.

Best practice is to only answer the questions they ask and do not launch into long stories. Stick to the questions will make you pass through quicker. Declare all purchases, especially alcohol and tobacco. If you have purchased other goods it is always prudent to declare them.

If you have any specific questions please check with the Customs and Border Protection web site in the U.S. or Canada Border Services Agency for Canada. Lots of good information on those web sites.

In summary, do not be afraid of crossing the border. I really enjoy all my U.S. friends and look forward to the cross border contests each year. Likewise we are thrilled to welcome any of our U.S. friends who want to come to Canada.

If you have any other questions please feel free to contact me.

Bill Teeter

Assistant Regional Director

North Central Region