I recently discovered you can cross the border into the U.S. without passports and with booze and fruit in the car.
But to avoid this, don’t shut off your GPS if you haven’t driven through Osoyoos in 30 years.
My wife and I were on our way back to the Island from the Okanagan and I wanted to take Highway 3 instead of the Coquihalla. We saw the sign in Osoyoos to go east to Castlegar, but nothing pointing west, so I kept driving straight. A short time later we encountered a sign saying we’re entering the U.S. and we didn’t see a U-turn. I said, “No big deal. The guys at the border will help us out when we tell them what happened.”
Moments later, a U.S. customs agent recites a script of questions he seemed incapable of deviating from.
“Actually we’re trying to turn around back into Canada, we missed our turn to Vancouver.”
“No, we weren’t intending to cross the border.”
I hand over our driver’s licences.
I hand him our little green cards with the QR codes.
“Do you have any liquor in the car?”
“Yes. We’re not supposed to be here.”
“Any cannabis, weapons in the car?”
“Roll down your back window for me.” (Glances inside. Sees cooler, but apparently no cannabis or weapons.)
“Did you stop at the duty-free store?”
“What? No. We’re not supposed to be here.”
The Osoyoos border crossing that day – maybe most days – seemed devoid of human life except for us and border security people, at least three of whom jumped on their computers to do background checks on us. Minutes later, Agent Strange, according to his name patch, asks, “So, when was the last time you intentionally crossed the border?”
It was the answer he was looking for, I guess, because he handed back our licences and said, “Hey, Chris, you were born in Los Angeles and you’re all vaccinated. You know you’re welcome to come and go anytime, right?”
Strange said pre-pandemic they’d get at least one car an hour that missed the turn and ended up at the border. We said, there’s no sign. We’d have to talk to the Canadians about that, he said, and handed us a yellow slip to give to the CBSA people next door – the Canadian and U.S. border services in Osoyoos share the same building with a wall between them – and said to get back into Canada we’ll likely have to set up the ArriveCan app and that’ll probably be more hassle than dealing with him.
We made a U-turn and explained our situation to a CBSA agent who asked us much the same questions his American counterpart had, handed us instructions on how to set up the ArriveCan app, had us pull into a parking stall to set up the app, and told us to go inside the office if we need help. About 90 seconds later, we went inside for help.
I did make a comment to a young CBSA officer filling out forms to get us back into Canada that this could be an episode on the Border Security TV series. He kind of grimaced and said, “This just isn’t that interesting.”
(Well, maybe it’s just part of the background noise to you, buddy, but you’re not standing on this side of the counter.)
Nobody confiscated our liquor or fruit and we arrived at Tsawwassen in time for our ferry to Duke Point.
Two days later my wife received a call from ‘Toll Free Serv.’ Because we’d visited the U.S., she’d been selected for random COVID testing.