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 ยฃ1,000,000 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 ยฃ1,000,000 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!

Visas: Part I- Getting Started

Winston Churchill’s quote applies to getting visas!

Do you need a visa? If so, you need to find a visa that suits your goals for life in your new country. If you arenโ€™t sure what visa you need, keep researching available visas. I know it sounds weird, but if you look hard enough, you can find a visa to fit your needs. Visas can have many parts to them and you need to figure out what those parts are and decide which ones work for you. For instance, with my IEC visa, I can either do the Working Holiday Program or the Young Professionals Program. The Young Professionals Program suits my needs more, and I will try to get into that program. Right now, because everything is being delayed with COVID-19, I donโ€™t know yet what program I will be doing.ย 

Once you look at the technical parts of your visa, you need to see what they recommend about passport validity. Do they recommend that your passport has to be valid for a certain amount of time in order to apply for the visa? If they do have recommendations for length of passport validity, and your passport is not going to be valid for that long, itโ€™s time to renew your passport. If you need to get your passport fast, you can get expedited service. Currently, for US passports, expedited service has been suspended because of COVID-19. Check with your passport authorities about processing times.ย 

Now, itโ€™s time to address the dual citizenship issues. Since Iโ€™m a dual citizen, I had to decide which passport I wanted to use for the visa. Thankfully, my visa application gave me instructions on what to do if I am a dual citizen. I decided to use my US passport since I am moving from the US and the transition would be easier. I may have a chance to use my UK passport at some point since Canada is a former British colony, but I will bide my time.

I ran into another dual citizenship issue. My US passport expired last year and I wanted to wait to renew it because my UK passport expired this year so that I could renew them at the same time. What was I thinking? ๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿผโ€โ™€๏ธ I applied to renew my US passport when the pandemic hit in March, and itโ€™s being delayed. Passport services resumed processing regular applications a month ago, so I am still waiting for it. I am trying to think about when I can apply for my UK passport. I might have to wait until they resume processing regular applications. #dualcitizenshipproblems

It is important to plan ahead and set goals for how long you wish to stay in your new country. Of course, there are some unexpected things that happen, but itโ€™s important to have a plan. The saying โ€œFailing to plan is planning to failโ€ may be clichรฉ, but itโ€™s very true when it comes to planning for an international move.ย 

Do you only want to live in a country for as long as your visa lasts? Thatโ€™s fine, but what if you love it so much that you want to stay? You want to have a plan in case that happens because if you donโ€™t, you will be very disappointed if you have to go home because you didnโ€™t plan to extend your visa or apply for another visa, depending on your life circumstances.ย 

There might also be an emergency that may cause you to lose your visa through no fault of your own. When I was 12, my parents and I lost our visa through no fault of our own and it was terrifying not knowing if we could stay in the UK.ย  I bet the COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of immigrants concerned about their immigration status if their visa is dependent on their jobs. My heart goes out to all of them. ๐Ÿ˜ข๐Ÿค—

Do you want to get permanent residence and/or citizenship? Thatโ€™s fine, but I recommend making a final decision after you go through culture shock, and be honest with yourself about whether you want to stay. I will do a future post about culture shock and reverse culture shock, but I will say this. Donโ€™t underestimate the impact of culture shock. There will be highs and lows that are more extreme than a roller coaster sometimes. Someone once said to me, there comes a time when you realize a country is either going to work out for you, or it isnโ€™t. I knew when I went through culture shock in London that I didnโ€™t want to live there for the rest of my life. Reverse culture shock when I moved back to the US resulted in A LOT of tears! I was in denial that things werenโ€™t working out for me when I moved back to the US because I am American for goodness sake! I was also burned out from international moves. I guess the 2016 election and COVID-19 snapped me out of denial and made me realize whatโ€™s important. Denial is not a river in Africa after all. I will do a post about being a dual citizen someday because that is a whole other story.

I do plan to get permanent residence and citizenship in Canada, but still planning for culture shock. I am looking into what I can do to stay longer, such as going to graduate school or extending my visa or seeing if I can qualify for another kind of visa. Weโ€™ll see how culture shock goes! What have been your experiences with visas and obtaining citizenship?

This move is different from the ones I have done before, precisely because of COVID-19, plus the US response to the pandemic has been dismal, to say the least. I feel sorry for Canada being right next to the US and worrying about Americans bringing the virus into Canada. I heard stories of Americans exploiting border closures, such as claiming to be driving to Alaska and then going to tourist spots not wearing masks. Also, two other Americans got fined for not quarantining. Really people? As if we didnโ€™t look bad enough already. ๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿผโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿ˜ก I would understand if people were leaving because they were desperate, but still doing so legally. Just leaving to satisfy your own ego is not okay.

