Crossing Borders: Anything to Declare?

My recent journey to the US for cheap gas didn’t discourage me, despite the 2-hour round trip. The minor issues I faced then, I learned from. I would not make those errors twice, I said. And I didn’t.

I originally figured the round trip should take an hour. My tank was again empty, and my local gas stations are now averaging $1.25 per litre. Now was the time to put that estimate to the test.

Having checked the bridge crossing times I could see there were currently no delays. Hitting the highway I arrived at the US border within 20 minutes. Two quick questions, I was through.

This time I knew exactly where I was going, but… I did miss a turnoff. I was back on track in under 5 minutes. From there it was smooth sailing right to the door. The door I was aiming for belonged to Randy’s Smoke Shop in Lewiston, a gas station just inside the boundary of the Tuscarora Nation reservation. This is First Nation land where, as many are aware, fuel prices are always lower.

The price here is up from my last trip but still low, at $2.59 USD per US gallon. I filled the tank for $39 USD straight. When I did the math, I had saved over $18 CAD on that one tank. Sweet.

Back to Canada, 5 minutes away. Total time in the US: 20 minutes. And that was including a rest stop.

There was a slight delay in this direction. Turned out they were having a ‘Declarations’ day. The officer informed me that meant they were checking drivers were telling the truth about what they were bringing back: Pull over to car park A and give this yellow slip to the officer there. Sigh…

I did as instructed. This officer asked me to leave the vehicle and go stand on the curb, 20 feet away. Routine. He and a colleague searched the car. I was completely relaxed. That Canadian passport works wonders. Front first, then back, then trunk. It was a cursory inspection that took less than 5 minutes. Finding nothing of interest, they told me to have a nice day. I thanked them, and away I went. Total delays this trip, around 15 minutes. I was back at my desk in 1 hour 10 minutes. Not bad at all.

Food For Thought – The Takeaway

What I figured out on the drive back to the office was this.

I was in the US for under half an hour. When asked, I told the officer straight that I went specifically to fill up with gas. Perfectly legal. But he probably figured I was ‘hitting the res’ and asked me directly if I had brought back any alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. At least two of these are legally and commonly available, significantly cheaper than retail, on reservation lands. Many make journeys specifically for the purpose, so these are natural questions to ask. I only went for gas so I had nothing to declare, and said so. No worries. But then he asked what was in the 2 unmarked boxes on the rear parcel shelf. I told him the truth: Business cards. In hindsight, I see, they could look like cartons of cigarettes. Which raised enough of a flag for him to get the team to give my car the once over. Fair enough.

What I am immensely grateful for is that no awkward questions were asked about the weird and wonderful items in the car. These included my drone, my gimbal (which as you see here, comes in a gun-shaped case), my camera, some meds, a whole slew of photographic equipment, enough electronics and batteries and cables to make the inside of the car look like a bomb factory, and a rear shelf full of assorted paraphernalia quite apart from the aforementioned business cards.

And that’s just inside the car.

In the trunk I have, among other things, paddles for a raft. Two life preservers. Steel-toed work boots. A golf umbrella. A roll of seamless paper. A portfolio case. More camera gear. More batteries. Jumper cables. A plastic face mask. Plastic bags. A carpet of pine needles from last year’s Christmas tree. And rope. Having watched countless hours of crime shows and detective movies, I know that the only thing missing from this collection was a mud-covered shovel. Those officers never raised an eyebrow.

So yes, I do have something to declare: I’m happy they didn’t arrest me on the spot.

Man, I love Canada.

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