Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Coming to Canada for the 2015 TLR convention in Thunder Bay?

The TLR's 2015 regional convention is going to be held in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Many of the members of the TLR haven't been to Canada since the No. 1 Northern Division held the "Steam on the Prairies" convention in 2010. To assist the many American NMRA members who wish to attend this convention, WMRC blog editor Paul Ullrich has written an article about what you need to know about entering Canada. This article has been published in The Fusee (the official publication of the TLR) and has been posted on the TLR's official website, the TLR's Facebook page, the No. 1 Northern's web site and the WMRC's Facebook Page. We are re-posting the article on this site, because we want to make sure that everyone who wants to attend this wonderful convention will be able to do so. 

How to get into (and out of) Canada
By Paul Ullrich

IMPORTANT NEWS FOR MINNESOTANS: The information on this page has been updated. Minnesotans who wish to attend this convention CAN apply for an enhanced driver's license that will permit entry into Canada. It costs $15 in addition to the fee charged for a regular driver's license or ID card. For more information, visit this site:


   Five years ago, I wrote an article for The Fusee about how to cross the Canadian border to attend the 2010 TLR convention in Winnipeg. In just a few months, we'll be having another convention in Canada, this time in Thunder Bay. There's a good chance that many of our members haven't been to the Canada since then, so an update is in order.
   The good news is that it's a bit easier to cross the border. In 2010 both U.S. and Canadian customs officials were still getting used to the new rules that came into place in June of 2010. The bad news is that they haven't eased the rules concerning documentation. You still need either a passport, a Nexus card, or an enhanced identity card /driver's license.  Oddly enough, this is only for getting back into the states!
    Although Canada strongly recommend that you have a passport, they require just two things: proof of your U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate, and a valid photo I.D. card, such as a drivers license.
    Nexus cards are proving to be very popular for cross border travels. It cost just 50 bucks, and enables you to travel relatively hassle free between the U.S. and Canada by air, land or sea. But there are a few hitches.
    After you fill out an on-line form, you have to go to an enrollment center for a personal interview. There are only two enrollment centers in the U.S. in the Thousand Lakes region. One is in Warroad, Minnesota, and the other is in Pembina, North Dakota. If you live close to the Canadian border, then that's not too much of a problem. But that's a pretty long drive from Dubuque or Sioux Falls!
    Several people have asked me about using enhanced driver's licenses for border crossing. They are available in most Canadian provinces, only five states issue them: Minnesota, Vermont, New York, Michigan, and Washington State. This is great news for Minnesotans, who represent the bulk of the membership in the TLR. It costs $15 in addition to the fee charged for a regular Minnesota driver's license of ID card. Applications will take two to four week to process. For more information, please visit this site:


    But for the rest of the members of the TLR living in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, you'd be far better off to obtain a passport. For first time applicants, the cost would come to $165, and for that you get a passport book and a card. A renewal costs $140. You also get a passport card to go with your passport.
    It can take up to three months to receive a Nexus card. Passports are a bit faster. But please apply for one as soon as possible. Don't put it off! Why risk not being able to attend the convention?  
    Now that we've got your documentation covered, let's get you across the border. There are some rules for which you must be made aware:
    Border services are on the watch for missing children. Parents who share custody of their children carry copies of their legal custody documents, such as custody rights. If you share custody and the other parent is not traveling with you, or if you are not the parent or legal guardian, then carry a consent letter to provide authorization for you to take them on a trip and enter Canada. (This is in addition to the child's passport.)  A consent letter must include the parents full name, address and telephone number. Have the consent letter notarized.
    Anyone with a criminal record (including a drunk driving conviction) may be excluded from entering Canada. A waiver of exclusion may be issued but several weeks are required and a processing fee must be paid. Permanent residents of the U.S. who are not U.S. citizens must present their Green Card.
   You can bring certain goods into Canada for your own use, including clothing, camping and sports equipment, cameras and computers. You must declare all goods when you arrive at the first Canadian port of entry, but let common sense prevail. They really don't care how many pairs of underwear you're bringing across the border. 
   But they might be a bit curious about any model railroad equipment you're bringing with you, and that should be declared, especially if it's equipment that you're bringing back with you.  If you declare them when you arrive and take them back with you when you leave, you will not have to pay any duty or taxes. Keep the declaration sheet handy, as U.S. customs officials might want to view it.

These goods cannot be:
    •    Used by a resident of Canada
    •    Used on behalf of a business based in Canada
    •    Given as a gift to a Canadian resident
    •    Disposed of or left behind in Canada

