In Which I Am Detained By US Customs and Nearly Denied Entry Into The US

I don’t even know where to begin with this story. It is one of the most unbelievable things I have ever endured. At some point, I’ll probably end up laughing about it and file it under one of many, “Only in the life of Jules” stories. Right now, I’m still trying to process the nightmare. Once that is done and my brain has finished decompressing all the data, I may cry for a bit. Few things are more terrifying than being interrogated for 2+ hours by two US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, having your passport seized and being told, “This does not look promising. At the moment, it looks like you will be denied entry.” Especially when you have a brain like mine that creates terrible panic and anxiety whenever you have to talk with someone with whom you are not intimately familiar.

When I tweeted about being held in Customs and posted about it on Google+, there were a few jokes making reference to that one time with the orange. Considering past episodes crossing the border, I was expecting that. But that one time with the orange was nothing compared to what happened when I went through US Customs on Canada Day.

There were also a few assumptions made that it was the TSA I had issues with. The TSA was a breeze. They even apologised for the inconvenience of having to scan me with the wand and pat my hips, even though there was nothing intrusive about it at all. Going through Canadian airport security was more intrusive, as they had to swab a good portion of my body and my carry-on luggage for bomb residue, or some such thing, cos my slacks set off the metal detector. But in both of those occurrences, the officials did it with a smile and an apology for having to do their job.

Then, it was time to check-in with the CBP agents. I gave them my passport, boarding pass, checked luggage tag and declaration statement — which was filled out correctly. I told them why I was going into the US for such an extended period of time. The guy was very grumpy and scary, but I think that is in their job description; to be as intimidating as possible. That is when the first CBP person told me that my luggage had been held because of an issue, and informed that I had to go stand against the wall. Dumbfounded, I said, “Pardon me? My luggage is held? What? Why?” Angrily, he responded, “Go stand against the wall,” and he took my boarding pass, passport, luggage tag and declaration form with him into another section of the building.

I was told when I checked into my flight in Nanaimo, that Customs would be searching my bag when it arrives at Montreal, before it crosses into the US. Apparently, it is some new procedure. When I reach Customs, I was told I will have to present them with my luggage tag. If my bag clears Customs, then I’ll be good to go. There wasn’t a single moment where I thought my bag wouldn’t clear Customs as my bag, in my mind, had nothing suspicious contained within it. I was not at all mentally prepared for what was going to happen next.

About 5 minutes later, he returned from the other part of the building, and told me to follow him. He led to me the interrogation holding area, told me to take a seat and wait to be called by another CBP official. It took all of my energy to not completely fall apart right then and there. But I knew if I did not keep my shit together and remain calm, I would say something really stupid — something I think is quite funny — in an effort to cope with the stress of being detained and having my passport seized, and I would probably end up in some sort of jail cell. So, like a good Canadian, I waited and tried my best not to look guilty. Guilty of what, I had no idea. All I knew was that my plane was scheduled for take-off in just over 2 hours and I had no idea if I was going to be on that plane.

Not long after, I saw my checked bag make its way up the belt and into this holding/questioning area. The next CBP official called my name and thus began the longest 2ish hours of my life.

At this moment, there is a good part of me that wants to TL;DR what happened next, as every time I think or talk about this, I have to relive the nightmare. This day is something I want to forget ever happened. However, I will try my best to tell the story. The story is long and I’m sure I’ll forget some aspect of it. Even immediately after it happened and I was telling Andrew the story, I forgot a lot of it, cos there was a lot that happened. The more I decompress the data, the more details I recollect.

Again, I was asked how long I was planning to stay in the US. I responded, “Just under 5 weeks.” Again, a comment was made about how long my stay was and I was asked what I was planning to do that required a 5 week stay. I responded, “I’m visiting friends, going to NASA, seeing the space shuttle Discovery, visiting a few museums, and spending some time with my future in-laws.” The CBP official raised an eyebrow and asked me what hotel I was planning to stay at. I, once again, stated that, as I indicated when booking my flight and as I indicated on my declaration form, I was not staying at a hotel; I was staying at a residence just outside of Washington, D.C. Another raised eyebrow, followed by, “Who’s residence are you planning to stay at?” I responded, “My fiancé’s.” This was followed by a suspicious, “Mmmhmm,” as he proceeded to unpack the contents from my checked bag.

Looking at the stack of five books I packed, he said, “Are you planning to do a lot of reading while you are at… did you say your  fiancé’s?” I replied, “Yes. On average, I read one book every Saturday.” This was followed by another, “Mmmhmmm.” Next he examined and asked me about my Bluetooth earbuds. I told him those were in my checked bags because Bluetooth devices are banned from carry-0n luggage. He then examined and took apart my ring box, asking what it was. With a little bit of “duh” in my tone, I said, “My ring box.” At this time, I was getting very impatient with the questions about objects where the reason for packing them should be plainly obvious. He asked, “Why would you pack a ring box?” I said, again with a bit of “isn’t it obvious” in my tone, “In case I have to take off my ring so that it doesn’t get lost or misplaced.” He then questioned me about my Bluetooth iPad keyboard. Now, beyond dumbfounded, terrified and impatient, I gave the obvious answer. He grabbed the external hard drive I checked and asked, “Why did you pack this if you are visiting your…  fiancé’s?” I explained how if I’m going to be away from Canada for 5 weeks, I need to have access to my media, music, files, etc.; these are not things I can do without and that I pack them for any visit where I’ll be away from my house for more than 24 hours.

He then asked me, “So… what is your fiancé’s name?” I responded, “Andrew.” He said, “Mmmhmmm. Andrew…” as he proceeded to continue to ask me about every single object found in my checked bag. In between his questions about the intent behind why I packed each object, he asked, “So this Andrew, does he have a last name?” I said, “Yes. It is Edgar.” He said, “Edgars?” I said, “No. Edgar. His name is Andrew Edgar.” There was another, “Mmmhmm.” Again, in between questions about the contents of my luggage he asked, “So… what is… Andrew Edgar is it?… What is Andrew Edgar’s birthday?” I answered. He responded, “So… you’ve memorised Andrew Edgar’s birthday, have you?” I responded, “Of course I remember his birthday! He is my fiancé! You kinda remember your fiancé’s birthday!” He smiled and said, “Okay… okay… fair enough… Would you please write his name on the back of your declaration statement.” So I did. He asked if I was bringing any gifts for my fiancé. I said no. Again, a suspicious, “Mmmhmmm,” as he finished looking through all the items in my luggage.

He finished asking my about all the contents of my checked luggage and then asked me where my clothes were. I told him they were in my carry-on luggage. So he grabbed that and proceeded to look through it. He then asked, “How long are you staying in the US for?” I responded, “Just under 5 weeks. 33 days to be exact.” He said, “But you only have a week’s worth of clothes in this bag, if that?” I said, “Well, I am staying at my fiancé’s. There is a washer and dryer at my fiancé’s. I don’t need more than a week’s worth of clothes because, just like at home, I’ll be doing laundry. I am a practical packer and traveller. It only makes sense to pack only what I need and nothing more.” I also wanted to add, “Dude! I’m visiting my fiancé. There will not be much wearing of the clothes.” But I didn’t cos I had already given him enough snark. I didn’t think more was needed. He said, “Oh, that is very logical and makes sense, but you have to see it from our end. You do understand, don’t you?” Very bewildered, I responded, “No, actually. I do not understand.” He said, “You are a Canadian woman who is coming into the US for, what, 5 weeks? And you only pack one week’s of clothes, no extra shoes, and you have more personal items and electronics than clothes. You must see why that is suspicious. How do you think normal Canadian women pack for a 5 week trip. Even for a week visit, you don’t really have enough packed.” Now very angry because my vagina has been brought into this discussion, I responded, “I don’t know how a woman packs. How am I suppose to know? I only know how I pack. I’m a very practical and logical person and this is how I travel. And I only own one pair of shoes. What do I need with more than one pair of shoes? Are you telling me next time I come into the US, I should jam my checked luggage with frivilous things, such as changes of clothing that I will never wear? Should I purchase extra pairs of shoes that won’t get worn until the pair I’m currently wearing are damaged?” He smiled and said, “Ma’am. I’m not saying anything or suggesting anything *wink*. Just giving you a little perspective on how things are viewed.”

