Crossing US Land Border With Global Entry

Even though I’ve lived in Seattle for over 18 months, I actually never made the trip to Vancouver before this past weekend. I’m not sure why, exactly. I love Vancouver, and it’s a pretty quick two hour drive to get there. Or alternatively a quick flight or scenic train ride.

Anyway, I met a few friends in Vancouver this past weekend, and decided to make the drive. While I live in hotels full time now, I figured this was as good of a time as any, as I do still have my car in Seattle. I’ll be shipping it to Florida next week, so it was my last opportunity to make a road trip.

Given my general frustration with both US and Canadian customs & immigration when flying, I figured I’d briefly share my experience driving across the border.

Crossing border into Canada (from the US)

I drove up to Vancouver on Thursday afternoon, and figured the queues would be long given that it was Easter weekend. I was kind of surprised by how short they were. There were a handful of open lanes, and each had maybe a dozen cars in it.

Canadian-Border

It’s like a toll booth — you just pull up and there’s an immigration officer in there that asks you a few questions. The questioning was actually less intrusive than when I’ve flown into Canada. I was asked:

  • Who does this car belong to?
  • Where’s your car registered?
  • How long are you staying in Canada for?
  • Where are you staying?
  • Are you meeting anyone?
  • Where are the people you’re meeting from?

And then I was sent on my way. I was kind of surprised, I figured there would be officers standing outside, checking trunks, etc. But it seemed that would only happen in the “secondary” area, which I didn’t see anyone selected for.

Anyway, it was surprisingly easy and pleasant, and the whole process (between waiting and having to slow down) took maybe 15 minutes.

Crossing border into US (from Canada)

I drove back Sunday afternoon, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the queue was really long. The signage said that it was about a 40 minute wait, but the line looked much longer (of course I don’t have a sense of how long the process takes, but the queue must have been at least a quarter of a mile long).

I have Global Entry, and I wasn’t actually sure if that meant I could use the NEXUS lane or not. The NEXUS lane is on the far right of the checkpoint, and there was no queue at all. It was downright exhilarating to drive past a quarter of a mile of parked cars at 30mph (or since I was still in Canada, I guess I should say ~48km). 😉

I was also kind of scared, since I figured I might be sent back or would get yelled at.

The NEXUS lane was kind of like a drive thru. You simply hold out your Global Entry card and point it at a scanner, which identifies you based on the chip in the card.

Then it tells you to proceed forward to the window, where there’s an immigration officer. To say that he was focused on efficiency would be the understatement of the year. He barked his orders/questions (both in terms of volume and aggressiveness/assertiveness):

“GLASSES OFF.”
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
“Seattle.”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE?”
“I live there.”
“BYE. GO.”

Whole thing took maybe five seconds.

I’m not kidding when I say that I got a rush out of the whole thing. Remember when Pre-Check was first a thing, and you couldn’t help but giggle at the excitement of it all, especially when they opened it up to the masses? Yeah, well I couldn’t help but get the same rush out of this.

Bottom line on crossing the border into Canada

Not only is the drive incredibly scenic, but I was surprised by just how easy the border crossing was. I had a blast in Vancouver, and actually had two hotel experiences that I think may both be the best I’ve had in North America. Stay tuned for those shortly!

Have you driven across the border between the US and Canada, and if so, what was your experience?

Comments

  1. I live in Pennsylvania, so when I drive across using Nexus, they seem surprised. They always ask if my front plate is “official” and I have to explain Pennsylvania does not have front plates on passenger cars. Then they *always* ask me why I have Nexus. Otherwise, it is great to pass that huge long line of cars….

  2. All the time. At Niagara Falls there is actually a separate bridge crossing that is *only* for Nexus. I think I have waited for one car there at most. Once I did not even get to stop the car before I was waved through!

    I have been pulled into secondary once, which was very unpleasant, but otherwise all good.

    PS, I have NEXUS proper.

