Crossing a Border

by {"name"=>"Aaron Gustafson", "uri"=>"", "twitter"=>"AaronGustafson", "googleplus"=>"AaronGustafson"} on 23 February 2017

If you travel abroad for work, you may have some concerns about border crossings, based on recent news coverage. I know I do. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve been researching quite a bit and asking for opinions and recommendations. Below is a summary of the advice I’ve been given. I’m providing it here in case it might be of use to you.

Full disclosure: I have been held at a border before. I was entering Canada to lead a training for a client and did not have the necessary visa. My passport was taken and I was escorted to a holding area. It was terrifying, but ultimately ended up okay—I paid for the visa and entered Canada without any further incident. I realized, once I had a few minutes to gather myself, that I was moved to the holding area to enable the border officers to expedite processing of the other passengers. It was triage, nothing personal against me. Once I realized that, my nerves calmed down a bit. Still… it’s not something I’d like to repeat. I realize some of you reading this may have had much worse experiences at a border. Being a white male, I know I’m far less likely to be searched, questioned, etc. I’m sharing my story not to diminish any experience you have had, but merely to provide a little background about my experience in relation to this topic.

The information below outlines the rights of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under federal law. It applies whether you are a U.S. citizen or not. Other countries may vary, but I suspect most exercise similar rights.

Regardless of your thoughts on how the U.S. or other countries handle things at the border, the law is the law. If you are seeking to cross a border (even your own), you’re subject to that law. I am not saying this because I agree with everything we in the U.S. or other nations do, but I sincerely believe you will do more good advocating for changes to border policy with the politicians who write the laws than with the Officer whose lane you happened to find yourself in.

One additional note: Most border protection agencies do have comment forms you can use to provide feedback about your experience. Regardless of whether you are permitted entry to the country, you should file a report if you feel you have been mistreated by an Officer. Similarly, if you had a particularly helpful and courteous Officer, consider using the same form to praise their behavior or attitude; that’s probably not the kind of feedback they get often and would likely be much appreciated.

Further Reading


Many thanks to Rachel Nabors, who had a terrible experience at the UK border a while back, for providing some excellent feedback on this piece. Her insights were invaluable and her tips regarding the travel wallet and notebook & crayon were fantastic!

  1. Make sure your travel wallet doesn’t have a long strap or, if it does, make sure it’s detachable. Some Officers might view the strap as a potential weapon and use it as an excuse to relieve you of your wallet too.