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Hi Guys, along the line that Ride Far suggested, Jay Leno is quite famous and a bike rider to boot. As someone who has been a regular visitor to the US for many years both before and after 9/11, in my opinion the attitude of the land border security staff towards visitors has changed for the worse. Calling me "sir" counts as being polite only if it is meant that way and as a military veteran with 35yrs service, I know when it is just said and when it is polite. As first impessions do count for a lot perhaps a revision of their basic people skills course is required and also getting rid of the night club bouncer look would also help, shaven head and dark sun specs communicate the opposite impression of a friendly welcome to visitors. I know that almost all US citizens are nice friendly people, so maybe Leno could help propagate that fact by speaking to some politicos that he gets on his show about tuning some of the new intake and helping moto travellers fulfil their dreams. I am old enough to remember the East Europe border guards and I do not need reminding what border crossings were like then. Ride safe.
Hi to all who have been following this thread or who wish to cross the Can-US border for future caution,
Apologies for the delay in getting back online. As you can imagine, we have been very busy with this situation. I have put more info on an american forum, ExPo. Let me cut, paste & edit some of what I wrote so you can read the progress and conclusion of the event (below - apologies for the length, have tried to cut through a bit, and possibly the language, French is my mothertongue).
Unfortunately, we cannot draw any lessons from the experience. It seems we were victims of the current security situation in the US. This maybe can help future overlanders to be extra cautious and remember that the US is tightening its borders, at the very least.
Thank you once more for your messages and advice. I want to assure you that we had all paperwork in hand, including visa, temp imports and carnet file ready to be validated.
Now this is the update.
We did make the ball roll on the political and influence/contact side of things.
1) The US consulate cannot get involved as they have no power over the prerogative of border agents. Non-immigrant visas would not bring us any closer.
2) No news the US embassy in London (got in touch with our local member of parliament who contacted them, but no replies).
3) Some kindly managed to get in touch with influential people in the US. The US embassy in Ottawa worked with congressman and senators to look at our files - sadly, from the records in the border patrol's database. Nothing can be done. I don't know if we can go any higher up.
Let me paraphrase: "Unfortunately, there is consensus across the board that our current situation has a lot of “red flags” that even in their eyes, looks suspicious … most of which we already knew:
- Because we no longer have a permanent place of residence, we no longer have a secured tie to a home country
- The deed to our London flat doesn’t help in any capacity mainly because neither of us have jobs or any other viable reason to return to London
- We tried to enter the country in a car outfitted with sleeping capacity plus all our personal belongings
- We had a visa waiver which yes, “legally” allows a 90-day visit but when paired with other “red flags”, it actually serves as another “red flag” to immigration services and border patrols because it's a "fast pass" access
- And unfortunately, the biggest problem is that we attempted to enter the country from different borders within a 48 hour period (on advice of the first border agent to try again in two hours or at another border)".
= It is thus advised that we do not attempt ground entry to the US… especially in our vehicle with all of our belongings.
It seems to me that we have tried all we could and pulled most strings. It also seems that the main issue isn't being dealt with, ie why were we asked these documents in the first place (when we had all other relevant documents, that they did not even want to see)? We are starting to believe that there is more to this, mainly John is thinking of profiling. This is a scary thought.
4) Another attempt:
We received kind offers from fellow travellers, Canadian and American, to drive our car across the border. The car is registered in John's name in the UK. No one can drive the car through unless it is registered in their names, in fact people who hired cars had issues when we were there. The vehicle registration document is the only paper the border officer asked for, along with the passport, so they have all this in their database. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the plate number in their camera and database.
The vehicle was temporarily imported into Canada for six months, with the obligation to bring it out of the country once this time has expired. We have until 21 Dec (so does John).
