Last weekend we drove from Ottawa to Boston for a short city break. It is less than 700km, but took an hour longer than planned due to a massive line at the U.S. immigration check-point.
Car after car sat for minute after minute at the check-point, while the agonizing inspection dragged on and on. We watched this slow motion inaction with the engine usually off.
An hour later, we finally pulled up to the inspection point, and within 15 seconds were waived through.
What was our secret?
Take you passport when you are crossing the U.S. border by car.
Current U.S. law requires a passport to enter the U.S.A. by air or boat. Right now it is still legal to try and cross with government-issued identification such as a driving license, plus proof of citizenship. This means a birth certificate and your DL are enough, but only for the next month. The new requirement for a passport to enter by car or bus or foot comes into effect on 1 June 2009.
Also, if you are traveling with children, you must have proof they are legally yours or that you have authorization to take them across an international frontier. This is to protect children against kidnapping, which is often done by family members.
It is a great idea to travel with your passport now. As we drove up to the check-point, we handed over our passports already open to the data page. The agent asked where we lived and where we were going. Fifteen seconds later we were in the United States. It is important to know exactly where you are going. Agents usually ask this question, and it is advisable to know the name and address of your hotel, or at least of the mall if only for a day-shopping trip.
So please, as a courtesy to yourself and to others waiting in the line-up from hell, please please please take along your passport. It will be mandatory come June anyway.