Tuesday, September 11, 2012

U.S.-Canadian Border Preclearance

It really was kind of odd going through Montréal to get to Atlanta.  The U.S.-Canadian border is the world's longest border between two countries.  Before the world changed on 9/11, coincidentally today is the 12th anniversary, it was possible to cross the border with just a driver's license.  Since June 2009, every traveler must have a passport in order to cross the border.

Since 1952, there has been a bilateral agreement between the USA and Canada to operate border preclearance facilities at various airports.  So you get to clear customs before you leave the country and don't have to deal with it when you arrive.  It sounded kind of neat but it wasn't exactly intuitive.

In Vienna, my bags were supposed to be checked all the way to Atlanta.  When we landed in Montréal, I had to fill out a Canadian customs arrival form and my passport was stamped "Canada Border Service Agency".  Note that this is not a normal Canadian entry stamp.

Then I had to pick up my bags and then recheck my bags to Atlanta.  After that, I then had to go through security again at border preclearance.  I presented my passport to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.  He wanted to know where I was coming from, where I was going to and what had a brought.  From Czech Republic to Atlanta and I had "two bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka".  He scanned my passport and I was cleared.  I did think that it was odd that he didn't stamp my passport.

When we landed in Atlanta we arrived at the domestic terminal which makes sense because the entire flight was precleared.  But I still had to go to the international terminal to pick up my bags although I didn't have to go through immigration or security again.

This preclearance agreement is reciprocal so Canada has the option of having its own facilities at U.S. airports.  As of 2011, Canada has not exercised this right.       

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