5) & 6) Our last hopes were tied to the complaint letters to the border superintendent and the complaint directly with the DHS Homeland Security. It seemed essential for us to have our records set straight. (we have to find direct flights and cargoes to South America for the moment). After not hearing back from neither, we called the border once more. Surprisingly, we could no longer reach their direct line. Only way we got through was using skype/public line. We were then told the letter had been received, but they would not write anything in our file, nor would they admit a mistake by one of their border agent (who told us to try again, and this despite the fact that the manager agreed this was a mistake and the officer would get told off). The online DHS TRIP form to redress files did not go very far either. We have sent our complaint both by email and post. They said they have never received our email (although we re-sent several times) and we just got the envelop back from the post saying the DHS address was wrong...
Suffice to say, we were both deeply saddened by the results. We have tried all avenues and can only be patient and wait for the decision that will be right for us to happen at the right time. The only avenue we did not visit is the media as we are not convinced it would have changed the decision of the border officials to clear our files and let us through.
We have been evaluating all options, as you can see, but your constant flow of ideas and suggestions keep us up and going, so we could re-evaluate them or be inspired by new options.
We worked hard but it seems there are no ways we can cross the US at the moment and that we will have to ship the car to South America if we want to start our travels. On the bright side, South America is a big enough continent and there is surely enough to see there and we will have more time to see it.
We hope to be able to focus on the good stuff that has come out of this situation. We hope that by staying positive (although I have to say there have been time of elation, anger and desperation), what is right for us will happen. I will try to use my anger in another more positive direction and realise that all this is part of the adventure, it has become an experience full of lessons. Thanks to all, and keep the messages coming!
We need to keep focusing our energy on the whole adventure - as they say "determination brings the strength to continue, the steadiness to succeed, and the wisdom to slip past difficulties undisturbed".
I suppose that is the reality we have the face at the moment. Paranoia, fear and ignorance have prevailed over truth, trust and understanding, this time. Sorry to rant, we are just really frustrated and upset by these turns of events. Rest assured that this is not a bashing of the US and is only a particular and unfortunate situation.
We hope that this posting will help some of you who are thinking of doing the same to be extra cautious. It is true that the US is at war and is trying to protect herself.
I want to thank all those of you who contacted me personnally, and those who contributed to this thread with many good advice and cheering ups.
I hope and pray that our story will get cleared some day.
Will keep you posted. Thank you for all the support.
I was ready to write articles (I write better in French) on our way, I may soon be ready for a book!... at least I'm starting to laugh!
We hope to meet some of you on our travels.
Isabelle and John
---- Last update is we are now shipping into Buenos Aires, Argentina, and will be arriving there in mid-November.
So sorry to hear that all the trouble you have had and now can't get into the US.
Just a thought , but why ship directly to South America ? Surely it would be lesss expensive to have your truck transported by a comercial hauler as freight across the USA to a Mexican port of entry like Nuevo Laredo and you yourselves buy an airline ticket NON STOP to Mexico, avoiding all US customs , and then retrieve your freight belongings to carry on thru the Americas sans USA.
Thank you for the thought. Unfortunately, we cannot enter the US, nor can the vehicle (plates registered in their database) and we would need a manifest for the hauler so would be checked.
Shipping to Central or South America is thus the only way forward, we have to by-pass the US entirely. As this is extra cost for us, and that there would be the Dorien Gap to cross/ship further along the road, we have decided to ship directly to South America. It does mean that for the moment we evacuate North and Central America, but at least we can be sure of seeing South America. We may still see Central America depending on how things go.
Yes, this adventure is definitely more costly and we spent efforts and tears over this, but cannot really stop here, so this is the solution we found. We are getting mixed advice for shipping to Buenos Aires but this is often the case it seems and we have to go with our guts at this point and go for it. Bringing the vehicle tomorrow to be loaded.
Really sorry to hear of your trouble.
When we left Canada in 2007 for our South America trip we were asked the same questions at the U.S.A border.
We quite naturally answered truthfully.
No we were no longer employed. One red flag
Yes we have a residence in Canada but it is rented out for at least a year. Two red flags
We were unsure of how long we would be staying in the U.S.A. Three red flags.
Then the border guard got very testy.
We calmly tried to explain about our journey, but the narrow minded border guard could not believe that anyone would volentarily leave their home to travel to those (quote)(third world countries).