I was then asked about my university degree and all sorts of questions that I could not understand. He’d make comments about norms and what is typical, such as, “In Canada, the norm is that all Canadian graduate from High School. So if you didn’t graduate from High School, that would be suspicious?” In return, I’d say, “So, are you suggesting that next time I [insert whatever the thing may be].” He’d smile, wink and say, “That isn’t what I’m saying… just giving you some insight.” I actually need to give the guy some praise here. As terrifying as this whole ordeal was, he never used a threatening tone. He was very cheerful and he would laugh at all the stupid sarcastic jokes and comments I made in an effort to stop myself from giving into my panic attack and collapsing into a rocking pile of tears.

He then proceeded to look through my personal bag. He asked, “So you are bringing a tablet to your fiancé’s?” I said, “Yes.” He opened the middle compartment and asked, “And your laptop? Why are you bringing your laptop to your fiancé’s?” I responded, “So that I can check my e-mail, talk with my kids, do the normal things I do in my day-to-day life when I’m home.” He responded, “Okay. Okay. I get it… go sit back down. I’ll call you back over in a few minutes.”

So I did.

About 2 minutes later, he called me to a different counter. It was time for the second part of the interrogation. Questions about how long I’ve known Andrew for, how did we meet, when did we get engaged, etc. He asked, “Is he an American citizen?” I responded, “Yes, he is. His dad is a former Congressman. You can’t get anymore American than that… I don’t know why I told you about his dad. What his dad does, doesn’t really matter. I’m just really confused by all of this at the moment.” He smiled and said, “Actually, it does matter. So what does this Andrew Edgar (?) do for a living?” I responded, “He develops procurement software and apps for your federal government.” He asked, “When is his birthday?” I, again, gave him Andrew’s birthday. He responded, “That isn’t what you said the first time.” I said, “Yes it is. You asked, what is Andrew Edgar’s birthday?’ I said, ‘[Insert birthday]’. You said, ‘So… you’ve memorised Andrew Edgar’s birthday, have you?’ I said, “Of course I remember his birthday! He is my fiancé! You kinda remember your fiancé’s birthday!’ We laughed. It was good times.” He tried to hold back his laugh.

He then asked when we had planned to get married. I said, “Next July.” He asked, “When next July?” I said, “We have the date booked either next July 6 or 7. At this moment, I can’t remember the exact date. All I remember is that we are getting married the first Saturday in July.” He raised his eyebrow and said, “You are planning to get married and you don’t even remember the date? I don’t find that very likely.” I said, “The wedding isn’t important to me. I’d happily elope.” In disbelief, he responded, “If a wedding isn’t important to you, what is important to you?” I responded, “Trust.” Not sure what to make of that, he smiled and said, “Okay… okay… a girl who doesn’t remember what day she is getting married on… okay…” I said, “At this very moment, the last thing on my mind is my wedding date.”

He then started to ask me all kinds of questions about where I live, why I didn’t have a lease, why there were no utilities in my name. I explained to him that in British Columbia, leases are not the norm. Renting is done month-t0-month. I live in a duplex with my landlady living upstairs. The house is in her name. Because it is a single residence duplex, utilities are included. This whole idea about no lease and utilities being included he found very suspect, like it was something that never happens in the US. I explained to him that British Columbia is a very different place than what he may be accustomed to living in the US.

He then had all sorts of questions about why I didn’t have a driver’s license. I explained that after my stroke, I didn’t renew it as I have neurological issues because of my Lupus that make driving a not safe thing for me to do. He said, “So, you didn’t have your license revoked? You just let it expire?” I said, “Yes. I don’t need a driver’s license. I have my passport for picture ID. That is all I need.” Again, more “Mmmhmmms” and “Okay… okay…”

He then asked me, “So where is Thompson? It says you were born in Thompson.” I responded, “Manitoba. Northern Manitoba to be exact.” He said, “And you now live in Montreal?” Very perplexed I said, “Ummm, no. I live in British Columbia…” He said, “Oh, that’s right. Then why are you in Montreal today?” My brain was doing the, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! IS THIS A SERIOUS QUESTION?!” I responded, “Because that is how my flights worked. I flew from Nanaimo to Vancouver. Vancouver to Montreal. And now my flight is suppose to go from Montreal to Dulles.”

He then had all sorts of questions about what Andrew and I had planned for after we were married. I told him that Andrew was going to be moving to Canada next Spring. Well, I may as well have told him to fuck off at that point. He asked, “Has he told you that he is going to move there?” I said, “Yes. Long before we got engaged, this was one of the things we negotiated as part of our relationship agreement.” I could see the bewilderment in his head when I said the words “relationship agreement,” but he pressed forward, “Why would he choose to move to Canada instead of continuing to live in the US?” I responded, “It is pretty simple actually. My kids and my health. If I were to move to the US, my medical bills would be, at a minimum, $10, 000 a month. My health would be at serious risk living full-time in the US, so it is not at all an option for me to move to the US. And with the kids, that also takes me moving to the US off the table.”

He then proceeded to give me some lecture about how Canada is a very rich country, richer than the US. About how Canada is filled with diamonds, and oil, and gas, and minerals, and trees; about how we even export these things to the US, but Canada only has 10% of the US population and this GREAT BIG HUGE land without any inhabitants in it. I said, “Of course we have a smaller population. Most of Canada is inhabitable because of the climate. Our resources have nothing to do with our population. Our climate does.” He said, “Say what you will. Canada has a big problem being able to keep its citizens. They all keep leaving.” And he then repeated the same garbage about riches and treasures found in Canada but no-one wants to stay, and he finds it very suspect that Andrew would choose to move to Canada instead of staying in the US, and the story about healthcare and kids just doesn’t fit. At this point, it was all I could do to keep my anger under control. Of all the pompous, stereotypical American “FUCK YEAH AMERICA IS THE MOST AWESOME PLACE ON THE PLANET! EVERY ONE WANTS TO LIVE HERE!! THEY ARE STUPID IF THEY DON’T!” things to say. As politely as possible, I responded, “Well, believe whatever you want. That is the situation.” He then asked me what Andrew plans to do for a job “if” he moves to Canada as I claimed he was doing. I told him how Andrew works from home and he’ll continue to do the same job, just in a different capacity once he moves.

He then asked me if I ever had any trouble with law enforcement. I said, “Nope. I’m a model citizen. Well, except for the one time with the orange that now is one my permanent Customs record.” He looked through my record and said, “Tell me about this.” So I told him the story, laced with profanity — I am so glad that overall, he was a very jocular and laid back guy who didn’t turn into an asshole every time I said something sarcastic and stupid in an effort to cope with the stress of the situation — and about how I forgot that I still had leftover lunch in my briefcase, and how the border guy said, “People ‘forget’ all the time,” like I was lying and trying to smuggle an object that I’m not allowed to say while in this part of the airport or I’ll be arrested. He laughed and said, “Yes. People use the forgetting excuse all the time. But after talking with you for so long, I don’t think you are capable of telling stories and that you were being overly honest… which isn’t always a good thing… but you have to see that from his point of view, as well.” I said, “Oh, I see it from his point of view and can now laugh about it, but at the time, I nearly shit my pants as it was happening.”

He then asked me more questions about how we plan on living for the next year until Andrew moves here. I told him about our tentative visiting schedule. When we were planning to make the final move. He asked, “And when and where are you planning to get married?” I responded, “I already answered this. We are getting married next July in Duncan, where I live. We’ve already booked the place and paid the deposit and all of that. It is a done deal. The purpose of this trip is to mainly let his parents know that we are getting married and to spend some time with him. As a bonus, we are doing a little bit of sightseeing, plus visiting a pal of mine who works at NASA’s Goddard.”

There was a whole other series of questions that followed and of course, as soon as I went to type about them, my brain decided it was going to have a toaster moment. If I remember what the next set of questions were about, I’ll update this post later. Right now, I think my brain is trying to tell me that I’ve relived this ordeal too many times now, and I need to finish telling my story.