   Again, common sense should prevail. If you bring a locomotive to run on a layout, and someone else uses it during an operating session, they're not going to lock you behind bars. Bringing model contest entries across the border shouldn't be a problem. It would help to download the contest form and fill it out before you cross the border.
   In extremely rare cases, a border services officer may ask you to leave a security deposit for your goods, which will be refunded to you when you export the goods from Canada. Should this occur, you will be issued a Temporary Admission Permit. They will retain a copy and give you one for your records. When you leave Canada, present your goods and your copy of the Temporary Admission Permit to the border services officer, who will give you a receipt and your security deposit will be refunded by mail.
   Unless you can prove that you had them with you when you left (with documents that fully describe the item) U.S. Customs may require you to pay duty on items you've carried out of the country and are bringing back with you. Sales receipts, insurance policies, or jeweler's appraisals are acceptable forms of proof. You may register your items with U.S. Customs at the border as you are leaving. Request a Certificate of Registration. Inspectors must see the item you are registering.
     You can import gifts into Canada for friends and relatives duty free, as long as each gift is valued at $60 or less, in Canadian funds.  If you are bringing gifts to Canada, don't gift wrap them. Customs wants to see them unwrapped. If you declare to customs that you have items for sale, you will be charged sales tax on the estimated value of the items. Items for silent auction may fall under this category, but there's no hard and fast rule regarding this. 
    In 2010,  I crossed the border with a box full of plaques for Canadian conventioneers who won modelling and photography awards at the 2010 convention. Although they were going to be given to the winners and not sold to them, I still had to declare them as items purchased in the U.S., even though they were bought by the TLR and not myself. They brought me into the office, and after about 15 minutes of deliberation, they decided not to charge any sales tax on the items.
   You can bring two 750 ml bottles of wine, 40 ounces of liquor, or 24 bottles or cans of beer or ale.  You can also bring duty-free up to 200 cigarettes and 50 cigars.  You cannot bring back Cuban cigars purchased in Canada. Smoke them in Canada (if you can find a place that allows smoking, and good luck with that).   
   But you can buy quite a bit of stuff when you're in Canada, and bring it home tax and duty free. If you've been in Canada for more than 48 hours, you are allowed to bring $800US worth of goods per person back home. But keep in mind that (sadly) there are no hobby shops in Thunder Bay.
   However, there's a delicious baked delicacy exclusive to Thunder Bay known as the Persian. It is highly recommended that you try one while you're there. You might fall in love with them so much tat you'd want to bring $800 of them home with you! But watch what you say when you're crossing the border. Given the situation between Iran and the west, if you declare that you're carrying a trunk full of Persians, you might be questioned by those charming and gregarious folks at homeland security.

   All food products, plants and animals must be declared at the border. If you bring your pet, you must have a certificate to show that the animal has been vaccinated against rabies within the last three years. The certificate has to be dated and signed by a veterinarian, and it must identify the animal by breed, age, sex, coloring, and any distinguishing marks. Animal tags are not acceptable in place of certificates. If you bring a dog or cat under three months old you do not need a certificate, but the animal has to be in good health.
   All firearms and weapons must be declared at the border.You must have written authorization to bring explosives, fireworks, and certain types of ammunition into Canada.
           Check with your health insurance provider if you are covered in Canada. If not, you should buy travel health insurance for every day you're in Canada. It doesn't cost very much.
   When returning to the U.S., you must declare all items you purchased, items you received as gifts, items you bought in duty-free shops, repairs or alterations to any items, items you brought home for someone else, and items you intend to sell or use in your business.
   Many travelers are confused by the term duty-free. People think that what they buy in duty-free shops outside the U.S. won't be subject to any duty when they return home. Guess what! Articles sold in a Canadian duty-free shop are only free of CANADIAN duty and taxes. If your purchases exceed your personal exemption, items bought in a duty-free shop will be subject to duty. You are allowed to bring back just one liter of alcohol duty-free, regardless of whether it was purchased at a duty-free shop. But keep in mind that a bottle of Canadian Club is a lot cheaper in the states.
  Drugs with a high potential for abuse may not be brought across either border, and there are severe penalties for trying to do so. If you need medicine that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics, you must declare them. Carry them in their original containers, with a prescription or written statement from your doctor.
   You can exchange U.S. money for Canadian funds at any Canadian bank. They're used to doing that. It might be a bit more difficult to get Canadian money from a bank in Iowa.  
   If you're taking more than $10,000 in cash out of the USA, you will need to report it to both U.S. and Canadian customs officials. If you exchange more than $1000US for Canadian funds at any Canadian Bank of financial institution, you'll have a lot of paperwork to fill out.   
   But let's face it - for the most part, you'll be using you credit card to pay for just about everything anyway. The only time you might use cash is for tickets at the banquet's silent auction, and the ticket sellers will accept U.S. finds. 
   You can use all major credit cards in Canada. Your credit card service will convert the amount into U.S. funds on your statement. They will charge you a fee for this service, which is usually a small percentage of the amount owed.
   Most goods and services cost  more in Canada. But as of this writing, the Canadian dollar is worth 88 cents US, which means that your U.S. dollar will go a lot farther in Canada. The exchange rate changes every day, so it's impossible to predict what it will be in May, but it will most probably still be lower. Google "Canadian dollar exchange rate" before you go.
    Fill up your tank before you cross the Canadian border. Gasoline is a lot more expensive in Canada. Gasoline is sold by the litre in Canada, which is roughly one quart. So don't be fooled by the signs at Canadian gas stations! 
   Canada uses the metric system, which you only need to know about when you're driving or checking the weather. 100 km/hr is NOT the same as 100 mph! Divide everything by two-thirds. 100 km/hr is 65 mph. 50 km/hr is 33 mph. When Canadians say, "Boy, it's gonna be a hot one! It'll be 30 degrees today!", don't be alarmed. 30 degrees celsius is 86 degrees fahrenheit.
    When you reach the border, you will be asked for your reason for entering Canada. When you say, "I'm attending a model railroad convention", they'll most likely let you through without any hassle. You might even engage in a friendly conversation about model railroading with the customs official!

    But bring your paperwork anyway.

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