Crossing A Border? Here Are Some TCK Pro Tips!

Who has had a supremely pleasant experience crossing a border where the officers are kind, welcoming and let you in with no problems? No? Me neither. Let’s just say, there’s a reason comedians make fun of border patrol and airport security. I included my favourite comedy routines on the subject in this post to help lighten this heavy subject.

I grew up between two of the most hostile countries when it comes to border patrol and security. So, I got really good at dealing with it. My parents said France and Switzerland border patrol care the most about paperwork. As long as you have that in order, they are usually okay with you. That sounds mild compared to my passport countries. Okay, Napoleon, I don’t appreciate the paperwork headache, but as long as I don’t get a hard time at the border, thank you!

Whether you are crossing a border for travel or immigration purposes, it’s helpful to know how to deal with border patrol. I will include tips on dealing with airport security too. Border patrol and airport security is a content warning in its own right. However, I want to mention I will include some examples of stories that people may find disturbing.

Before You Leave:

Do any necessary paperwork. I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but it will save you an enormous headache later. Make sure your passport is still valid too. If it isn’t or if you have less than 6 months on it, renew it! Being born in Switzerland and living in France, it was my birthright to learn how to fill in paperwork properly. It was one of those cultural things my parents made sure to teach me. That served me well when I moved to England and I expect it will serve me well here in Canada too. I remember when I was old enough to do paperwork, and my Mum gave me practice forms to fill in. She made me practise… and practise… and PRACTISE until I was almost tearing my hair out.

My Mum was sympathetic but also strict about the fact that I needed to know this. She told me stories later about how she learned how to deal with paperwork in France/Switzerland. This was before the internet really took off too, so hey, I learned paperwork from a master!

This is why I love Roz’s character from Monsters Inc. Every scene with her makes paperwork and border patrol a little easier to handle.

It really helps to think of border patrol officers like Roz, or even like in Life is Beautiful, Guido and Joshua call the concentration camp guards, “Mean Guys Who Yell.”

One More Thing:

Check the laws, regulations and rights when you cross the border. I’m serious. Anyone can get stopped at the border and you have to be prepared in case it happens. Additionally, if you are arriving in a country that has questionable (or dare I say abusive in some cases) human rights practices, you have to be even more prepared. More on that later.

Check requirements for airport security and customs too. If you’re in doubt about taking something with you, either don’t take it or ask at security or customs if it’s allowed. I heard a story once about this elderly German guy who was flying into the USA. He brought baking soda with him to brush his teeth. He was detained for hours while security tested it. They came back and said, “it’s baking soda.” Um, they could have figured it out by pouring apple cider vinegar on it and creating a mini volcano!

Case in point: what happens when you take fruit across the US/Canada border.

Now that you’re prepared, here’s are my tips when you are going through security or crossing the border.

Golden Rule: Do NOT Use Humour!

Just DON’T! When I was younger, my Mum told me this story to remind me not to use humour. Groucho Marx said that he was a smuggler when he went through the border. They detained him even though they knew who he was. Plus, the previous video with Leland Klassen conveys that message of not using humour too.

One time, my Dad used humour with Border Patrol. We had just got permanent residence in the UK, and my Dad was arriving back in the UK after a trip to the US. He was having his papers checked at Border Patrol and they asked him how he got permanent residence. Side Note: One of our family discussions at the time was about this guy who gave Β£1,000,000 to the Labour Party to obtain UK citizenship.

Anyway, Border Patrol asked my Dad, “How did you get your permanent residence?”

He joked, “I gave Β£1,000,000 to the Labour Party!”

The woman questioning him looked blank and said, “Good for you.”

Okay, that worked out in the end. Still, I don’t advocate using humour. Border Patrol has NO sense of humour! They just get on with the job.

Honesty is the Best Policy:

If you are familiar with typical questions you are asked, I suggest you practice your answers if you have ANY uncertainty of what you are going to say! Border Patrol may try to throw you off with an atypical comment or question. It’s normal to freeze when that happens. I don’t have any right answer for when that happens. Just be kind to yourself, especially if you say something that you feel like you shouldn’t have said in retrospect. Frankly, I get panic attacks when that happens. Sometimes, I can come up with a good save in answer to an awkward question, but it takes practice. It didn’t happen overnight for me.