After he was done with all these questions, he told me that it really was not looking good for me. At that moment, I was still detained. I stuttered as I said, “But my plane is scheduled to leave in 45 minutes. I can’t be detained. Andrew will be waiting for me at the airport, and as I’m not allowed to use my cell phone in here, I have no way of letting him know. How much longer is this going to take?” He said, “That isn’t up to me. Please follow me.”

He led me to another holding area and told me to sit down. He said, “I am now passing this case on to another CBP official. But I am going to let you know, that it isn’t looking good at all. However, I’m not going to make the call on this one. I’ll leave it up to a higher official. It shouldn’t be too much longer. We will try and get this finished up as quickly as possible. In the future, please keep in mind every thing I had to say to you today.” I said, “Yeah… like packing more clothes and that I should lie about why I’m going to the US and not wear my ring.” He smiled and said, “I didn’t say any of that *wink.* Just giving you some insight.”

So I sat as I watched him walk into another office with all of my papers and talk to some other dude behind a desk.

About 5 minutes later, I was called into the office. I was asked once again about Andrew and the intent of my visit. I answered again. Then he said, “I should be denying you entry. You need to have a fiancé visa to enter the US. The fact you don’t have a lease and a few other things are very suspicious. But I will let you in today. We find you to be a very honest person.” My brain was still stuck on the whole fiancé visa thing. I asked, “I need a fiancé visa now that we are engaged, instead of having the label “boyfriend/girlfriend? We don’t have that in Canada.” He said, “Yes. You do. Because you don’t have one, it could be viewed that you are trying to enter the US illegally with the intent of staying here illegally.” I sat there with my mouth wide open. He then proceeded, “Also, next time you come into the US, it is a very good idea that you bring in proof of residence. Get your landlady to draft up a lease or something. You won’t need to present it immediately, but from now on, you will have issues entering the US, and it will be a good thing to have on hand. Especially as we will be very suspicious that you are visiting your husband but not intending to move here.” I responded, “But, he isn’t my husband. How much longer is this going to be? My plane is scheduled to leave any minute” Ignoring that, he asked, “What is your visiting schedule again? Also, we are aware of when your flight is scheduled to leave and are doing what we can to accommodate.” I told him that I had planned to return for the month of October, and that Andrew was coming up to Canada in January for my birthday, and that we were planning the final relocation for April or May of next year. He said, “Right. So because of that, and in the US it is abnormal for a husband and wife to not live together, you will need to make sure you have proof of residence on you.” Again I said, “But he isn’t my husband. He won’t be my husband for another year. So I don’t understand why I would have to do such a thing when we aren’t even married yet and won’t be for some time.” He said, “So you are not getting married next weekend?” I said, “No! We are getting married the first weekend of July in 2013! I’ve answered this question at least 5 times now. I’m sorry for my tone, but this is all rather terrifying and frustrating!” He said, “Oh.. well you will still need to get the visa now that you are engaged and bring as much proof that you have roots to return to — I guess two children and the necessary healthcare isn’t enough — and pack smarter next time — which he meant, pack like you are a stereotypical female and not a practical person.  Also, the only reason why I’ve decided to grant you entry this time is because you already have your return flight booked. So make sure you do that next time as well. I am also going to let you know that from now on, you will be detained when you try and cross the border into the US. You are too much of a risk to say here. So, please, to make this process quicker for you and less stressful, keep in mind every thing we told you today. It is rather unfortunate this had to happen because we know that you meant no harm and are being extremely honest with us.”

With that, he told me to follow him to yet another area. I followed. We scanned my boarding pass to clear me from Customs, handed it back to me, along with my luggage tag and passport, and asked, with a tone of sadness in his voice that I had to endure all of this, if I had any more questions. I responded, “No. I don’t. You have been very helpful. Also, thank you for not being overly intimidating and making sure that when this happens again next time, I’m properly prepared. You didn’t have to do that. Thank you for allowing me into the US even though I’m apparently missing the appropriate paperwork. You have been very helpful, and I appreciate that.” He smiled and I got out of Customs as quickly as I could, while I tried my best to not collapse in a heap of nerves, panic and anxiety.

Thankfully, my flight was delayed by an hour, otherwise I would have not made that flight.

So, yeah, that is that. I’m probably missing some details, but seriously, A LOT happened. More than I want to remember. After what happened on this trip, and what is now going to happen every time I try and cross into the US, after Andrew and I get married next summer, I will no longer visit the US. It is a shame. I have many friends south of border and know many great Americans. Unfortunately, the institution that is the US can do things that I probably shouldn’t repeat cos last time I said these words, I offended people and that was not my intent. As much as I adore many Americans, the stress is not worth it. And I imagine once Andrew and I are married, it will only be worse when I try to cross  the border. The only way I can see myself ever entering the US again after next summer is if I’m paid a minimum of $10, 000.00 and even that doesn’t seem like enough money to make going through this ordeal worth it.

Also, since my arrival I looked into this whole fiancé visa thing. According the US State Department’s website, I only need one if I’m planning to get married in the US and that even with one, CBP can deny me entry. I am not planning to get married in the US. I’m getting married in BC, so I don’t understand why I was told I need to get one. I will have to phone the State Department while I’m here to get more information.

And now that I’ve had to relive this nightmare yet again, I need to spend more time decompressing. As a result, I’ll probably not be social for some period of time. Also, Americans, before you tell me, “I’ve never had this happen when I’ve packed similarly while trying to enter the US,” or other such things, please remember, you are an American citizen. America isn’t worried about you turning into an illegal immigrant. Also, before I hear another, “Well, I travelled to Europe for X number of days with only this” (I’ve had a number of people tell me this now), remember that in Europe, it is normal that people backpack across Europe, with very little belongings. Also, you probably were not engaged to a European, and therefor, the concern you’d stay there illegally wasn’t as great.

I am also so very happy that for Andrew to move here, it is a very simple process.

109 Responses to In Which I Am Detained By US Customs and Nearly Denied Entry Into The US

    • Yup. I’m still pretty gobsmacked over the whole thing. I think this will require a lot of decompression time.

      • I am so sorry that happened to you, America is a very beautiful place, but there are a lot of people that power the negative stereotypes. I hope the border which is actually closer to me than any U.S. state border will not give you any trouble, since i know how easy it is to pass through to Canada.Good luck and on behalf of my part of the U.S. sorry

        • Thanks, Brent. Getting back home should be much easier. Though, because of this incident, I will admit that I’m a bit worried for the extra questions I may now face when going back home.

  1. Utterly, utterly ludicrous and dreadful for you. USA border controls are scary. Hope it doesn’t happen in future – surely once you’re married it won’t?

    • Re-read what I wrote. From now on, every time I enter the US, I will be detained. They told me as much. And it will be worse once we are married. That is why, after next July, I will not be entering the US, ever again, unless I’m paid a large sum of money and even then, I don’t know.

  2. That’s fucked up! Stereotypes and harassment! I hope the assholes who did that to you choke on their food every fucking meal for the rest of their lives!

    *hugs* I’m just glad it’s over, and I hope you can work something else out so you don’t go through the same fucking bullshit again in October!

    • Would be nice if that were possible, but it just isn’t. Even if I do end up needing a visa, which the website says I don’t but we will see the reality after I speak with those people, they can still deny me entry. It is a rather fucked-up situation.

  3. Very sorry to hear this. I can’t at all blame you for your reaction. And hope your relationship flourishes once Andrew has moved. And that his business thrives too!

  4. What a crock. Sorry. I know you aren’t the type to blame the rest of us. But I _so_ feel the need to apologize.

  5. Alas, you appear to have encountered an idiot who thinks he knows the rules rather than really knowing the rules and one who applied his worldview (a woman traveling ALONE without TWENTY PAIRS OF SHOES????) to you.

    I apologize and weep for the future of my nation. And people wonder why I am neither fish nor fowl (belong to neither major party).

    • “Alas, you appear to have encountered an idiot who thinks he knows the rules”

      From my experiences with US and Canadian borders, that is the definition of a basic Border Patrol Officer.

