What Are the Rules and Regulations for Crossing the American Border?

There are various rules and regulations regarding crossing an American border. These mainly pertain to required documents and to contraband and cargo regulations. Due to the fears of terrorism, border rules and regulations have become more stringent in the past years.

Documents to Bring When Crossing Borders

The universally accepted document when crossing the border is the passport. Its purpose is two-fold: it serves as a proof of citizenship and as a proof of identity. However, one’s passport may not always be available. In such situations, alternative documents can be used when crossing a border. Any of the documents noted in the following list can be used as substitutes (see also the US government website documentation):

  • NEXUS card
  • FAST card
  • Citizenship Card/Permanent Residency Card/Certificate of Naturalization
  • Birth certificate AND government-issued identification card with photo (e.g. Military I.D.)

For people who are not permanent residents of either U.S. or Canada, a visa may be required (this visa would have to be one that allows US entry therefore, having a Canadian visa such as that of the Alberta Nominee program may not be sufficient). For children who are not traveling with their parents, a letter of permission or consent is needed.

Important Contraband and Cargo Regulations

When crossing an American border towards Canada, the following regulations should be followed:

  • The maximum worth of gifts that can be brought to Canada is 60 Canadian dollars.
  • Tobacco products should be limited to 7 ounces of unprocessed tobacco OR 200 cigarettes OR 50 cigars. Anyone carrying alcohol products should provide proof of being at least 18 years of age.
  • Alcohol products should be limited to 1.1 L of wine/liquor or 24 12-ounce bottles of beer. Anyone carrying alcohol products should provide proof of being at least 21 years of age.
  • Pets (cats and dogs) are permitted provided they have proper identification and documentation from a licensed veterinarian that they were given rabies shots within 3 years (36 months) prior.
  • Fruits and vegetables brought across a border should be for personal consumption, not for business.
  • Any plant form (e.g. seeds, bulbs, herbs, etc.) should be declared.
  • Only weapons for hunting or competition with permit may be brought. Otherwise, all weapons without legitimate recreational or sporting use are prohibited and will be confiscated. People bringing them may be charged with criminal violations.

Penalties for Violating Border Rules and Regulations

Penalties include fines, jail time, forfeiture, and deportation. The severity of penalty is proportional to the degree of violation. For instance, someone who tried to cross borders with falsified documents may face criminal charges and deportation. On the other hand, people who bring more than the maximum amount of tobacco may be fined and the goods may be confiscated. If in doubt about the border crossing requirements or are unsure of whether you are in good standing, consider contacting an immigration lawyer to help you.

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