Alison Griffiths

This is the fourth year my husband and I have loaded our three horses on to the trailer, packed up our offices, given over the back seat to two dogs and headed south for the winter. Not everyone goes on a short or extended vacation with the menagerie we tote along, but even an overnight car trip south can turn into a disaster if you don’t pay attention to details.

Since many of us cross the border frequently for shopping, business or recreation, it’s easy to become sanguine about our American neighbours. I’ve learned from experience that whether you are snowbirding or aiming for a week of R & R on the beach, slopes or golf course, anticipating problems means avoiding them.

An apple sitting on the front seat console once cost my husband and I a couple of hours and a full car search. Another time, we decanted the dog food into a plastic tub and were held up again because there was no proof of the ingredients.

Here are seven important tips for crossing the border:

1. Passport
As of early November, Passport Canada estimated a 10-business day wait if you apply at a Passport Canada office and pick it up there too. Processing by mail takes twice as long. However, you can pay extra for faster processing. Find more details here.

2. Important documents
Photocopies, of course, are not legal tender at the border or anywhere else. However, having copies or, even better, getting them notarized for a few extra dollars, can help you in an emergency. Keep the copies separate and have a set at home also.

3. Watch what you pack
Be careful of your cooler contents. There are many items banned, including vegies, fruit, plants and even some products made from animals or plants. Don’t worry: you won’t have to shed your leather jacket or hemp T-shirt but it’s best not to have any fruits or vegetables on your person or in the vehicle.

Find more information here.

4. Get insured
Many people have added-value credit cards, which provide some measure of travel insurance. However, check the terms as “travel” usually doesn’t mean medical coverage and if there is some included there are likely limitations.

Minor ailments or accidents can easily cost up to $10,000 a day just for hospitalization, with surgery adding many more thousands. And an emergency room visit averages around $1,000. Provincial health care only covers a fraction of what you will pay.

Be scrupulously honest in filling out the insurance application and if your condition changes in any way before you travel, inform the insurance company.

5. Medicine
If you are carrying medication, keep a copy of the prescription with you. And don’t be tempted to save space by putting multiple medications into a single bottle. I did this once and in a carry-on search was detained for some time. Then, when I arrived at my destination I couldn’t remember which pill was which. Take care with any over-the-counter medicine that contains codeine. You can’t come into the U.S. with more than 50 dosage units.

For more information, go here.

There are a number of over-the-counter medicines available in Canada requiring a prescription in the U.S., Polysporin eye drops, for example. If you are going for an extended period call a drugstore at your destination to see if anything you use regularly is unavailable in the U.S., or have extra with you in case your return is delayed.

Don’t forget a pair of backup eyeglasses or contacts.

6. Driver’s license, car registration and insurance
Ensure all are up to date and won’t expire while you are away. I was stopped in the U.S. with an expired license plate tag. The replacement was sitting at home and I’d forgotten to attach it.

7. Money matters
Oh woe if you have any online banking to do while away and can’t remember your log-in, PIN or security questions. Abbreviate the important ones and keep them in your wallet.

Traveller’s cheques are almost obsolete but don’t depend on credit or debit cards. Power outages, computer glitches at your bank or simply a problem with your card can leave you empty handed. My main credit card was shut down two years ago because I made two large transactions in one day while travelling and some automatic security system kicked in. Protect yourself with cash.

Of course, all these tips pertain to travel anywhere in the world. However, Canadians tend to be more vigilant when travelling to Peru or China than the U.S. But no matter how close we are to our American cousins it pays to remember that south of 49 is still a foreign country.

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