  6. Holy cow, ” we know you mean no harm, but we’ll always detain you from this point on anyway”! These are the guys who are supposed to keep me safe? I knew I immigrated to the wrong country!!

  7. Overall and on reflection I think you handled the situation very well. Open and honest (even if its’ a bit too honest) will usually work. You would think that they would have bigger fish to fry, after all aren’t the US and Canada supposed to be bum chums?

    • Yeah, I thought we were friendly neighbours as well (at least that is the official “line”) but I suppose that is as long as a foreigner doesn’t want to marry an American.

  8. See!
    I *told* you you didn’t have enough shoes!

    (The above is THE most RIDICULOUS thing I think I have ever read. And I read the orange story!)

  9. Jules,

    On behalf of my country… I’m sorry. It’s one of the many reasons I want to move to Canada and become a citizen there.

    Congrats on the engagement 🙂

  10. You had a bizarre experience. I had been denied a visa by the US embassy over a trivial matter, so I was terrified about crossing the US Border when I was visiting my fiance, that I purposely flew from England to Vancouver, met my fiance and her dad at the airport, and then drove over the land crossing with them together. One of the most terrifying experiences of my life – they let me in without too many questions, but it could have easily turned into a nightmare.

    As it was, I was crossing with the intent of getting married, but was not planning to stay. I had no proof of that, so one bad question could have had me turned away. I still have nightmares.

    Best of luck to you and your new family. I’m certain that will be the hardest thing you ever experience. However, I do recommend driving over the border – you can be with your fiance, and any kind-looking aged relatives you can find, while they ask you questions. It helped me!

    • Thanks, Ben. I’ve thought about driving but it isn’t a good option. I have lupus and, as a result, severe arthritis in my back. Flying is painful enough. Driving would be terrible. Thankfully, I only have to endure this one or two more times and that will be all. Unless, as I already stated, someone pays me ridiculous gobs of money 😉

  11. I utterly sympathize. I actually did move to the states, on the fiance(e) visa (which you’re right, you don’t need, that’s the biggest crock I’ve ever heard), and boy howdy if THAT hasn’t complicated my border crossings. (Again, another border agent who was kinder than he needed to be, told me to never cross without my official desertion of residency paperwork, and it makes it easier.) Especially since I’m dating another American. *sigh*
    My love constantly hassles me about how terrified I get when we approach the border, but I literally know how you feel. My record was six hours, and I know people who ended up in INS jail.

    IF you should ever decide to chance the border again, and I don’t blame you if you don’t, things that could be helpful:

    – Assume trouble. Have physical copies of your itinerary and try to leave as much evidence of where you’re going as possible. (I don’t know you, but my first thought was this could’ve gone a little easier if you’d had copies of your fiance’s Canadian immigration paperwork, proving that he’s intending to move not you) Try to find any proof you exist permanently somewhere… if you don’t have a lease or utilities, your children’s school records might work, or employment, or disability paperwork, or *something*. Basically, if you drown them in paperwork, you take the wind out of their sails at least, and increase the likelihood that they’ll let you go.

    – If there’s any way at all, try to drive across the border. It isn’t foolproof, but the guys in the airports are much scarier and unpredictable than the guys on the physical border. Also, it gives you more wiggle room in terms of flights if something does go horridly wrong.

    – A NEXUS card isn’t just for truckers. It pre-clears you, and helps with a lot of this kind of power-tripping.

    – Get in the cloud. Carrying electronics exacerbates everything for some reason. Try not to carry anything (besides, they can confiscate it, so don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose) (though again, driving across the border tends to reduce your likelihood of getting searched down to almost nothing, so they never know)

    He lied though, it’s not forever. The next couple of times you try to cross will be a little annoying, but once you have a new trend of uncomplicated border crossings, they get bored.
    Though again, I don’t know what it is about the airport guys. Is it because they’re stuck in Montreal/Toronto/whatever and they want to go home?

    Otherwise, you handled it pitch perfect. You humanized yourself, without punching at his authority. You never stopped answering questions, no matter how many times they repeated themselves to try and trip you up. You didn’t fall apart until after it was done. I know I’m a stranger, and this’ll sound weird, but I’m so very proud of you. It’s complete bullshit, and you rolled with it.
    And again, I wouldn’t blame you for never deciding to cross again.

    • Oh, I saw your comment about your back. As someone with Crohn’s, I can kinda sympathize with that too. You can get a lot of the perks of driving through by taking the train. I don’t know if that helps, but you could fly to Van, take the VIA down to Seattle, and pick up your flight there. The train lets you walk around too (and free internet!).

      • DUDE! That is a great idea! Though, I wonder what kind of trouble it will cause when I tell them that my final destination is the other side of the country, when I go through Customs at the Rail station in Vancouver.

    • Thanks for this, JHM 🙂

      RE: “Try to find any proof you exist permanently somewhere… if you don’t have a lease or utilities, your children’s school records might work, or employment, or disability paperwork, or *something*. Basically, if you drown them in paperwork, you take the wind out of their sails at least, and increase the likelihood that they’ll let you go.”

      Yes, that is what I plan on doing. I’m going to have my landlady draw up a lease, even though it isn’t necessary where I live, just to have it. Also, going to bring my gov disability direct deposit receipts. They have my address on them, and the Customs dude told me that too will help.

      As for the driving thing, I really wish that were an option, because I would do that. For the longest time, that was my normal means of travel across the border (which they also questioned — one of the things I didn’t include cos my brain was too tired). But my arthritis has gotten such that I would be spending my whole time here recovering, instead of just a couple weeks recovering.

      RE The Cloud: I’ve thought of that as well, but it just isn’t feasible. It still doesn’t negate the need for my laptop. I can keep my tablets at home, but not my laptop. I will probably leave my external at home next time and just upload the contents I need to my server, which is a lot of stuff.

      We haven’t started the paperwork for him to come here yet, as we were told by Canadian Immigration, it doesn’t need to be started until after we get married next summer. That being said, we have discussed getting it started prior to getting married next summer, for that exact reason.

      Again, thanks for reaching out and sharing your story 🙂

  12. I find it very suspicious that “Andrew” has not responded at all to this thread. Go wait against the wall for further instructions.

  13. I guess both sides work very similar, I read your story and got flashbacks from a few years ago, in my case though it was from the US to Canada and all they could ask was who would provide health care for me. I wasn’t so lucky and was denied entry twice. All I wanted was to be with the person I loved and had no plans of living there.

    • UGH! That really is terrible! And I would not blame you AT ALL if you never wanted to enter Canada again. Some things are just not worth the irritation. There are many great people on both sides of the border, but the bureaucracy can be absolutely ridiculous. I’ve had issues coming back into Canada before, but in those instances, I knew full well why. This time, well, even what they told me about needing a special visa turned out not to be true.

  14. I completely understand and it is laughable at what the American government thinks is security. I am a retired american soldier, I was not in uniform but I was on active duty orders while traveling though one stop of a trip back home. I went through the security line and was walking away when the line was stopped. Someone was announcing something so I moved back toward the line to hear what was happening and I was yelled at by a morbidly obese woman packed into a TSA uniform, she told me to stop moving. I asked her why, in a louder and more gruff tone she told me to stop talking. So I stood frozen looking at her with my hands in a questioning motion and my face in a WTF ? look for the next 30 seconds until I was told I could move again. Then I shook my head at her yet again with a WTF look and walked away. Sure am glad to have served my country and GONE TO WAR so I could be treated like shit by a fellow “government employee.” I have “anger issues” from my war experience and “having a problem” with her was a real and imminent possibility. One minute in the service of my country, the next, serving time in my country.

    I have told my 14 year old son to get an education then get the hell out of the US as soon as possible. The IQ here is in free fall.

    • Thanks, Mark. I find it so bizarre that even with my pants setting of the alarms, TSA was a breeze. The stuff that happened in Customs still has me gobsmacked.

  15. Sheesh!!! That’s rotten, but seems like you handled it perfectly, and at least you did get a lot of hints about how to prepare for it next time. Meh.

    Also I am pretty sure I have an avocado on my permanent record. Sigh.