  3. I live in Vancouver, have Nexus and drive to Bellingham to fill up the car and get groceries at Costco about twice a month, as everything is so much cheaper across the border. Usually, when crossing the border from Canada into US, there is no wait in the Nexus lines, or maybe 1-2 minutes max. The dialogue is usually this:

    -Bye!

    Rarely:

    -Where are you going?
    -Bellingham.
    -Bye!

    Going back to Canada:

    -Anything to declare?
    -Groceries, $200.
    -Bye!

  4. Out of curiosity why ship your car to Florida when you can drive it there? Along with the rest of your stuff 😉

  5. Crossing the border as an American has been nothing but simple going to America. Going to Canada I get questioned but not overly questioned. One time I stupidly said something I shouldn’t and I was brought to secondary but it all worked out fine. I just got my nexus card though and I’m ready to use it!

  6. Crossing here out east NEXUS is a little less helpful. I learned the hard way that crossing from Canada into the US over I-91 (Vermont) backs up pretty well into the 2 hour range on the weekends, and there is no NEXUS lane.

    On the other hand, CBP here are generally pretty nice. Last exchange went like this.

    “Hi. Where are you from?”
    “Maine.”
    “Where are you coming from?”
    “Montreal. Weekend trip.”
    “How long will you be staying in the US? Wait, you live here. OK, have a good day.”
    “Thanks!”

  7. Its interesting that you could use the NEXUS lanes going into Canada if you only have Global Entry. Its my understanding that you cannot do that when flying into Canada.

    The reverse is true though. I always use my Global Entry card to go through the priority security lanes for Canadian airport security and have never had a problem.

  8. We live within 15 minutes on the U.S. and NEXUS/Global Entry was one of the best investments we ever made.

    We think nothing of zipping up across the border for an Asian lunch in Richmond.

  9. If traveling as a family, does everyone in the vehicle need to have Global Entry to enter the NEXUS lane? thanks.

  10. When using the NEXUS lane with Global Entry, does it matter if there are non global entry people in the car with you?

  11. Border crossings by car in Europe (EU/EEA/Schengen) is so easy, probably easier than the Nexus lane 😉 It’s like driving from one US state to another.

  12. @ Lucky – I think it should be “based on the chip in the card”.

    A couple of relevant entries from Global Entry FAQ:

    Q:How are Global Entry cards used?
    A:CBP accepts Global Entry cards for lawful U.S. entry at land and sea ports of entry. Global Entry cards have radio frequency identification, which enables their use at SENTRI and NEXUS expedited travel lanes entering the U.S. Global Entry cards are not valid for entry into Canada via the NEXUS lanes and kiosks. Global Entry cards are not accepted at Global Entry kiosks, which require passports or U.S. lawful permanent resident cards. Global Entry card holders must follow all program rules for SENTRI and NEXUS when using this card at land and sea ports of entry.

    Q:How do I register my vehicle before using the Global Entry card in NEXUS lanes?
    A:There are no additional requirements for a member to use the NEXUS lanes coming into the U.S. However, Global Entry cards are not valid for entry into Canada via the NEXUS lanes and kiosks; travelers must apply separately for NEXUS.

  13. My crossings have varied. When I drive in through the East coast to get to Montreal, it is quick and easy. When I go through Vancouver it as frustrating as flying into the country. Pulled into secondary with backpacks and business material reviewed. Rude treatment. The East coast couldn’t be nicer.

    Am I the only one that doesn’t have an actual card as a Global Entry member? I scan my passport at the airport but never received a actual card. I have a Sentri card but not Global Entry.

  14. Lucky – random question unrelated to global entry. How are you shipping your car? We are moving across the country this year and we are trying to figure out what to do with our car. I would love to hear about what company you opted for.

  15. @ Ray — if you applied in the last three years, you should’ve gotten the card. If you got GE earlier, this is what the FAQ says:

    Q: I have been a member since before July 12, 2011. How can I obtain a Global Entry card?
    A: Global Entry members who joined prior to July 12, 2011, may request a Global Entry card via their Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account for a $15 fee. Login to your GOES account and click on the “Manage Membership” button. Next, click on the “Request for Global Entry Card” button. Finally, complete the application and pay the $15 fee.