Here’s something people don’t often tell you. Sometimes, you have to tell the border officers which law(s) is/are applicable to your case. Border officers have to keep track of MANY different laws. I had a situation once where I had to tell the border officer the law that applied to me. Sometimes, you wonder if they really don’t know that law, and it’s true that it can be the case. Other times, it can likely be just needing to know all these different laws and it’s hard to recall them at the drop of a hat.

I’m glad Trevor Noah makes the situation lighter in this video.

If You Make A Mistake, Own It:

You might make a mistake in your paperwork or answer a question wrongly. In that case, admit the mistake. Don’t try to flatter the officers, like how Mike Wazowzki tries to flatter Roz. Yes, there will be consequences. I made a mistake once. I thought one regulation applied to me, but it turned out there was a new one. Because I was preparing to move I didn’t check for updates. It takes a while to go through those regulations, and it’s one of those things you only want to do once when you move.

Decide Which Information is Important to Share and Which Isn’t:

To be clear, I’m NOT saying you should hide information! Far from it! What I am saying is you should prioritize what information you should share. When I got dual nationality, I learned that I have to decide on a case by case basis whether I should disclose it. I don’t say I’m a dual citizen if I am entering one of my passport countries. They don’t need to know that. They just need to see my passport. I disclosed my dual nationality to Canadian immigration when I moved. When you look at immigration forms, they ask if you’re a dual citizen. Canada’s the first country I have seen who does this! That makes me very happy that they are recognizing that a lot of people are dual citizens.

When I repatriated to the US, my Dad sat me down and had a serious talk with me about being careful who I tell that I’m a dual citizen when I’m in the US. Basically, if anyone asks me if I’m a US citizen while on US soil, I have to say yes. You’re considered a security risk if you’re a dual citizen in the US. Honestly, I find that completely disgusting and backwards! There are more TCKs in the world than ever before because of globalization and more people are getting dual nationality than before! Frankly, the US and other countries need to catch up!

Know Your Rights:

This is where it can really get ugly. Your rights can still be violated if you’re a citizen of a country that you are entering. My uncle re-entered the US after a trip to a country in South America that the US deemed a security risk. They threatened to do something that would have violated his rights as a US citizen. He said, “I’m a US citizen. You can’t do this to me!” It worked because my uncle knew his rights. If you don’t know your rights, it’s easier for border patrol to exploit you!

Here are two more tips I have. First, check if you can ask to speak to a lawyer at no extra cost to you before you leave. Certain countries are legally required to provide you with a lawyer at no extra cost upon request. Check if that applies to the country you’re entering. I only recently learned about this. I had problems entering Canada. My Dad said, later on, I should have asked to speak to a lawyer. Glad I know that for future reference!

My second tip is to find out their discrimination laws. If you can find a reason why they can’t discriminate against you, use it!

Other Stories:

After 9/11, border patrol and airport security in the US got even scarier. I vowed to myself that I would visit there as little as possible. This wasn’t something that would calm down after a few years either. There were a lot of personal stories going around of US border patrol and airport security being more abusive overall. Things only got slightly better because of people complaining about their experiences.

I have heard of UK citizens being stopped at the border if they are naturalized citizens and questioned about the legitimacy of their citizenship. That’s one reason why I am leery about entering the UK again. Additionally, I have heard stories of Canadians who are Muslim being stopped at the US border because of Trump’s Islamaphobic travel bans!

Take Care of Yourself Afterwards:

I’m serious. In my post, Flying Internationally and Locally During COVID-19, I describe how I was feeling after going through Border Control. My Mum and I had to make our flight to Calgary right after that! Adrenaline was pumping SO hard then! I thought I was either going to throw up or pass out! I had to use the flight to Calgary to recover from that ordeal. The airplane views were beautiful, so I watched out the window.

If I hadn’t had to catch a plane, I would have taken care of myself. First, I would have gone into the bathroom to come down from the massive panic attack I was having. Then, I would have drunk a lot of water and maybe had some food once I felt better.