  16. I truly hate what America has become. We went from being a strong country that one can be proud of, to a bunch of cowards that hide behind paperwork and redtape. I’m truly sorry you had to go thru this in my homeland. Most of us would be outraged at something like this.

  17. That guy seems sexist. Not all women have tons of shoes. Not all women pack 50 pairs of clothes. I don’t even have 10 pairs of clothes, let alone 50. I would have totally give that guy a piece of my mind. I probably would have been denied entry, but I would go home a little happy that I voiced my opinion on this guy. But being who I am, if I was in your situation I probably would cried. 😛
    It really sucks that that happened to you. From what I’ve read, I don’t see how you seemed like a dangerous or “suspicious” person. Plus that guy was totally a moron. Canada is not like the US in every way.
    Anyways, congrats on the engagement and I really hope the next time you into the US you get treated more fairly.

    ~Chance Blabey 🙂

  18. Thanks for sharing the story.
    Sounded like something from a “1984”-ish book.
    (the Thought Police, Ministry of Love, and 2+2=5…)

  19. I just got this through facebook and i am horrified.
    As i have been in the states a few times, but not since 1996, i begin to believe i will never return at all.
    Which is too bad, i really like the US.

    Oh well.
    I hope you have a great marriage and you live happily ever after in BC.

  20. When I was a kid I used to dream about visiting the US, but not any more. There are still places I would like to go, but no… just no. Sadly. 🙁

    I hope you’ll feel better soon. 🙂

  21. Amazing. I’ve travelled around to many countries, including Canada several times, on my US passport, and only once (Cuba, from Brazil) did I worry about being denied entry. I would never have dreamed that a Canadian couldn’t just stroll across the border as easily as I can. That just blows my mind. Surely your experience isn’t typical?

    • Not only is it typical, it’s become commonplace since 2001. I know of several Canadians who will never again step onto US soil. I am one of them. As much as I love the US and my American friends, the CBP convinced me that I should NEVER, EVER again cross into the United States…for the remainder of my life.

      • I should add that I am a law abiding person, never in my life have I had so much as a parking ticket. Through CBP intimidation, I was branded an intending immigrant. Nothing will EVER convince me to spend a dime to clear the red flags given to me by US Immigration.

  22. Just went through the same thing (land border) but I did not get as lucky. I got a red neck agent and refused. I studied for quite some time in the US but Like you, I will never return again unless someone pays me a large sum of money.

    US citizens should know their tax dollars are well spent on paying these pigs their salary not to stop terrorists but citizens with no records.

  23. Wow. I just saw this thread after googling subsequent to a bad experience trying to get into Canada. Parallel issues just coming the other way. I too have a sense I never want to visit Canada again. I think I’m going to file some kind of complaint online, but I know I won’t make any difference.

  24. My son was not allowed into the all mighty US because he didnt have a return ticket and all he wanted to do was to see his mom, the US is so fucking crazy that they think everyone is out to get them, Land of the free
    thats a croach of shit right there as the us gov spys on all its people and there is no freedom there

  25. Exactly without a word of a lie … What happened to Jules happened to me everytime many times over and over again i was subjected to the exact thing ( scary) when i was visiting my fiancee in Florida from 2000 to 2005 … I eventually decided not to continue any longer and sadly ended my engagement . Before we were engaged the interrogations were mild after we were engaged they became abusive and humiliating…i could go on and on and on with the treatment i received ….but there is no point any more …

  26. Hi, Jules.
    I’m Canadian and same thing happened to me.
    I was going to visit my Aunts for 6 months just to accompany them
    I do not wish to live in US but the officer concluded that I am living illegally there..
    Because I packed less clothes just because I left some of my clothes
    From last year visit and when the officer asked me “why less
    Clothing ?”..I replied, “I have some left over clothes there at my Aunts and she told me not to pack lots because she will buy me clothes when I come visit her to US. 2 Aunts living in US and are both Nurses. I showed the officer I am going back to Canada and not going to live in US but he kept accusing me as a liar 🙁 Bearing false witness is a sin. Oh, and I packed more food because my Aunts love food ..I do not understand why the officer suspecting when in fact my baggages went through scanner machine and passed. They can do anything just because from where they are standing and because of their uniforms they act highly and proud.

  27. A similar thing just happened to me this weekend. I was heading into the US for a day trip. My Canadian friend owns a cabin just across the border and invited a group of girlfriends down for the day. I’m an artist and so we arranged to have a fun day of painting, eating and socializing. I packed my car and headed to the border, excited about the day ahead. At the border, I was asked what my purpose for crossing was. I told the guy I was going over to my friend’s cabin. He asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was an artist/graphic designer. He asked me what was in my car as it was packed with about 6 easels and a bunch of art supplies. I told him I had art supplies for the group and that we were planning an art day. He said, “So you’re an artist and you’re planning an art day?” I didn’t see the problem with this and replied, “yes”. He asked me what an “art day” entailed. I told him we were a group of ladies just wanting to paint and we thought it would be fun to get together to do so. “So you’re an artist and you’re meeting with a group of friends for an art day?” he asked again and again. I was puzzled as to his line of questioning. I didn’t have anything to hide so I answered his questions accordingly. He told me to go park my car and go inside. I went into the building, thinking I’d be on my way within a few minutes. I was questioned by another officer, whom asked for my business card and checked out my website. He asked the same type of questions and I answered as politely as possible but it was getting annoying and frustrating and I still didn’t see the “problem”. Long story short, I was interrogated by another officer for nearly an hour, where I was told I was a liar and that there was no way I was going to my “friend’s” place (even though I’d given her name and asked them to call her to clarify). They confiscated my passport and car keys and searched my car while I waited, still thinking this entire thing was a complete show and they’d eventually let me through. But they had already decided I was there for business and therefore “little me” would threaten the US economy by taking away a US citizen’s job. I tried to explain that we were all just friends – and all Canadians – and I hadn’t been employed by anyone in the US – and that we were just wanting to have a fun day painting. I had no way to prove this and therefore the officers kept trying to trip me up. They threatened banning me entry for life. Told me I was under oath and between the two of them, they had 60 years experience and new BS when they heard it. I was astounded. I am an honest, law abiding, polite person and I figured they would see this. I still thought they were only bluffing and eventually, they’d let me through. Boy, was I wrong. I think because I didn’t get flustered and didn’t overreact and didn’t cry, like they thought I should, they concluded I was too composed and would therefore be as intimidating as possible. Anyway, they denied me entry and back to Canada I went. As soon as I was back in my home land, I called my friends at the cabin and they surprised me by packing up their stuff and joining me back in Canada! We weren’t going to let a couple of A**holes ruin our plans! We enjoyed lovely day at the beach. (But I am worried that I will have a record of some sort and the next time I attempt to go across the border I will be harassed again.)

  28. I went through the same thing back in April, I had went to the States twice before this back in Dec 2012 to visit my bf, and again in Feb to see him again…both times I just said shopping and to see friends….when I returned in April I said I was going to see my boyfriend…well that was my first mistake…they detained me questioned me, and because I had a bill in my purse that I received the morning I left they immediately thought I was jumping from Canada to the US….they did tell me to bring a copy of my Lease the next time I come, so that I can show them my legal residence….my opinion is we are all North America, why do we need the third degree who we are going to see. My hubby is with the USA Army therefore he can’t come to Canada as often as I go to the states…but I always thought we could be who we wanted to be with….I feel as if the TSA were treating me as if I was bad for an American…..I can’t wait to go back to see what happens…which is later this month. I will keep you all updated.

  29. I too had the same trouble as someone above. I was being sponsored by a family member in the US for citizenship. I made an honest mistake. I went home to Canada for 10 days to see my daughter. I honestly did not know I was not supposed to leave the US after an application was started. When I went to the airport to go back to my sisters, I was pulled into secondary and after 5 hours of questions, searches and fingerprinting, the CBP labelled me an intending immigrant, and removed me from US customs, back into the Canadian part of the airport. A bit embarrassing since 4 large CBP officers walked me by arm to the doors where Canada customs was waiting. I had my family cancel the application. 3 years later, I walked through Sumas crossing to the Immigration office to see if I could now enter for shopping. I spent 6 hours in custody, was told this was the “second time”, and not to return unless I had enough evidence I wasn’t planning to live there. 3 of them escorted me back to Canada Immigration. I haven’t tried again, and never will.

