Home Travel The Loopholes Currently In Use For Crossing The U.S.-Canada Border

The Loopholes Currently In Use For Crossing The U.S.-Canada Border

by SharonKurheg

The United States and Canada share the longest border in the world. Unfortunately, that border has been largely closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The closure has been re-evaluated every month since and, to date, the decision every time has been made that it will remain closed. Besides the “official” updates from both Canadian and U.S. governments, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also given his own, off-the-cuff thoughts of when he thinks the border will reopen.

Meanwhile, where there’s a will there’s a way and people on both sides have found a handful of loopholes to help them cross the border. Some are 100% legal, some are a little shady, and others worked for a while before they were stopped 😉

Loophole #1: Just the road border is closed

Both countries say that the border between the two countries is closed to road traffic. However, flights are another story. Here’s how Canadians can legally fly to wherever they’d like in the U.S. (and why it doesn’t work for U.S. citizens flying into Canada, except under very specific circumstances).

Loophole #2: Driving to Alaska

The only way to drive from the mainland United States to Alaska is through Canada. During the spring and summer, some U.S. residents were taking advantage of this, telling the officials they were driving to Alaska and then going to tourist attractions such as Banff, either instead of or as a long detour. Canadians are kind and friendly, but they’re not stupid, so they put a system into place in late July to stop that.

Loophole #3: Extended family, compassionate reasons, school

After more than six months of closed borders, lots of people complained that they hadn’t seen their grandchildren/siblings/fiancé/etc in over half a year. Others had people “on the other side” who was suffering a life-threatening illness. Still others were scheduled to go to school. So Canada changed the rules a bit for them.

Loophole #4: Snowbirds being sneaky

Every fall (well, not so much in 2020. Thanks, COVID), there’s a migration of people, mostly retirees, from the colder northern parts of North America to warmer southern locales. That usually includes a bunch of Canadians. Most of them drive down, some in their RVs or towing their campers. But with the border closed to vehicle traffic, they can’t do that the way they usually do.

Most Canadian snowbirds are staying home this winter, but some, about 30 to 40%, are being a little sneaky. Although regular cars can’t drive across the border, transport companies can. So Canadians are paying towing or trucking companies (both of which are considered essential services) to bring their cars/RVs/campers into the United States. And then they fly to the closest airport to where their vehicles are. Some transport companies are offering seats on private jets as part of a package deal. And at least one transporter is charging $500 for a direct flight to Plattsburgh, N.Y., where they’ll meet the snowbirds with their vehicle.

I did say that some of the loopholes were shady, didn’t I?

Not that it will make this venture of theirs much more difficult, but effective in early 2021, Canada will require that all passengers arriving by air must show proof of a negative PCR before they can enter the country. So before these snowbirds fly back to the cold north, they’ll need to be tested for COVID and ensure they’re negative before they go back home.

Loophole #5: The legal land crossing

At most border crossings between the U.S. and Canada, there are border patrol police. However, there’s one spot where the rules are a little different.

Peace Arch historical state park is a unique 19-acre day-use park that lies on the boundary between the United States and Canada. The 67-foot concrete Peace Arch, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed to honor the treaties’ centennial resulting from the War of 1812. These agreements between the U.S. and Britain established a peaceful, undefended border between the U.S. and Canada.

The arch is surrounded by an area of parkland on either side – one is officially in British Columbia, and the other in Washington. When you’re on the property of either park, you’re in a gray area where you’re allowed to cross into the other country’s park without the permission of border patrol police. With the advent of COVID, many more Americans and Canadians were using the park to congregate with their friends and family from the other side. So the BC government temporarily closed their side of the park back in June as a protective measure.

However, the U.S. park is still open and there’s still one area (it’s just a ditch, really) where Canadians can cross over. And there’s nothing the Canadian border patrol can do about it, because of the treaty signed in 1814. From the CBC:

…the province of B.C. “kind of has their hands tied” given the legal underpinnings of the park enshrined in 1814 in the Treaty of Ghent, a settlement after the War of 1812 between U.S. and England. The park allows citizens of both the U.S. and Canada to mingle without technically crossing any border. It was meant as an enduring symbol of the sibling-like relationship between the two countries.

[Washington State immigration lawyer Len Saunders] Saunders said the treaty stipulates there could not be any boundaries or physical barriers erected on the northern border of the U.S. — and if either side violated that treaty — the boundaries revert back to pre-treaty.

“So if the Canadian government decides that they want to cut off the Peace Arch park from Canadians…by putting up a physical barrier, then technically the United States can claim back part of Southern Ontario and Quebec, under this treaty which would be broken,” he said.

And if the Americans violate the treaty? Canada gets back parts of Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“As long as you stay on the grass, you’ve got 20 acres [eight hectares] there to meet family, to walk your dog, to ride your bike, to do whatever you want, and then return to Canada. Legally. Because you haven’t really entered the United States,” said Saunders.

Families have been using the spot to see relatives who live in the other country, and at least one “international” wedding has happened at the park in recent months. More than one U.S.-Canadian couple has been seen setting up tents at the park so they can have some, shall we say, “alone time.”

So yeah…the border remains closed. But some people are figuring out ways to get around that, anyway.

Feature Photo: Bazonka / Wikimedia

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


derek January 3, 2021 - 5:35 pm

This article makes it sound like people can cross if they want to. Not true. Americans cannot get into Canada for many urgent reasons and even for essential travel. That is because “essential travel” is defined very narrowly and without exceptions. So if it is not on the list of permitted reasons, which is mostly for truckers, air crew, and spouses, then it is considered “non-essential” despite being urgent or important or essential. For example, if you need a copy of the will in a safe deposit box to probate an estate, that is considered non-essential. Or if the roof has caved in and you need to inspect it and remove valuables from the house before repair — non-essential. Even if you have facilities to quarantine.

If one has Nexus or Global Entry, one may not want to test the limits, such as a fake Alaska trip because then the Nexus or Global Entry could be taken away along with the Nexus or Global Entry of all family members. Nexus requires that all family members not have any wrongdoing on their records on the assumption that relatives could ask Nexus members to smuggle things.

SharonKurheg January 3, 2021 - 5:43 pm

I wholeheartedly agree. We’ve written other posts about the new ways people can cross legally (or when the rules have changed for certain reasons), and have said more than once that Americans generally can’t enter Canada. This post was only about loopholes.

steve88 January 3, 2021 - 7:49 pm

So what about those with dual citizenship?

Flem cochran August 4, 2021 - 8:05 pm

As a resident of Alaska, what happen to the TREATY of WW11 between Canada & US according to road travel from the US and Alaska regardless of Reason.

SharonKurheg August 4, 2021 - 9:50 pm

Welp, the article you’re writing about was written over 6 months ago – a whole lot has happened since then. All that set aside, treaty or no treaty, things apparently change when there’s a global pandemic that affects public health 😉


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