My point is that your body is going to respond to the stress of going through border patrol. It’s important to do whatever you need to do to manage it.

Laugh About It:

At some point, I can’t take what happens too seriously. I also remember that these border officers are people too and sometimes, you can see their human side. Then, it’s almost comical when something is way too easy. Listen to this last comedy routine to find out why!

What do you think of my tips and stories? Do you agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

Flying Internationally and Locally During COVID-19

I decided not to tell the whole story of my trip to Calgary from California via Vancouver in one whole post. There are certain points that require their own post, and right now, I have decided to share my experience of flying during COVID.

Before deciding to fly to Canada, there were some things about flying during a pandemic that I couldn’t ignore. I looked up as much as I could about how to fly with a lower risk of infection. In terms of risk, flying was deemed the highest risk activity you could do, but there were some other things that made me not so sure. Eventually, I found an article that detailed what you could do to minimize risk and planned the trip from there.

Back when the pandemic first started, there was all this stuff in the news about US airline companies filing for bankruptcy to get massive government bailouts, while US citizens only got a measly $1200 check! What a joke, especially since the airlines were able to operate with social distancing measures a few months later! Additionally, US airlines weren’t enforcing their mask policy with customers who refused to wear it. That made me think, β€œWell, you just inspired me to fly with Air Canada!” My thinking was that international airlines have a vested interest in keeping their country safe, so they will have better safety procedures. Fortunately, my Mum was absolutely on the same page with me!

I’m so done with US carriers anyway. I’m only flying with international airlines from now on. Besides, at the time, I learned that Canadians are really into supporting their homegrown brands, and local businesses. I honestly love it and I’m embracing it! I plan to write a post about the importance of that someday!

So, here’s how my trip to Canada went:

The story starts the day before flying. I was trying to do online check-in for Air Canada and it wouldn’t let me because I was a foreign national. That was a new COVID rule back then, which was okay. I tried contacting Air Canada but found out we had to do the check-in at the airport. Β When you do the check-in, they check all your papers that you will be presenting at Border Control, so it’s best to be prepared.

There weren’t any delays with the process at SFO. When you’re checking in, going through security and boarding, you have to lower your mask for identity purposes, but that’s okay. I noticed that all the airports I went through seemed to turn the temperature up from a comfortable β€œI-Can-Relax” level to a muggy, sweaty, breathless β€œIt’s-Unbearable-To-Wear-A-Mask” level. Were they trying to weed out the people who weren’t serious about wearing a mask or something? I don’t know. I deliberately had to seek ways to cool off! I wore a mask for 12 hours straight that day. I had to throw it out after that, but it kept me safe in the end!

Airport Temperatures

If you have brought your own food with you, ask at security if there is someplace where you can go eat. Airports have set spaces aside where you can eat if you aren’t buying food, so I was happy about that.

I had to admit it’s weird that the boarding process goes so fast since airplanes are operating at a lower capacity. I’m so used to crowded planes and super long boarding times that there was some cognitive dissonance there.Β 

On the flights, I was ecstatic to see and hear French again in the announcements and also from the flight attendants. One of them called me Madame, which was amazing! (I like that or Mademoiselle better than Miss or Ms). I really liked that everyone was reminded that wearing a mask is conditional on travelling on Air Canada. They also handed out COVID care packages. And get this: wearing a mask on a plane is SO NOT a big deal because they circulate the air and the temperature is steady! My Mum and I both got window seats at the back of the plane because they are a lower risk of catching COVID. The flight to YVR was about 10 or 15% full and YYC was almost twice that. At least we were able to take more baggage!Β 

The views en route to YVR were mostly cloudy until we got closer. I wouldn’t say the views were breathtaking, but I did get this sense of awe I get when I see a new city from the air!

After we landed, we went through customs, which was a breeze since I had downloaded the ArriveCAN app and filled in our information before we arrived. We also thought we had to wait for our baggage, which turned out not to be the case. We were at the carousel and there were two sniffer dogs there: a black lab and a yellow lab. Anyone who knows me knows that I am so crazy about black labs it’s not even funny! Then, the black lab came up to us to inspect us. I have noticed black labs seem to know I’m crazy about them, and this was definitely true of this dog, Jake. He suddenly started acting all lively like labs do even though he was working. I said to his handler that if Jake wasn’t working, I’d be making a fuss over him and he thanked me graciously.