  30. We have not heard from Jules hee for some time! I do hope all is well with her and she is enjoying married life!

  31. I met a woman online and she is from Taiwan. We have been communicating by phone, video chat and snail mail for 8 months. We finally agreed that we should meet to see if we are as compatible in person as we ARE otherwise. We both pinched our budgets and saved money for airfare so that she could visit me in Michigan.
    On September, 4. She arrived at Detroit Metro Airpot. She was “detained” by U.S. customs for questioning. Her bags were searched and was not allowed a translator during questioning. I sat in the waiting room for 6 hours just trying to imagine what she was going through!! Every time I would ask a customs officer what was the problem they seemed very irritated with me and told me ” Once gaian… have a seat!”
    After waiting, anticipating and worrying I was told that she would not be allowed to enter the country because she was an “Intending immigrant.” After her long flight back to Taiwan she told me of the terrifying experience she had with U.S. customs and at that point I was ashamed and in shock!!
    I watched customs officers going on lunch breaks, laughing and joking with each other as my girlfriend who just traveled 13 hours to visit me was turned back!!

  32. Thank you for sharing this story (and the one about an orange, it was hilarious!). It’s so insane game what the officers are playing on the borders. Few months ago I got stopped at the Seattle airport because I was planning to stay in the US obviously too long, couple months. I got detained and was interrogated about six hours and learnt that anything can be an issue and that everything I say will be somehow used against me. They denied my entry and said they will send me back on a next available flight on next day. I got handcuffed, transported to a detention center, spent there a night in a cell and experienced bunch of other weird shitty things. It’s interesting to see what happens next time as my name is now red-flagged.

    • Lots of fun, E.S. Good luck trying to enter the USA. I can tell you from experience, you are now considered an Intending Immigrant. You will be barred from entering the States for the next several years, to very possibly, life. Once a CBP Officer has rightly OR wrongly branded you an intending immigrant, you are toast. No amount of money or Immigration lawyer can help you. In the eyes of the CBP, you are worse than a rapist, child molester, bank robber, drug dealer and yes, possibly murderer. All of these “issues” can be overcome with a good lawyer and a pardon. You are just one step below a bona fide terrorist in the eyes of the CBP. Good luck!

  33. This makes my blood boil. Fuck the US border policy. Sincerely. The thing that angers me most is actually the phrase “pack smarter”. What a retard.
    How the fuck could they say “this is not looking good”? I’m cringing.

  34. Hello. I liked your article. I am also a canadian girl, in a long distance relationship with my Boyfriend from the UK.

    I was also detained for at least an hour… It was scary because I am quite young and we are not formally engaged or anything.

    I was wondering if you could give me some information on the spouse sponsership program? Do you have to be engaged, how do you show this, etc? What are the requirements?

    Hope you live a happy life with your love 🙂

    • if possible, don’t approve my comment to be put public as I accidentally included my whole name, which I try to keep private online! thanks.

    • First, regarding your other comment: I edited your name before approving 🙂

      Because your boyfriend if from the UK, the only option you really have is to get married and then apply. If your boyfriend was from a country with recognized human rights issues (as an example) then you could apply under conjugal relationships. But, because of where he lives, you either have to be common-law or married.

      They changed the CIC website, so the link I included in this post ( no longer contains it. Still, if you go there, you look through links in the Help Center, you may find the information you are looking for.


  35. My common law spouse and adopted child were passing through Atlanta, staying overnight to get a connecting flight in order to visit family in Canada. We were detained in Atlanta and asked lots of questions, whwere were we going, for how long etc etc.. plus our little boy age 6 was questioned…basically he was asked who are these people, I was holding my breath as a recently adopted child under stress who knows if he was going to say our names or mummy and daddy, thankfully he responded mummy and daddy. We had all the official paperwork with us and proof of the onward journey. After about an hour and a half we were let through but it was the most stressful hour and a half ever. I do believe the flag was more to do with the race of our adopted son…no we do not match and perhaps in Atlanta that is an issue.

  36. All I can say ….(Feel really sorry for what happened to u …but its good that it ended and u didnt miss ur flight) …. try to forget it.

    I’v been denied US visa once … but I’m thankful …after I read ur story I dont wanna be fucked by US CBP …. many thanks for sharing ur story …. Cheers

  37. What an inept system… some low level bureaucrats attempt to read minds.

    And of course America is filled with illegal immigrants.

  38. Hi Jules,
    Of course I stumble upon your article while was googling who had the same experience I had early this month. Long story short, I packed very light, unemployed and told them I was not sure on the returning date. I was detained, searched, questioned for an hour before letting go. Now that I want to try entering again next month with all proofs of ties I have in Canada like job letter, car lease, house paper, will they let me go? Have you tried again ever after that nightmare? Were you detained or searched again at all? Please help….

    • Hi Janice,

      Sorry for the delay in response. I was away for a few days.

      If you have all of those items, you should be good. I had to go shortly after when my father-in-law died and that wasn’t an issue with the papers I had showing ties.

      Then, I legally changed my name, and the flag went away. Haven’t had an issue since.

      • If you change your name the flag goes away?! So a well-known terrorist just has to change his name to enter the US? Or if he has an Arabic name which is transliterated into latin letters differently than before? He can just go in and kill?

        And the US government calls that security.

        I’m quite appalled at what they did to you. And they even do that to American citizens. A US friend of mine is spending “too much” time abroad, teaching in Central America or studying in Europe. And everytime he gets home they question him.

        I like Asian border patrols much more, they never ever speak a word to you.

  39. I knew I wasn’t the only one. 6 years ago I was turned away at the Sumas border crossing. I had never had issues before, until the CBP Officer sked me what I did for a living. I had recently been laid off work (same company for 26 years) and I told her the truth. I certainly wasn’t destitute, owning my own home, cars etc.

    I was asking to cross to get gas. The CBP Officer took me into secondary where I was questioned for 3 hours, then sent home. A year later and back at work, I again went across to get gas. I was pulled into secondary and asked why I was attempting to cross with a 5 year ban in place. I was shocked. None of the CBP Officers told me I was banned for 5 years!

    I was there for 4 hours, and at the end of the Interview, I was told not to come back, and sent home. Again, the officers would not explain exactly what had transpired. I was told I could follow up through US Immigration from the US Embassy in Canada. I never did.

    Previous to all this, I had probably made 100 trips over the past 20 years, for gas or shopping or tourism – without a problem.

    I’m done. These people have way too much power.

  40. I heard that U.S. border control officers have had Israeli training (as well as many of our police officers). They use the very same methods and techniques, very, very invasive. It was just like that in Israel in 2003 (at the airport) and I was astounded by such questions (and couldn’t figure out what it had to do with security, it felt more like intimidation). Twelve hour detentions are not that unusual for American citizens. I was so happy to get out of their airport to the “more friendly” States. And now it’s exactly the same over here. Every time I cross the Canadian/U.S.border I feel like I’m living in a police state.

  41. I have a NEXUS card, but the other day was asked 5 minutes of (as far as I could ascertain) stupid questions. I was not pulled over, but the intellectually differently abled border guard found it absorbing to try to intimidate me. A nexus card is supposed to expedite crossings.

    In 1976, a friend was passing through JFK on a connecting flight with her mother. Her mom, who was in the early staged of altzheimers, became lost in the security zone — they were still in international territory, and were not going to enter the US. She was picked up by airport security and handed over to US Customs and Immigration. She was confused and 4ft 11 ins tall. A small,timid, aging woman. They interrogated her for two hours and concluded with a strip search which included a manual cavity search. This was obviously done just for fun.

    Certain jobs attract psychopaths. Jobs such as the police, military, nursing home attendants and border guards. Border guards have almost unlimited power; the prospective entrant to a country has no rights. Customs officials can amuse themselves to their hearts content. Probably most are good, reliable government workers, but many are human shit, and are candidates to be removed from society with extreme prejudice.

  42. Thank you for sharing your experience. All of this is awful but still is better to know these stories in case that I have to live them myself someday.