    Hope this helps!

  16. @ Franklyn / Ed / Colin McHale – Do note that Lucky used GE to go into US. Having a GE membership does _not_ entitle to use the Nexus lane going into Canada. For going into US, sure; however, everyone in the car must have their RFID cards.

  17. Slightly off topic, but flew DL NRT-JFK yesterday, and on the plane, they announced none of the US citizens had to fill out the form – they could all use kiosks. Which they said was different than GE. I’m GE, so I don’t know how much better/faster the non-GE kiosk experience was, but I thought it was interesting – just like TSA Pre now, that people who didn’t pay in to GE seem to be getting similar benefits.

  18. For the drive back into the US with global entry card and nexus lane, does the car have to be registered with global entry or it doesn’t matter?

  19. i haven’t crossed by road into canada since pre-9/11 but sheesh, the last time i did (via Cornwall, ON) i was given the third degree and had my car basically taken apart by suspicious border guards. (tires and seats removed)

    not a pleasant experience although they were very polite!

  20. @Franklyn

    Just to clear up misconception

    GlobalEntry (US program only)
    NBEXUS (US/CAN JOINT program)

    If you ONLY have GlobalEntry and you are going INTO Canada, you CANNOT use the Nexus lane

    Also, everyone in your vehicle MUST have eithe NEXUS / GE depending on the direction you travel.

    NEXUS is a most strict program since it involves getting background checks from both side of the boarder, but it include GlobalEntry benefits (http://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/nexus/global-entry-kiosks), which also means you get PreCheck

    GlobalEntry is US only, and it gets you PreCheck, but DOES NOT get you Nexus by default.

    Nexis is $50, GE is $100. It is cheaper to get NEXUS, BUT if you have Amex Plat, it doesn’t refund you, It does refund GE.

  21. @ Neil S. — those kiosks are part of a pilot program (at least, it was a pilot program as of Nov. 2013) but it’s restricted to US citizens (Global Entry isn’t). When I flew into ORD last year, it was before I had GE and because there were more of those kiosks, I went through faster than people with GE 😛

    P.S. If I recall correctly, the kiosk doesn’t require a fingerprint like GE.

  22. Thx. The way I understood the article I thought he used GE on his way into Canada…no the lines were just short and simple.

  23. @Lucky,
    Now that you are living in hotels, when you are asked at Immigration where you live, what do you say?

  24. I take it those of us that are non-US citizens with GE aren’t allowed to use these priority lanes when driving from Canada to the US given we don’t have GE RFID cards? (it’s all just linked to passport number for airport GE)

  25. Is there a particular credit card you’d recommend we carry when crossing the border? 😉

    (Just jokin. This was one of the more helpful posts.)

  26. As a follow-up question, I see a person on foot in your photo. Do you think that person walked across the border?

  27. I live about an hour from the border, though I rarely drive there (or anywhere) because of course I’d rather be flying. However, I’ve done the 3h drive to SYR a couple times to save money on flights and also done ski trips to VT.

    In general, I’ve found the questioning on both sides of the border to be easier by car than by air. (But maybe I’m just less self-conscious about it because driving a few hours for the weekend is perceived to be much more “normal” than flying 2,500 miles to the west coast for the weekend).

    The strangest question I’ve had was from US CBP. They asked me if I’ve ever been fingerprinted. I’m not sure if it was a random question or if he saw that my prints are on file. (The answer is yes – both electronically for Global Entry and old fashioned ink for security clearance for a Canadian government contract).

  28. @ Frank Winston — Interestingly there’s actually a park in the area, so there were a lot of people walking around. Kind of surprised me.

