Crossing over the U.S. border

Do you have your papers?

Take off eh.comA driver’s license will no longer grant you access to a shopping spree in Buffalo or Bellingham. As of June 1st, we all have to have a passport or one of the enhanced IDs which have been approved for entry into the U.S. by land or water.

This is the last phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), unveiled in April, 2005, which became a convoluted 4-year process of deadlines, postponements, policy changes, hype and hysteria. All a result of the U.S. 9/11 Commission, which called for more secure borders.

Implementation at our land border crossings has gone relatively smoothly so far this week, just as it did when new rules for air travel finally went into effect in January, 2007. Much of the easy transition is due to the leniency shown by border officials who are taking a flexible approach to enforcement, for the first few days.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the new requirements for land and water entry to the U.S.:

  • Anyone over the age of 16 must show a passport, enhanced driver’s licence (EDL), enhanced identification card (EIC), NEXUS or FAST ‘trusted traveller’ card or a Secure Certificate of Indian Status when entering the United States by land or water.
  • At land and water U.S. entry points, Canadian citizens aged 15 years or under are required only to present proof of Canadian citizenship, such as an original or a photocopy of a birth certificate, or an original citizenship card. (By air, all Canadian citizens, including children and infants require a passport or NEXUS card to enter, regardless of age.)
  • Enhanced driver’s licences (EDL’s) containing citizenship information are currently available in B.C., Quebec and Ontario, while B.C. and Manitoba offer enhanced identification cards (EIC’s) not tied to a driver’s licence. These enhanced ID cards are only valid for land and water entry, not by air. The application process requires a personal appointment at a designated issuing office.
  • The NEXUS card is aimed at ‘low-risk’ frequent border crossers willing to undergo a risk assessment by both governments. FAST is a similar program aimed at truckers and others crossing the border for commercial purposes.

Though some object to the cost, obtaining and maintaining a passport is not a particularly difficult process. Passport Canada has recently dropped the requirement for a guarantor on passport renewals, making that process less cumbersome. However, due to security concerns, the convenient online passport application system was cancelled on April 30th, just as demand was ramping up for the June 1stdeadline.

The new rules do mark a significant psychological shift in the relationship between Canada and the U.S.

Americans and Canadians have always enjoyed a privileged, almost familial approach at border crossings, especially those on land. Before 2001, the most Canadians worried about was getting dinged for duty on a bottle of cheap American booze or outlet mall booty. We’re still neighbours and friends of course, but now there’s a different feeling when the border crossing looms up ahead. 

Photo Credits: RonTech2000, kuriputosu, bigworld

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