    I totally understand what you’re saying… it’s even worse for us Mexicans… I had a terrible time trying to get the visa (rejected twice) and now I finally got it thanks to my job (I travel sometimes to visit customers), and I shake everytime I go through Customs. It’s a very stressful kinda painful experience.

    The first time I tried to get the visa was just a transit visa because I wanted to visit Japan through USA, but I couldn’t get it so, I had to purchase a very expensive flight through Canada (6 years ago).

    Last year I went on vacation to Houston without any problem and will do the same thing this summer. Wish me luck!

  43. Hi, I’ve had a similar experience and was wondering if someone could shed some light. Twice now I’ve been detained in Customs at LAX for hours and taken in for questioning and had the most traumatic experience, quite similar to the one described! I honestly don’t know if I’m red flagged or not, but I was told I had a flag and two warnings…I have no criminal record and haven’t done anything wrong. I just want to know if this is going to happen every time I now try and enter the US? Even if it’s just for a short period of time to visit my friends. And what does a flag mean? How can I get rid of it. I was advised to not try and return to the US for eight months, but I just want to know if this is going to happen every time? Like, if I want to visit my friends at the end of the year, what is that going to mean? Any help would be greatly appreciated as this is a very traumatic and worrying situation.

  44. Omg!!!! This is exactly the same story i went through while crossing the detroit border last week to see my bf. Those assholes they asked me the same questions and eventually i got refused because i didn’t have enough proof of going back to canada. I was so shocked. They told me that my bf could come see me but i know he can’t cause he has a criminal record!!! They asked me the same repeated questions about him. And yet they tell me that. I’m pretty sure they don’t know shit about us and they are just good to get the words out of our mouth….
    I have to go back in 6 months, with those proofs of lease and stuff, i don’t wanna grt banned for 5 years only to visit him like 1 week… they probably gunna tell me to get a F-1 visa since they are little shits.
    Should i go see a lawyer?…

  45. I know this is an old article and thread, but I thought I’d briefly share what happened to me once while visiting my girlfriend in Ottawa and arriving from the U.S. Canadian border staff put me through a ringer similar to what US CBP put you through – 2+ hours of pure hell.

    They went through every bit of electronic storage I had using a browser for me cache, emails, browser history, you name it (God knows, they probably downloaded the hole thing). They kept badgering me to verify that my girlfriend (who at the time was 39) was not a juvenile. I had one of those roll-on suitcases with the toiletry kit that lies flat in the case and is held in-place by straps. They wanted to know if it was “some sort of bondage device” (no shit). As a matter of fact, this guard seemed positively OBSESSED with bondage (did I look like a dungeon master?).

    It was very, very hot in the holding/inspection area, and I was sweating. He then seemed to think I was sweating because I was planning on tying up my “juvenile” girlfriend for some BDSM fun and didn’t want to get caught. I explained that it was 1. very hot 2. I was very tired 3. I’m kinda fat, and fat guys tend to sweat a lot.

    I experienced much of the same “skepticism” that you did (lots of “Mmmmhmmm”) – must be part of the international border nazi handbook. There was another guy there in the area next to mine that was getting the once-over. They seemed to have some real issues with his laptop’s browser history which showed (among other things) some items on DVDs and one page on immigration rules for Canada. From what I gathered, they seemed to think he was a border-hoping movie smuggler, or something.

    I think these guys are trained to pick some poor shlub, select an area to key-on, and then beat the poor bastard about the head unmercifully until they get a confession.


  46. This is sadly not an uncommon experience. It’s not about “Security” in the sense of Sept. 11, but rather about how US law prioritizes things at its border.

    The US law states that everyone who presents themselves at a port of entry is an intended immigrant. At the moment you present yourself at the border you are not a visitor, you are not a citizen, you are not a visa holder. You are an intended immigrant.

    That puts a whole different perspective on the process.

    Law says that citizens must identify themselves to have the assumption of immigrant removed.

    Everyone else must work to remove that assumption of intended immigrant to the satisfaction of the officers. Although guided by regulation, because of the presumed “guilt” … i.e. presumption that you are an intended immigrant, they have a lot of leeway in their judgement of the situation.

    So, things like few clothes on the trip suggests that you have or are buying more in the US. A US citizen fiance makes it hard to remove the concept of inteded immigrant. There were quite a number of things in your story that hindered the removal of the assumption of immigrant.

    Most countries do not make this assumption … they assume that if you present as a visitor, that you intend to be a visitor. If they find things that suggest you aren’t a visitor, then you’re refused entry. But the US intends to refuse you entry unless you can prove that you can be legally admitted. The onus of proof is not about them proving you can’t come in – it’s about you proving you can.

    That subtle difference makes ALL the difference in the world.

    It is suggested that this is worse for people flying out of Canadian airports with US preclearance because refusing you entry is not such an ordeal … nobody has responsibility to “remove you” other than walking you out the doors into the hands of Canadian officials who check your bags and let you go … if you clear CBP in the US, you’re already there, so it’s more of a pain to get you back to Canada!

  47. Well, well. I am shocked by this article but from the replies, it is obvious that this is not unusual. I was only checking the post because I am wondering what would happen if two seniors of the opposite sex were to visit each other. One has no intention of living in the States because of medicals and the other has no intention of living in Canada. Now I must warn people that they must never use the words “Bf” or “fiancée”. So I must thank Jules and everyone for their input. If I married someone my age, I too, would not live in the States or become a US citizen or immigrant because I am quite contented with being a Canadian citizen because I have been here most of my life and will lose too much, but would hope to visit back and forth. I wonder how they would deal with seniors. The problem is I would have to mention where I am staying and they may ask me why I am staying at a male friend. Of course, I will always say it is a friend if I am not married. I may be questioned who he is, etc. If two people got married and don’t want to immigrate or get permanent papers to either country and just spend time at both homes, I wonder if the trips would be questioned. I would like to know if anyone knows how they would deal with this.

    • Angela,

      Definitely a difficult situation … as I mentioned above you have to demonstrate that you have no intent to stay in the USA.

      Canadians as “snowbirds” commonly go to the US every year without too much trouble.

      There are a collection of things that actually make it easier for a retiree to show that they don’t have immigrant intent … some are things you should be aware of because you don’t have to actually DO anything, and others are things you may want to do …

      First, a retiree is less likely to move and even less likely to make an international move.

      Next, a retiree isn’t there to work or try to obtain work, so in fact a Canadian retiree visiting the US isn’t going to take work from Americans.

      If you have additional private health insurance, take your card, or consider a health insurance policy for your stay. There are limits on the insurances that basically say that if you get sick you’ll be going back or can be medivac’ed to Canada.

      If you have children in Canada, take evidence … photos and an address book.

      If you have a home in Canada, having something with your address on it helps, like a drivers licence and health card. If there’s something convenient that suggests you actually own the home is useful.

      Make sure your plans are closed ended … have a return ticket. Have someone picking you up from the airport on your return, and have their name and address with your so that way if needed, they can call your ride and verify that they intend to pick you up on your return date.

      Show that you intend to do some touristy things to do on your trip … know something about the place you’re going to. If you’re just say you’re going to spend all your time just “hanging out” with your friend, that doesn’t sound very clever!

      If you are actually a fiance(e) visiting your partner and have no intention of marriage in the US, then there’s nothing actually wrong with that … but you really do need some pretty solid proof that you aren’t going to stay … One of the best is an employer letter stating your intended holiday dates and intention to return to work. For a retiree, you need something similar showing forward committments back in Canada.

      Normally you only have to state where you’re staying on your first night in the US. They may ask you and never lie or evade. They are good at catching people trying to lie or evade.

      I was recently meeting up with a lady friend who is an American living in England down in the states … and that’s what I told the officer. He wasn’t in the least concerned.

      If they intend to get married, that gets complicated … they will have to remain in their own country slightly over half a year each however you divide it up – so you’re going to be apart for about a week or two every year. And you must have this well documented for both Canada and the US in case of questions. When you both enter Canada and the US, ask the officer to stamp your passport so you have a definite records of entry. (Flight itineraries are generally insufficient and boarding passes don’t show full dates … which is a real hassle I recently discovered for other purposes!)

