Coming back to America

Before you leave Canada on foot, you need to put fifty cents, Canadian or American, in a turnstile.

Picture (c) 2013 by Sam Kandel. Taken 30 Apr 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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