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I don’t enjoy going through customs.

There’s nothing like the threat of a baggage or vehicle search to strike fear into the heart of any traveller. Every time I inch closer in the car or passenger line-up at customs, my heart rate goes up along with my body temperature. Yes. I have a fear of customs agents.

I think this goes back to when I was about 8 years old, and we were coming home from Switzerland. We were at the customs desk at the airport where my mother was making her standard “nothing to declare” statement after weeks abroad. The customs officer asked about any imported food items and my mother answered in the negative. Then, for some insane reason, I piped up loudly, “What about all that chocolate in your bag?”

I barely survived the look of death in my mother’s eyes, and we were quickly hustled to the “baggage search” room, where the agents proceeded to rip apart my mother’s luggage for an hour. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and don’t recall if I ever got to eat any of that trip’s infamous chocolate supply.

I have been a humble traveller since then, only providing specific answers to questions asked, offering no unnecessary details out of nervousness or to fill awkward silence. And I triple-check our documentation well in advance of our trips, anytime we travel. But really, we shouldn’t live in fear of getting stuck at customs with these border crossing tips.

Are you ready for summer travel? Breeze through security this summer travel season with these helpful tips.

Border Crossing Tips and Rules

As of June 1, 2009, new rules came into effect concerning travel to the United States. All travellers must present a valid passport or other approved secure document when entering the United States. Canadians wishing to enter the United States at its land or water crossings must present one of the following:

• A valid passport;

• A NEXUS card;

• A Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card; or

• An enhanced driver’s licence/enhanced identification card.

Travelling by Air

If you are flying from Canada to, through, or back from the United States, you must present one of the following:

• A valid passport; or

• A valid NEXUS card when used at a NEXUS kiosk at participating Canadian airports or at any U.S. airport.

These air travel requirements apply to all Canadian citizens, regardless of age, including children.

If you are a parent travelling alone and abroad with your children, you may be required to have a specific document supporting the entry of your child into another country without both parents. This is known as a parental consent letter, and is intended to prevent child abduction by one parent in cases of custody battles and divorce.

Don’t get turned away at the border for lack of proper documentation. Ensure that you assemble your documents as carefully and well enough in advance as you do your trip itinerary. This is one area of travel planning that you don’t want to leave to the last minute!

[travellingmom tip: Make copies of your family’s passports and other significant travel documents and credit cards. Store them separately in your baggage. If your passport or wallet is lost or stolen, show the copies to prove your identity and obtain new temporary documents and cards.]

Photo Credit: Visit Calgary, CATSA

Do you have any customs horror stories? Share your border crossing tips and experiences below.

Claudia Laroye
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