What You Need to Know Before Planning A Family Vacation Across the Border
Looking for a fun family getaway? Consider crossing the border. Vacation destinations in Canada and Mexico can provide shopping and entertainment and family time without the hassle of airports and connecting flights and lost luggage.
Whether you long for the picturesque Canadian Maritimes, the excitement and cultural diversity of downtown Montreal, Toronto. or Vancouver; the majestic Rocky Mountains or beautiful Adirondacks; or the warmer climes of Acapulco, Veracruz, or Cancun, there’s a memorable family vacation awaiting you.
Picking closer destinations and planning a car trip instead of an air trip can be less expensive and more feasible for families looking to get away on a budget.
(For the purposes of this article, I will be looking at traveling by land, not by air.)
As of June 1, 2009, U.S. laws changed the documentation requirements for people wishing to cross the border into Canada and Mexico. We will look at Mexico a little later. Here are a few things you need to know about crossing the border into Canada.
If you’re looking to cross the Canadian border, adults will need one of:
- U.S. Passport
- NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST Card
- U.S. Passport Card
- Enhanced driver’s license (EDL) available in Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Washington
You do not need a passport to enter Canada, but you will need a passport to re-enter the United States.
Children 15 years and younger who are traveling across the border must have:
- U.S. birth certificate (original, photocopy, or certified copy)
- U.S. consular report of birth abroad
- Certificate of U.S. Naturalization
- One of the adult documents listed above
Children under the age of 18 who are traveling without both parents must carry with them a parental consent letter.
If you are not a U.S. citizen and plan to cross the border into Canada, you will need a passport. If you are a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident, you only need your Green Card (I-551) to enter Canada, and do not require a visa, regardless of citizenship. An I-551 must be presented to re-enter the U.S.
To be sure you have all the documents you need, and to find out other information that will help you plan your vacation, visit the Canada Border Service Agency’s website.
Other things you should know:
- Be prepared to answer the questions likely to be asked by border control guards: Where do you live? Citizenship? Purpose of the visit? Length of the visit? Are you carrying any firearms, tobacco or alcohol? Do you have any criminal convictions?
- Be prepared with your documents in hand as you approach the border crossing station.
- Canadian border guards have access to U.S. criminal record databases.
- Visitors from some countries may require a Temporary Resident visa, or a letter of invitation from a Canadian resident or other documentation to visit Canada. To find out more, visit Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website.
- You must be 18 years of age to bring a firearm into Canada.
- Familiarize yourself with gun laws in Canada and leave restricted firearms at home and know how to carry and store unrestricted firearms. For more details, please read the Canadian Firearms Centre’s fact sheet.
- Find out about local gas, grocery prices and prices for other things you expect to buy (admission to tourist attractions, etc.)
- There are certain foods you are not allowed to bring back into the U.S. from Canada. Be sure to review U.S. food restrictions as part of your trip preparation.
If you are an adult crossing the Mexico border you will require a passport. You do not need a passport to get into the border regions, but you will not be able to re-enter the United States without presenting a passport. A passport card will not allow you to get back into the U.S. Birth certificates and driver’s licenses are no longer considered valid identification for going cross-border.
Other things you should know:
- Children under the age of 18 who are traveling with only one parent must have written permission from the parent or guardian not traveling with the child to or from Mexico.
- “U.S. citizens do not require a visa or a tourist card for tourist stays of 72 hours or less within the ‘border zone’.” (U.S. Department of State)
- “U.S. citizens traveling as tourists beyond the ‘border zone’ … must pay a fee to obtain a tourist card, also known as an FMM….” (U.S. Department of State)
- If you plan to travel beyond the border zone with your own vehicle, you will need to get a temporary import permit. Without this permit, your vehicle could be confiscated by Mexican customs officials.
More do’s and don’ts of crossing the border can be found here as well as more details about the border zone.
The U.S. Department of State provides a printable, comprehensive list of information you need to know when crossing the border into Mexico here.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
Canada: Crossing the Border. TripAdvisor. Web. June 6, 2012.
Non-Canadians. Canada Border Services Agency. Web. June 6, 2012.
Firearm Users Visiting Canada. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Web. June 6, 2012.
Documentation You Need to Cross the U.S./Mexico Border. San Diego. Web. June 6, 2012.
US Border Crossing Food Restrictions. Yapp, Ginger. USAToday Travel. Web. June 6, 2012.
Mexico: Crossing the Border. TripAdvisor. Web. June 6, 2012.
Mexico Country Specific Information. U.S. Department of State. Web. June 6, 2012.
Crossing the Border (coming and going ): The Do’s and Don’ts. RockyPointOnline. Web. June 6, 2012.
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