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Crossing the border on a boat between the U.S. and Canada is a common experience in the Pacific Northwest. Since 2001 the rules have changed. The following discussion will help you understand the requirements and direct you to more information.
U.S. citizens visiting Canada by boat must comply with requirements for the Canadian Pleasure Craft Operator Card. (PCOC). Non-residents of Canada are exempt unless they plan to stay for more than 44 days or unless they are operating a Canadian licensed or registered vessel. If your trip in Canada will be longer than 44 consecutive days you must either have a Canadian PCOC or the equivalent operator card issued by your state of residence. Visit the Transport Canada website for more information. Pleasure Craft Operator Card.
Everyone crossing the border must have required citizenship documents. This means a Passport, a U.S. Passport card, an enhanced driver’s license, an I-68 permit, a NEXUS permit, or a U.S. military I.D.
When you cross the U.S. Canada border by boat until you have officially checked in it is not legal to anchor or tie up at a dock or buoy unless you are there to check in. Except for assistance to tie up, only the master of the vessel may leave the vessel until the check-in is completed. Nothing may be off-loaded and no person may board the vessel (except for Government officials) until the check-in is completed.
When you enter Canada you must be prepared to provide the following minimum information:
1. The estimated time of arrival (ETA) (if you are calling in using CanPass or Nexus):
2. The vessel license or registration number and boat name;
3. The full name, date of birth, citizenship (and CANPASS or Nexus membership number) of all persons on board.
4. If calling in, the proposed initial docking site in Canada (must be a designated marine reporting site) and the final destination of the boat in Canada; and passport and visa information of passengers and crew;
5. The destination, purpose of the trip and length of stay in Canada for non-residents;
6. A declaration of all goods being imported, including firearms and weapons;
7. A declaration of all currency and other monetary instruments of a value equal to or greater than CAN$10,000;
8. For returning residents of Canada, a report of all repairs or modifications made to goods (including the boat) while outside Canada.
The officer on the phone may ask other questions about your trip. You may be asked how long you intend to stay in Canada, where you intend to go and places you intend to visit, and even what you intend to do while in Canada. For example, you may be asked in you intend to do any hiking, camping, shopping, etc.
We believe that it is important to establish a record that you actually landed at the port you identified and you intended “check-in” location. For this purpose, we stop at the port and buy something using our credit card.
The Canadian Government provides excellent resources on the internet.
Click here to get started: Canadian Customs and Immigration.
Entry into Canada can be completed as follows:
1. If everyone on board has a “trusted traveler” permit (Canpass or Nexus) then reporting requirements are simpler (see next paragraph). If not everyone on board has a CanPass or Nexus permit you must proceed on your vessel to a telephone reporting site. In Canada, these consist of a designated area at a marina or public dock. You tie up to the dock at the reporting site and then everyone remains on board while the skipper handles the check-in. You may find a phone on the dock and you can use it to call in to speak to an officer. You can also call using a cell phone. The number to call is 1-888-226-7277. An officer will ask you questions about your vessel and crew and then either give you clearance or further instructions. (In some locations (like Bedwell Harbor and Sydney Harbor) you may meet with a uniformed officer and present your vessel documents and crew information. Most of the time you will just provide the information over the phone.) An officer may decide to board and inspect your vessel. If so, you will have to wait for the officer to arrive.
2. If all persons on your boat have a CanPass or Nexus permit there are more locations for clearance. If you have such a permit you must check on-line for the locations at which you can check in. Before you arrive at any destination in Canada you must call and make an appointment to meet a CBSA officer at that location at a specific time. You will receive instructions when you call. If the officer is not present for your meeting at the designated time and place you are cleared to proceed. Click the links below for more information and for lists of designated ports of entry for CanPass and Nexus holders. Remember, all persons on board must have the required permit. The phone number to call for a CanPass check-in is 1-888-226-7277. The phone number to call for a Nexus check-in is 1-866-996-3987.
For additional information use the following links:
Both Nexus and CanPass are convenient but we recommend the Nexus program. It is good for marine travel and travel by car at border crossings that have “Nexus lanes”. A Nexus card is a substitute for your passport when crossing the U.S./Canadian border. The Nexus card is obtained by submitting a Nexus Application to the Canadian Government. If your application is approved you will receive an appointment for an interview. The Nexus Permit costs $35.00 and is good for three years. You will receive a Nexus card with your photo on it and an imbedded RFID chip. If you wish to use the Nexus procedures to cross the border every person on board must have a Nexus card. If you want to apply for a NEXUS permit, click here: CBP Trusted Traveler Program
There are other requirements when visiting Canada. For example, if you have minor children with you who are not family members and their parents aren’t with you the parents must provide a written and notarized authorization to cross the border. If you have a pet with you you must have written proof of rabies vaccination for the pet. The quantity of alcohol and tobacco you can take across the border is restricted. These are examples why it is so important for you to become familiar with all the rules before you leave.
Crossing into the United States. Entry into the U.S. is similar to entry into Canada. There is an effort to standardize the procedures for marine reporting when crossing the border in either direction.
Visit the Customs and Border Protection website: CBP Know Before You Go.
All persons entering the U.S. must have proof of identity and citizenship. Even U.S. citizens need a U.S. Passport, a U.S. Passport card, an enhanced driver’s license, an I-68 permit, a NEXUS permit, or a U.S. military I.D. to re-enter the United States from Canada. For current document requirements go to the federal CBP Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative poster.
1. If not everyone on board has a trusted traveler permit when entering the U.S. you must report in person to a designated port of entry at a dock or marina. You tie up to the proper space at the dock and the skipper proceeds to the office with vessel documents and crew information. (At some locations, there may be a phone or intercom and camera scanner for inspection of documents.)
For a list of the designated ports and more information about returning to the U.S. visit the CPB Puget Sound information page.
2. If everyone on board has a trusted traveler permit you may call in to report. Unless otherwise instructed, you do not have to arrive at a specific destination. The phone number is 1-800-562-5943. You must call in and provide the following minimum information:
Name, date of birth and citizenship of all persons on board (including passport number);
Name of the boat and/or boat registration number;
CBP user fee decal number (if 30 feet or longer);
Homeport and current location; and
Return contact number.
Trusted Traveler document info readily available (i.e. I-68, Nexus, “BR#)
The officer on the phone may ask other questions about your trip. The officer will be trying to make sure the person on the phone is actually you and not someone pretending to be you. It is highly likely that the officer will already know the answers to the questions. We believe it is possible that the officer may have information from a computer database showing the use of your credit cards or the use of your cellphone. You may be asked to identify places you have visited. Always answer the questions honestly. We have been asked to identify ports we visited. Additionally, if you have a NEXUS card with a RFID chip in it and you are within range of reception for the RFID chip the officer may know your approximate location at the time you call in. We have been asked specific questions about our location while calling in from our boat. In one case the question identified our correct location in the Strait of Georgia near Point Roberts, Washington.