RV TRAVEL TO THE USA -
is a long story but it is loaded with info.
Travels during our 25 years
Recently both the
Explorer RV Club office and I have received several questions
from new RVers requesting details about travel to the south and
what is involved to be a Snowbird. Specifically they inquired
how to find campgrounds, what to expect at the border, medical
coverage required plus a barrage of general concerns. Well,
we’re happy to relay that crossing the
border in an RV between Canada and United States of America
generally continues to be hassle-free. The following info should
put the fears of Newbie’s to rest and act as a review for
and I have been Fulltiming Snowbirds for the past 25 years. As a
result we’ve crossed the border in an RV well over 100 times.
Important points of what we have learned are highlighted below.
All RVers must now carry a ‘PASSPORT’ – fees
are less than a $100. – good for 5-years. Applications are
available from any local Post Office. Service is faster if you
appear in person at a Passport Office than it is when using the
mail. Try to apply early because delays do occur. A ‘NEXUS’
card works similar to a Passport. However the new embedded ‘Provincial
Drivers Licence’ may function well for those driving
across the border, but they will not allow a return by air in an
emergency. A Passport or a Nexus card is a necessity to travel
CHILDREN too should have a Passport, but there are
provisions in place if a group of juveniles cross the border on
an excursion. Most important, when children are travelling with
only one parent or with you when they are not your own, be sure
to carry a letter of permission from the (other) parent(s) or
guardian(s) – include what actions you’re authorized to take
in a medical emergency.
Limit FOOD – diseases that prohibit certain
foods change by the day. Rules too continuously change, but red
meat, chicken, citrus – even eggs and potatoes can be
questioned at times – pet food too.
Non restricted food and necessities required for
personal RV use are generally never questioned.
As a result, John and I choose to cross the border
without meat of ANY kind in our freezer. Our first stop
in the USA is at a Wall*Mart Supercenter. We do carry some
canned food and some frozen meals for emergencies – both
packaged in the USA – no guarantee these may not be on the
watch list when you cross.
PET FOOD may also be questioned because of
ingredients referred to as 'by-products'. It’s not wise to
stock up with a winter supply. However many times such food is
never questioned. NOTE:
I’ve been told that unopened packages or cans of Pet Food
clearly marked 'MADE IN USA' may not be confiscated; but
I can’t verify that fact.
For an accurate description of what food
is allowed - call US
Customs officials at 1-703-526-4200 – listen to prompts and
press 3 for a 5-minute voice message and/or ‘0’ to talk to a
real person or (if in USA, call 1-877-CUSTOMS). The voice
message spells out details of what you can and cannot take
across the border. This list changes constantly, so no one rule
NOTE 1: Many
Gov’t phone numbers frequently change without notice.
NOTE 2: Those with specific questions can call the
Cdn customs check-point you plan to use (obtain # from 411) and
ask for the phone number of the agents in USA. For direct
access to a customs agent for general info – call
1-506-636-5064 (St John, NB) or 1-204-983-3500 (Winnipeg, MB).
TIPS REFERENCE BORDER CROSSINGS
*** Take off Sunglasses so the agents
can see your eyes.*** Use the ‘car lanes’ unless your
mirrors are extra wide and you can’t drive thru. If that’s
the case, it may be wise to park and discuss where to cross
with an agent. Many
crossings points now include a wider ‘RV Lane’. Try to
avoid the ‘Truck Lanes’.
When asked where you are from – always relay your official
home address you have established for taxes, census, voting,
provincial medical, drivers licence etc.
Answer only questions asked – never volunteer additional
information. General details are already on their computer
once they search your licence plate.
NEVER relay you are a Fulltimer, OR that you’ll be working
in the USA – even as a volunteer to build Habitat for
Humanity houses, or to present a seminar like I do.
Follow the rule to be in your home country longer than you
visit another country each calendar year – at times agents
use your travel year i.e. 20 Oct 2010 to 20 Oct 2011.
A new request from agent’s last April – they wanted
registration for both vehicles.
One more new question from agents; “When were you last in
Carry Rx’s in original containers – ensure each is clearly
identified complete with comprehensive pharmacy labels. If you
use syringes, be sure to carry evidence of their usage. If
possible, use the same suggestions for your Pet Rx meds too.