      Hope that helps.

      • Freeno. Thanks for all the information. I usually go to the States without a problem. But this information is needed.

  48. Actually I’m an American citizen and that happened to me in the San francisco airport. They couldn’t understand how an American would look for a job abroad. Hey asked me similar questions. I was held up for hours.

  49. I don’t mean to seem rude to our neighbours to the south, but yeah, there is a definite sense that the officers don’t understand how anyone could consider any place other than the USA as the best for everything so everyone must be moving heaven and earth to try to come there to stay! But as I mentioned, that comes in part from the intention of immigrant status assumption.

  50. Hello,
    I am so sorry you had to go through this sort of bad treatment. In a weird way, I know exactly how you feel. I was traveling from north Carolina to Madrid Spain and was denied entry into Spain. I was detained and given two interviews as well. During the first one I was unable to participate in anyway because they spoke Spanish and I only speak English. After about 3 hours I was provided an attorney (Spanish speaking only) and an interrupters that could speak some English. They finally decided to send me back to North Carolina saying I had a broke passport. They also stamped every page of my passport “canceled” in Spanish. When I arrived back to the US- I was tired, confused, scared and feeling sick. I had no problem getting back through customs and was told that nothing was wrong with my passport. Spain had no right to stamp my passport “canceled” or deny me entry other than their own reasoning. I am glad I found your story because I thought I was over reacting by having all these feeling of being confused and then angry and then sad and even violent at times. I feel I was violated and interrogated for no reason. I am still waiting on my checked bag to be returned to me and this happened last Saturday. Like you- I was ask a lot of stupid questions that I feel was unnecessary. The whole ordeal was a horrible nightmare. I don’t ever want to travel to Spain again. I almost forgot this part- I was traveling there with my university MBA class of around 20 people. They all made it through customs with no problems. Out of the group 3 contacted me to make sure I made it back safely but the director of the program and 2 other teachers (one of them being the organizer of this trip) has never text, called or emails me to make sure I got home safely. The university has never contacted me either which makes me even madder.

  51. I’m not surprised what they did, check out my story how the US Govt screwed up my life because they have the same power as the Gestapo goon squad!

    My fiance tried to enter the US on an approved k1 visa. The CBP at LAX pulled her into an intense interrogation process
    accusing her of coming to the US not for marriage but to obtain employment. The screamed at her accusing her of being a liar and commiting fraud.
    The threatened her with a 5yr jail time for lying and when she told them its not true the wrote on her Q&A she said she was coming to the US for the purpose of employment. Being threatened and frightened of jail time the only escape was to comply with the CBP request to sign off on papers they put in front of her which included the Q&A form and a 5yr ban not to return again to the US and the wrote on her visa in her passport REVOKED.
    Not giving her an opportunity to review or failing to explain what she was signing but merely telling her if she signs these papers they will return her back to where she came from and she wont be faced with possible jail time.

    The poor girl at 27yrs old with no travel experience feared the officers and blindly signed. She requested to speak to her fiance first but they denied her any communication and took away her personal belongings and cell phone so she could not make any contact.

    I filed a complaint with the CBP in Washington, but they refused to investigate and after many phone calls and emails told me to go to homeland sceurity to file a redress.
    I have done that and after 4 months of waiting for a response from DHS I just dont know what else to do at this point.
    DHS will not provide any information to how long the investigation will take as it could take maybe 10months or maybe they will never investigate and return a response.
    They have no phone numbers to call, I have tried to reach out to my Florida senators, congresswoman and nothing has helped.

    All I can say now is the US govt really f… me. I do everything right as a good citizens and they have ruined my life.

  52. Biggest mistake of my life was to fall in love and marry a US citizen. For reasons I won’t get into the US CBP have deemed me undesirable. Every time I want to come to the US to visit or even see my (spouse) I was detained for hours, interrogated and subsequently denied the last time. I will never be able to go back there again. Even though I was born in Canada I’ve always loved the US and was planning on buying a house there and possibly opening a business. But leave it up to the border Nazis (those former hall monitors who had no friends) to ruin a life.

    Those terrorists in 2001 did more damage than killing 3,000 people are downing a few buildings, they destroyed humanity and brought it down to a level of extreme paranoia.

    • This actually predates 2001 … it’s all about the level of enforcement of the rules. The law states that everyone presenting themselves at the US border is an intended immigrant. So, you have to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that you will NOT be moving there. The level of border enforcement has increased from the 1970s when verbal declarations were all that were needed …”Where were you born” “How long will you be in the US and your purpose” That’s it! By 1981, the questions were far more intense. In the ’90s better documentation was required, and then after 2001 it became passports etc.

      Your problem, beyond a doubt, started because you married a US citizen who remained in the USA. That increases your burden of proof that the purpose of your visit was NOT to remain in the USA. If they got wind of the fact that you wanted to buy a house and open a business there was absolutely stacking the deck against you.

      Under those circumstances, your spouse should have sponsored you for a green card, or you should have brought overwhelming proof that you intended to return to Canada for that visit and brought with you NO suggestion that you intended to remain in the US. Things like proof of employment and that your employer expected you to return after your trip to the US. Proof of your residence in Canada … a deed if you owned the house, or a lease if you rented it.

      There was a slogan used during WWII that absolutely applies when you present yourself at the border. “Loose Lips Sink Ships” One family whose husband was going to the US to work under CFTA (predecessor to NAFTA) was refused entry after the officer asked the 5 year old daughter what dad did. Her description was simplified … too much so. It took it out of the requirements for the CFTA category. It took a lot of work and a lawyer to get all the required documentation to prove that he in fact qualified.

      You should have consulted with an immigration lawyer before entering into marriage and trying to enter the US.

      Crossing the border is rarely a “casual formality”, especially into the USA.

      • I found this blog entry googling ridiculousness at the border under our new gov’t.

        But I feel I need to reply here, as I can see that the blogger is no longer responding to comments:

        @Softly Falling Snow:
        If you are going to be condescendingly preachy, at least work on your reading comprehension skills.

        The author CLEARLY STATES MULTIPLE TIMES that she was engaged and NOT married to a US citizen, which makes absolutely all of your 4+ paragraph blahblahing “should have”s 100% irrelevant to the situation.

        Calm the crap down. If you are going to start writing speeches on the internet, at least read what you are responding to so you don’t look like a pointless douche (which you do, sorry).

        Ugh. Can’t stand idiots getting preachy.

        • I’m sorry Rachel, but if you had actually looked at the fact that my reply was “indented” below Simon’s posting just above it, then you would have realized that it was in reply to Simon, NOT in reply to the original post by Jules.

          “Simon says:
          January 5, 2017 at 8:51 am

          Biggest mistake of my life was to fall in love and marry a US citizen”

          Now would you like to eat some humble pie please instead of preaching to me?

          Would you also like to stay on the topic of dealing with the border guards and not attacking other posters who are trying to provide useful information?

          I am decidedly offended that you shoul

  53. Don’t misinterpret this info about the Fiance(e) visa.

    In this statement you means the person sponsoring the fiance(e). (e.g. a citzen or greencard holder).

    So this means that if your marriage is to be held outside the USA, then you don’t need a fiance visa. You can apply for the greencard once married.

    If the person you intend to marry is already living in the USA (green card, or other valid status like H1B) then you don’t need a fiance visa … again you go straight to greencard.

    The fiance visa is for the purpose of entry to get married.

    Canada has no such thing as a fiance visa.

  54. My fiance came in yesterday and is being held by borders and customs and he was also denied entry when he has nothing on his record or anything and they said they’re going to be sending him home today which is the 13th or anniversary and we were supposed to get married today I don’t understand why they’re doing this

  55. I sadly had a similar terrible experience with US customs, when I flew in to see my girlfriend, and they denied my entrance and turned me back. Read my messages, turned upside down my bags, interoggated me for hours. Started asking why we texted about getting married some day (all couples do??) and if I was going to try to get married. Told me too to apply for fiance visa but I was not going to get married..??
    It has been a year and we were able to see each other once since, outside the US, and we are in a bind. US immigration is so horrible and humiliating.

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