I was sort of lost as to what to do next, but I saw an immigration office though and went to check if we had anything more to do. This French Canadian guy was really kind and polite and he said “Welcome to Canada!” about 4 times. He told me I had to go to Border Control, and gave me directions, so I thanked him and went back to tell Mum.Β 

As a Third Culture Kid, I have had more than my fair share of bad experiences at Border Control or any business to do with immigration or citizenship. This experience was no different. I understand why though. All I want to say about it right now is that I read an article that said the US is losing its passport privilege, and it couldn’t be more true!

I think the IRCC relaxed a bit after they called us to check we were complying with quarantine regulations. My confidence increased because of all the bad experiences I have had with immigration, I know how to deal with immigration officers. I will do a post about my personal tips for that! Hint: Honesty is the best policy.

Then, it got dramatic:

Because of being at Border Control for a long time, the officer said we had technically missed our plane to Calgary and said to go talk to Air Canada. We tried to find the Air Canada desk and then I noticed we had half an hour until our plane left! I thought if we legged it as best we could, we could make it. I didn’t know we had to go through security again! I don’t know if this is a thing in Canadian airports to have to go through security again when you have a layover. The last time I was at a Canadian airport was over 20 years ago and I didn’t have a layover then!

By then, I was running on pure adrenaline and sweating profusely thanks to the aforementioned uncomfortable airport temperatures for wearing a mask, and being dehydrated. They had to confiscate my water bottle that they gave me on the flight to Vancouver and had to open my bag to check my scissors! I had a book about TCKs in that bag and I saw the lady do a double-take when she saw it! She let me through when she asked if we had to catch a plane! I wish I had been reading that book while waiting around at Border Control. I think it sends the message I’m an experienced traveller and immigrant! My Mum can’t run, so I went ahead to see if the plane to Calgary was still there and it was! I got to the gate and the lady there said she was just about to call us on the speaker!Β 

By the time we got on and by then, my entire body was feeling weak and shaky as an after-effect of being at Border Control but I had to get our bags into the overhead bins. The stewardess couldn’t help me because of COVID, which didn’t make sense because the stewardess on the other flight had helped me! My Mom’s bag was super heavy with books and I was saying to my body “Please don’t give out!” Someone was sitting under where I was putting the bag and I didn’t want to hit him with it. I couldn’t have handled it then. It worked out though and my Mom asked if I was okay. I said I thought I was going to throw up. I didn’t, but still.Β 

I was able to enjoy the views though. There was snow on the mountains and in Calgary! I noticed on the interactive flight map that we were about 30km from Banff, so now if someone asks me if I have been to Banff, I can honestly say the closest I have been so far is 30km! Someday though! 🀞

YYC is a lovely airport! Mum said it reminded her of Oakland airport in the 1970s. I’m used to massive airports like Heathrow, so it’s nice to see a smaller and more personal international airport like YYC. I noticed that the plane approached the airport from the north and didn’t fly directly over the city. Ever since moving here, I have noticed that it’s rare to see planes flying over, but then it depends on which part of the city you’re in.

Mum noticed Timmies right by the gate where we got off! It was cool, but we were exhausted and just wanted (and needed) to get to our new home ASAP. Someday though! After I got money and called the landlord from the airport phone, we got on Uber. It was 2Β° out with snow on the ground. It was a crisp cold, not the bone biting cold that I had to endure in London. I stepped out of the airport and thought, β€œI could live here!”

Mum and I were exhausted in every sense of the word and were asleep by 8 pm. By morning, I checked my messages and my best girlfriends from my university had sent me messages and I started crying because I suddenly missed them and I’m so worried about them being in the US! I can’t explain the bonds I have with my best friends from university but friends at women’s colleges are something special. I called them and just had to talk and have a cry about what happened. I encouraged my friends to share my story with others because this seems like a reality for US expats.

Well, that’s my story of moving and flying during COVID. It wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it!