Coming back to America

Picture (c) 2013 by Sam Kandel. Taken 30 Apr 2013
All of our NYS Small Business Development Center offices across the state meet once a year. In late April, the locale was Niagara Falls, NY. I’d visited there a couple years ago with the family, but I had never had a chance to see the Falls from the Canadian side since we had our SBDC conference in NF in 1998. Back then, when a half dozen of us crossed back into the United States, I waved my passport, said, “They’re with me,” and the guy let us all through.

No more. Now when one crosses the border back into the United States, one ought to have a passport, or an enhanced driver’s license, available only in four states thus far – MI, NY, WA, VT) or other specialized forms.

Just before the trip, one of our business advisors e-mailed me that his passport had expired. Could he get into Canada? From all the anecdotal data – as opposed to the official position – it’s possible that he could get into Canada with that passport, a birth certificate and a driver’s license, e.g. The issue was getting BACK into the US. It’s generally understood that, EVENTUALLY, a US citizen can get back into the United States, but that it might take a while.

At a break in the conference, five of us decided to walk to the Canadian side of the Falls. We had no difficulty getting in. We did note, though, that when someone getting into a car crossing back into the US, the previously placid Canadian crossing guard bolted out of her seat, and noted that if he walked into the country, he had to walk back.

After our sojourn, we were ready to go back to the hotel. Here’s something you should know: before you leave Canada on foot, you need to put fifty cents, Canadian or American, in a turnstile. (By car, I think it’s $2.75.) One of our number had stayed behind to play at a casino; we hoped he still had a half a buck left to return to us. Another one of my colleagues has a motorized vehicle. While three of us got through easily, the handicapped-accessible gate refused the coins. Finally, a colleague walked around to enter Canada side and got the guard to find someone to finally let our buddy through. While we waited, surprised travelers exclaimed re: the toll,, almost to a person, “You’re kidding me!”

We cross the Rainbow Bridge and get in queue for dealing with US Customs. There were two teenagers in front of us who apparently went on the US path to Canada, because “some guy told them they could,” then realized they didn’t want to be going into Canada. So they were going to try to get back into the US. I asked them if they had passports; one said yes, but I MEANT WITH them. Why, no, they did not, just school IDs, and the like. Worse, the one who DID have a passport somewhere was a Norwegian national. One of our group asked if they wanted to let us go first; she later said she was kidding, but none of the rest of us thought so. My party passed through the system easily, but we figured those poor teenagers were going to be there for a while.

So if you’re near an international border, carry the appropriate ID, just in case.

7 thoughts on “Coming back to America”

  1. There isn’t anywhere in the world that a person can go without a passport, is there? New Zealand and Australia have an agreement that each other’s citizens can live and work in the other country with nothing more than a passport (no visa or residence/work permit required)—BUT they still need that passport!

    I know why the US government has become to hard at the border with Canada, and up to a point, I can even support that. But it makes me really sad that it’s changed so much.


  2. In Europe it’s a little weird. Other than Switzerland, which is not an EU member, I didn’t have my passport checked at any border. That’s technically how it’s supposed to be.

    However, if you’re… swarthy… and crossing from Germany into Denmark, they do check your passport. The EU nags Denmark about it, but Denmark does as Danes are wont to do and just totally ignores the EU. (As a culture, Danes turn passive-aggressive into a fine art.)

    50 cents sounds reasonable to me. It’s trivial to you and probably a great source of revenue to Canada.


  3. You may now fill out your passport application form using the convenient Passport Application Wizard . Be prepared to print the completed form which includes a barcode that holds all of your information, as this allows for more speedy, accurate, and efficient processing of your application.


  4. I remember our honeymoon in ’98, our trip back in ’99 with Riley in tow.

    After 9/11, all hell broke loose and the US government decided that we needed “mini-passports,” underpriced and expressly for use in Canada and Mexico. I protested: “What about CAFTA? Commerce seems to get whatever it wants, and rank and file Americans get screwed.” The NYS senator had no comment.

    I do love Canada, but I’ll bet their tourism has suffered because of these Draconian measures. Me, I’ll stay in Wisconsin. We have better beer! Amy


  5. The measures seem extreme at times and I’m sure we all are irked about Customs protocols at one time or another. But, that’s the way it is now because of those that took advantage of our freedoms. Lesson learned: if you’re traveling outside of the border (or even close to it) carry a passport.


  6. The legal driving force of biometric passports is the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, which states that smart-card Identity cards may be used in lieu of visas . That law also provides that foreigners who travel to the U.S., and want to enter the U.S. visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program , must bear machine-readable passports which comply with international standards. If a foreign passport was issued on or after October 26, 2006, that passport must be a biometric passport.


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