Emergency repairs are allowed but although one new tire
replacement may be accepted, all four may be suspect –
expect to pay taxes and possible duty for extras.
Everyone should subscribe to an ERS program that is solely
designed for RVers.
Recently some RVers had to exit their fifth wheel while it was
x-rayed with a special machine. while crossing the
border. They had to stand outside and when the x-rays
were developed they were allowed to leaving. Technology
is changing. Just be prepared
Sniffer dogs are common at the border. They walk beside RVs
Canadian Driver Licenses are legal in the USA as is your
If you are transporting expensive ‘toys’ in your RV, it is
wise to carry the bill of sale with you – not for heading
south, but for your return to Canada.
SEARCHES do occur. but very seldom.
Your RV is nothing more than a suitcase at the border.
If a search happens you will be expected to repack all storage
pods just like you do if your bags are searched at an airport.
may also be asked to leave your RV during the search – it is
possible to ask for two officials to inspect together. If they
are busy, expect to wait for an extended period. If you
feel you have been mistreated, ask how to access the second
and third level – there is a chain of command for complaints
at the border, Completion of the entire process could continue
after you leave. Some RVers are uncomfortable leaving their
valuables behind during a search;
so they pack them in a small case to take with them. Of
course officials will want to inspect these as well.
Be certain to buy Out-Of-Country HEALTH INSURANCE
before you leave. It is also recommended to buy
Out-Of-Province medical as well.
Sanderson’s Travel Insurance (see info in the RV
gazette) is a great place to start, but many RVers shop
different companies to find one that applies to individual
health concerns. Contact me for additional options.
I DECLARE booklet explains in detail what you can bring
Presently on return to Canada after 24-Hours ---$50.00; after more than
48-Hours--- $400.00 and over 7-Days it goes up to $750.00.
explanation of what you can bring home www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications/
Since these figures may
change check it out. It is not possible for persons to join allotments together to
cover large purchases but children do have allotments as long as the
purchase is for items for their benefit.
Additional Tobacco/Alcohol quantities are permissible if you
agree to pay costly extras (duty – plus taxes).
I once poured 4-litres of wine down the drain because
the duty was so high.
of the following)...
1.14 litres/40 oz
OR 1.5 litres/53 oz
OR 24-beer (12
oz/355 millilitres – maximum of 8.5 ltr)
Home made wine may/may not be allowed.
It will be up to the agent.
TOBACCO (All or any of these are allowed if are over
AND 50 cigars or
AND 7 oz – loose
AND 200 tobacco
1: Possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence.
2: Pepper spray, Mace and/or any
spray that can be used against
humans is considered a weapon in Cda – only rarely
will the agent ask if you have any.
PET TRAVEL – Pets are welcome in most parks
– even exotic species. See
reference to a complex Pet Story in the Sidebar. Campground
Directories also list parks where pets are/are not accepted. Vets
and Pet Stores are located everywhere. RVers should carry a recent
‘Statement Of Health’ from your vet – also request a 3-yr
rabies shot (w/expiry date); two months before your trip.
See Also Travel with Pets
MAIL in Canada is no different than
in the USA, but mail does take longer to navigate across the
border. Family, friends or a business can look after your mail,
however we subscribe to an annual PO Box at a UPS Store. The staff
will forward our mail when we request it for a small fee plus
postage. Through an RV Club, we also have a USA Mail Forwarding
address set up. Forwarded mail by Air Mail from USA to Canada
usually takes from 7-10 days, but we allow for 14 – 21 when
occasionally; Air Mail from Canada to USA has taken up to 23-days
to reach us. Now when we send mail south to north we use ‘Global
Priority Mail’ in the USA - (slated for 4-7 business
days). From north to south ‘International
Express Post’ in Canada uses a similar time frame –
again, we allow 7-days. Express Post within Canada is similar to
Priority Post in the USA and takes the same amount of time –
CB’S AND CELL PHONES work
great for International use. However it is more economical to
subscribe to a US cell phone plan if you plan to travel
extensively in the USA. There
are many great plans to choose from: from Verizon.com data
packages to T-Mobile
cell plans - simply search for the best option to fit your needs
You will require an American address for
billing purposes. We have been with Verizon for 8+ years. To use
your USA cell phone package in Canada, be sure to apply for a
Canadian ‘rider’ to be added to your ‘one-rate – no
roaming style’ plan – it’s usually an inexpensive option.