  29. I drove into Canada last year and felt interrogated. I was there visiting some friends and family on a short layover, but the agent I had was incredibly interested in the last time I visited these friends and family and especially interested in my job (if I had a job, what I did, whom I worked for, and when I was going back to work, etc.). She thought it was really strange for someone from Texas to be up north…

    Also, I have no idea where my GE card is. I am living abroad now and interviewed with GE before my flight out of the country in the fall. When I went back over the holidays, I never saw an envelope with it. Do I need it for anything in particular since you just scan your passport at the kiosk?

  30. Please note that your experience is not universal. Last weekend I attempted to use my GE card to use the NEXUS lane from Canada to the US – based on your experience above – when returning from Vancouver, and was sent to the secondary inspection office. The officer I spoke to there explained exactly the opposite of what you experienced – only NEXUS members can use the NEXUS lane, Global Entry members without NEXUS must use the main line. Took about 30 minutes for them to inspect my vehicle, after which I was sent on my way.

  31. Global Entry members may use the NEXUS lanes when entering the U.S. via land from Canada if they are in possession of a Global Entry card. However, Global Entry members (who are not members of NEXUS) may not enter Canada through a NEXUS lane.

    I’ve done the crossing in Vancouver–> U.S in the Nexus lane with only Global Entry Membership without issue 1 year ago. I think you probably got an agent who didn’t know that.

  32. How are Global Entry cards used?
    http://www.cbp.gov/global-entry/faqs

    CBP accepts Global Entry cards for lawful U.S. entry at land and sea ports of entry. Global Entry cards have radio frequency identification, *****which enables their use at SENTRI and NEXUS expedited travel lanes entering the U.S.***** Global Entry cards are not valid for entry into Canada via the NEXUS lanes and kiosks. Global Entry cards are not accepted at Global Entry kiosks, which require passports or U.S. lawful permanent resident cards. Global Entry card holders must follow all program rules for SENTRI and NEXUS when using this card at land and sea ports of entry.

  33. If I’m riding my bike across the border (back and forth) do I need my passport, or is the Global Entry card sufficient?

  34. There does not see, to been any information to indicate if the GE card can be used to enter Canada via the normal lanes not the NEXUS lanes.

  35. Sunday June 5, 2016 Sault Ste. Marie border crossing. I asked the Canadian border official if the Global Entry Card would allow entrance into Canada. His answer was yes. It is logical that a Golbal Entry Card would not be issued without a valid passport.

  36. I am visiting Seattle, from San Diego. I hold a Sentri card, it’s in my wallet now. I left my passpord home. Will the Sentri card be sufficient to enter Canada?

  37. When I got paper with instructions for my Global entry program when I got approved, it said Global Entry card is not valid by itself to enter into Canada or Mexico

    Now for those travelling by air, there is another expedited form of entry into the US which is free – Mobile Passport Control. You just download a CBP app to your smartphone, and register your passport. As long as your are US or Canadian passport holder you can use it.

  38. How do I register my vehicle before using the Global Entry card in NEXUS lanes?

    There are no additional requirements for a member to use the NEXUS lanes coming into the U.S. However, Global Entry cards are not valid for entry into Canada via the NEXUS lanes and kiosks; travelers must apply separately for NEXUS.

  39. My wife and I both have Global Entry cards, but my 2 children (10 and 14 yrs old) do not. Can we use NEXUS lane from Vancouver Canada to US?

  40. I know Global Entry cards are not valid for entry into Canada via the NEXUS lanes. Are they valid for entry in the non-NEXUS lanes, or do you need your passport to enter Canada?

  41. I had a ridiculous interaction with a border agent returning to WA (where I live) from Vancouver. He was extremely suspicious and repeatedly asked me, in increasing disbelief, why a single woman would actually GO ON VACATION ALONE. Folks, I’m 60 years old. It’s not like I was working as an “escort” up there. Jeez. What century are those people living in?

  42. I’m amazed at some of poor reading comprehension from the folks in the comments. Lucky clearly states he went thru the “Regular” queue going into Canada, and utilized his GE card going into the US.

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