Even though I am practically desperate to leave and Iโ€™m so done with this country, I only want to do it safely, ethically, and lawfully. My area has low rates of infection, but I have still been sheltering in place all this time. Where do you think I got all this time to blog from? ๐Ÿ˜‚ There is still a lot I can do to prepare to move though thanks to staying at home and waiting for my passport. I donโ€™t have a definite date for moving just yet, but I can be patient.ย 

Stay tuned for more posts about finances while moving, packing, and saying goodbye!

How to Organize the Timing of an International Move

How long does it take to prepare for moving abroad? Simple answer: as long as you want it. In the past, I have moved abroad a few months after deciding to do so. I made the decision to move to Canada last April. I am moving as soon as the border re-opens. The border may reopen at the end of July this year, according to recent updates. I am prepared for the border to reopen later than that though. Restrictions will relax, but not completely go away. I may have a chance to move soon, but we’ll see! It’s about finding a window of opportunity and grabbing the chance!

Know Your Timeframe:

My friends who are international students have said that it generally took them a year to get ready to move. Applying to universities and getting visas processed can take a long time! I have heard of other people who get a job overseas and then move a few months later. The International Experience Canada visa rules state that I have to get the visa first before I can look for a job. Therefore, I decided to go to Canada on a visitorโ€™s visa first. While I am waiting for the IEC visa, I can get settled and then I can start working. Even if your timeframe keeps changing, like mine is, you can still do a lot of preparation.

Set Goals that work with Your Time Frame:

Sometimes, you have an established goal to move, such as starting a job or university. If you don’t have that, make your own goal. Right now, I’m staying up to date on the border situation. I can get my IEC visa processed once I move to Canada. Visa processing and other services are delayed because of COVID-19. I can still be efficient in my own plans and preparation for moving though. The time you spend planning is not a waste of time!

A Note on Getting Settled:

It takes a long time to get settled in a new country. That’s the main reason why I’m going to move when the border opens. I do not want to rush the process of settling into a new country. It takes a MINIMUM of two months to get settled! It’s a variable, unpredictable time and you have to plan for that. If I waited to move until I got my IEC visa, there would be too much to do and too little time to do it.

I’m Moving To Canada! Read On To Find Out Why!

I get asked this question a lot. Here are my reasons why:

I Am A Third Culture Kid (or TCK):

What is a Third Culture Kid? Sociologist Ruth Useem developed the term to mean “a child who grows up in a culture different from the one in which his or her parents grew up.” So what’s my TCK story? I have lived in four countries, so far. I was born a US citizen in Switzerland, but my parents were dividing life between there and France. My childhood in the USA was spent in three different states during an eight-year period. I grew up in England and obtained dual UK nationality. I repatriated to the US seven years ago, intending to stay permanently. So, I have itchy feet! Plus, the election results in 2016 were an utter disaster! Trump and his ilk go against everything I stand for as a TCK! At least I can rely on my experience of moving to other countries to help me in the process.

Good Quality of Life in Canada:

Growing up, I learned what qualities make a country good to live in. Canada has consistently scored high in quality of life, happiness and health in international rankings. It’s further ahead on those rankings than other countries I have lived in, with the exception of Switzerland. I guess I will find out soon why that’s the case!

I Want A Better Life:

The main reason why people move to another country is to achieve a better life for themselves and their family. Deciding to move to a new country takes a lot of honest self-reflection. At first, I did not want to move to another country. I know the challenges and stressors that can happen during the process of immigration. I had hoped that the US would recover from the disastrous 2016 election results and I wished to be a part of the process. Then, I saw the shock waves of the disastrous election are being felt most strongly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to more disastrous consequences. I cannot see myself having any sort of future in the US anymore. The more I learned about Canada, the more convinced I am of moving there. I shall continue my reasons for wanting to move to Canada in future posts.

More About Me:

Here’s some more about me. I recently graduated from college/university as an Economics and Data Science major. I am moving to Canada on the International Experience Canada (IEC) visa through InterExchange. Any students or graduates out there who wish to learn more about this visa? Please leave a comment and I will direct you to the right places!

If you want to follow me on social media, you can find the links on my Contact page.

Coming soon: Packing tips, finance tips and doing your research. Stay tuned for more!

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