Most Canadian/USA cellular companies have International agreements
for voice calls with all larger cell carriers in both countries – however on
some plans roaming fees can add up. We simply feel a USA cell plan
offers many more benefits for much lower outlay.
US/Cdn cell companies such as Verizon or Bell, sell ‘Internet
Sticks’ or ‘Aire Cards’ for computer high speed.
These work wherever a cell does. But the contract does not
generally travel across the border, so you’ll need a separate
one to use in the country where you’re travelling.
Yours may not allow the contract to be put on vacation,
which means you could end up paying for two plans.
Limited usage begins at 500kb.
FYI Many RV parks feature WiFi but the service is still
spotty at best. John and I use an easy to set-up ‘Hughes.net
Internet Satellite Dish’ – contact me for details. For
convenience we recently added ‘Tethering’ access to our
Verizon cell phone
while in the USA. Service can be ‘by the month’ or stop and
start – ‘on demand’. Roaming is very costly to use this
system in Canada but it is a great supplement to park WiFi
‘Express Vu’ and ‘Star Choice (Now Shaw Direct)’ are
popular with RVers. However
there is NO support with EXPRESS VU. If they know you are
using their system south of the border Bell will cut you off. In
the extreme southern stopping spots we also lose 20-30 channels
that the Bell satellite footprint will not bring in.
STAR CHOICE (Shaw Direct) on the other hand will function
all the way to South America and support is available. We recently
switched to Shaw but set-up is a bit more complex due to the oval
dish. So far we are happy with it.
GAS AND FUEL
Cdn Imperial gallon equals 4.546 litres –
U.S. gallon equals 3.785 litres.
easy formula to convert Gas/Fuel...
US cost X 3.78 (litres per US gal) X $1.xx? (daily 3-digit
A CAMPGROUND IN THE SOUTH
Year after year many RVers return to their favourite utopia
in the sunny south. Although for those new to this lifestyle and
those of us who like to move around; determining where to go each
winter can become a major decision.
The choice is so vast and deciding where to spend three to
six months of our valuable RV travel time away from the cold does
take a bit of planning. Some
RVers just point their RV and stop when it does – others like us
prefer to prepare for what’s ahead.
Those searching for warm weather should try to stay below the
horizontal plane of Orlando, Florida – east to west. Many places
above or near this line can be quite cool in January and February
– depending on the elevation, the low temp levels vary. Frequently
over the winter in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, we put up
with 2-3 chilly weeks. Those venturing to beach areas such a South
Padre Island, TX, should be aware the wind may be fierce in the
valley as well as in other snowbird destinations – blowing sand is
not beneficial to RV paint surfaces.
Winter 2008/09 wind was not a huge problem.
The incredible white sugar sandy beaches on the Florida Pan
Handle are a joy to visit – in November or in March.
This area too can be cold quite cold during January and
February. San Antonio,
Texas, Branson, MO and many other hotspots are quite hypnotic in the
late fall and early spring; but very cold during mid winter months.
It is much the same in the southwest – if warm weather is
important find a spot as far south as you can go.
RVers leaving or arriving in Canada during cold winter
climate will find a number of campgrounds en route closed for the
No real problem because Truck Stops
such as Flying J (w/separate
RV parking in front of restaurant), TA Truckstops of America and
many others welcome RVers to rest overnight.
Most Wal*Mart’s (stores are listed in back of a W*M Atlas)
plus some Cracker Barrel Restaurants also allow ‘sleep stops’.
Other than at a Truck Stop it’s wise to always ask
permission, because some county bylaws prohibit overnight RV
parking. NEVER ‘set-up camp’ with chairs, BBQ and unnecessary
slides etc., nor should you stay for extended days. Reference
security – ALWAYS park with your door facing the cameras and the
people – not the grassy area. NOTE: We place the ‘FOB –
w/alarm’ from our car keys along with our cell
phone by our bed for emergency contact.
It’s never a smart idea to overnight at
quiet peaceful remote highway rest area.
They are not the
safest place to sleep. One other point all RVers should be aware of
– to run your furnace, you do need to be plugged into a receptacle
or run a generator. If
not, the blower will deplete your batteries. During cold climates
some RVers pull into a hotel/motel parking lot – usually for a
small fee hotels/motels will allow you to plug into the car electric
Every RVer should carry one of several available 4”
International Campground Directories such as Woodall’s or Trailer
Life, plus the Explorer RV Campground Directory as well as local
state and provincial directories available from Tourist Bureaus.
These pinpoint large, small, popular, out of the way and/or little
known campgrounds. They’re
easy to read – we only update ours every couple of years.
Look for a winter getaway in a specific state or area –
with features that appeal to your desires. Remember you are
shopping from a distance, so ask many questions. If you find a
campground you think you may like to stay at, request they send
you a promo package. While
talking to tourism of any state, be sure to ask for a travel
guide, a map and camping info. Also inquire about National Parks,
State Parks and BML (most BML are no cost/low cost dry-camping
areas w/o hook-ups). Economical annual permits are available for
All RVers should join one or more RV Clubs such as the
Canada’s Explorer RV Club, FMCA (motorhomes only), Good Sam,
Escapees, plus others. Take part in their annual
Rallies/Conventions and sit in on the informative seminars.
Discount Clubs like Passport America (join through Explorer RV
Club)-50%, Happy Camper-50%, Recreation USA 10% and/or 25%, etc.
help to stretch your camping dollars. FYI most member parks do
have blackout time periods when they do not honour discounts.
However by staying more than 4-nights per year, discounts earned
will cover your annual dues’ – camping savings begin with
future stops. Information gleaned from RV Club magazines and the
fellowship gained by attending Club Rallies or joining Chapters is
what makes this lifestyle so enjoyable.
John and I recently discovered the wonders of CASINO
CAMPING HOT SPOTS.
Many Casinos offer discounts to members of various RV Clubs
– parks are beautiful complete with every amenity as well as
easy access by foot or by shuttle transport to the Casinos. RV
Park rates are very reasonable. Those who don’t wish to be in
the RV Park can also overnight in the parking lot.
Several books are published highlighting Casino locations
in the USA. If
travelling in Canada, Google ‘Casino locations for a specific
province’ and contact the individual casino for their overnight
RV parking procedures.
SUN RV RESORTS PARKS - Sunrvresorts.com are
located in south Florida (8) and south Texas (3).
For winter of
2010/11 they offer very economical monthly rates (except
Feb) of $189 + $60-$100 resort fee – which covers hydro costs. Check
their website for details. These are great parks and a perfect
spot to spend a week or a month while you look around.
John and I do not travel with a GPS – we have been doing
this for so long that old habits take a long time to change.
However a few years ago we discovered the trip planning
site of Freetrip.com.
This easy to use website provides an individual
‘TripTic’ with distances in miles and/or km plus step by step
directions to your destination.
Route is more accurate if you request short distances –
such as a normal day’s drive from Ottawa to Trenton – rather
than a complex route from Vancouver to Toronto or Ontario to
Now its time to pack your RV and head out to have
some fun. Most of all,
travel safe and stay away from those ‘Gaters (shredded tires)’
and ‘Orange Barrels (construction)’. It is time to enjoy this
Freedom Lifestyle as a Snowbird. P&J
Links to this story
Guidelines for minors http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/minors/minors_834.html
800-567-6868 / 819-997-8338
Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) www.inspection.gc.ca
CONTACT: (West) 1-888-732-6222 or 1-604-666-9240; (Central) 1-800-835-4486
or 1-416-661-3039; (East) 1-877-493-0468 or 1-514-493-0468.
Customs - www.cpb.gov
about Residency and Med Insurance www.rvliving.net/MedicalRequirements.htm
Pet Travel story www.rvliving.net\TraveltoUSA-pettravel.htm
NEXUS CARD info –
Flying J Truck Stops –
www.flyingj.com 1 800 438
RV Resorts. – www.sunrvresorts.com
Planning Tool – www.freetrip.com
Links to Discount Camping Clubs