Fortunatly for us the shift was changing and the new guard came along and was a little more knowledgable about the real world.
We did alot more explaining to both guards and it finally came down to the question of, Why should we let you into our country?
We told them that we had travelled many times previously to their country and had enjoyed it alot but had always returned to our home in Canada, which we would be doing again in about a years time.
The new guard let us in, but it was close call.
We could not believe what had happened and thought it was a rare occurance, but have heard of quite a few other travellers having the same experience.
We rode very quickly down to Mexico.
So the unfortunate lesson for other travellers crossing into the U.S.A is to be very careful when answering what appear to be routine questions.
I think it is luck of the draw for what your border guard is going to do when you answer truthfully.
Future travellers may have to tell them what they want to hear.
Good luck on your South America Adventure.
I live next to the usa border. For years have gone across but I to ran into the same thing last year. Mother died, move down to take care of the stuff , no job and there you go flagged. Strange thing is why would I want to work in the USA? the job I do pays far less across the line. I could get a green card from my sister in law but I like Canada better. At least I ve got health care here. Border guards are ether ones that care or don't. Not to say you should ever do this but there are lots of places in Canada where the border goes right through a small town. USA one side and Canada the other. Quebec comes to mind.
Cruz, if and when you arrive Buenos Aires, Elisa and I of the Buenos Aires HUBB community, would like to invite you both for dinner and conversation and maybe play the slot machines at the Casino de Palermo.
Our Contact info is on web site.
We have traveled South America, on our motorcycles, and will be more than happy to share our adventure travel experiences and hear more of your adventure travel experiences.
Seems like you have found a way.... and the road is finally opening for you. Many of the HUBB, have sent their best advice and support. Hope it has helped. Bon Voyage.
We will make sure to be in touch and meet in BA, Argentina.
We are very excited to arrive in two weeks. We also plan to be at the Viedma December meeting.
Just trying to organise our stay in Buenos Aires for the moment - thinking of renting a flat for a month as Cruz should arrive end of November at the port, plus time for paperwork and getting her out of the port and on the road.
Note that when i was touring North America on my bike in 94, I almost got refused my entrance to Canada, coming from the US.
The clerk told me i might want to enter Canada to benefit from their social system. Being French, i found that remark comical (social expenses in France are recurrently higher in France than in Canada).
I had to go to Vancouver and get my bank account faxed at the french Embassy.
I just dont understand that distrust between Canada and the US. How can an economic zone (AELE) develop without free movement of goods and people. Same language, same anglo saxon background. Crossing borders in South America is so easy that i really sometimes wonder where is the first world and where is the third one, in terms of humanity and administrative intelligence.
It seems you really need to have a specific plan that you can say to the border guards. A couple years ago, I got sent to secondary inspection entering Canada from the USA (I am a US citizen). Back when I was a kid, the US-Canada border was mainly a formality and they let you through no questions asked if you were from the USA....
Guard: "Where are you headed?"
Me: "Oh, just up to Alaska."
Guard: "How long will you be in Canada?"
Me: "I don't know. A couple weeks." (Mistake No. 1)
Guard: "Do you know how long it takes to get to Alaska?"
Me: "Not really." (Mistake No. 2)
Guard: "So you don't know how long you will be in Canada, eh?"
Me: "Not exactly."
Guard: "Well, it takes about 5 days." (As if I plan to ride all day non-stop!)
Me: "Well, I'm in no hurry."
Guard: "I think we have a problem. Pull over and go into the office over there."
I go to the office and explain the situation. They let me go right away with advice to have a more specific plan next time.
I guess nowadays for North America you have to tell a specific plan for a short stay, even if you don't intend to follow the plan...
Best plan is to have a plan, real or "fake"! Mark up a map with an planned stops, with hotels or camp grounds. Know how far you plan to go every day. Don't be to detailed, just a basic, I'm going from point a to b & plan to return via.....
Geeze, we were so close in claiming Canada from the Brits, to bad, but the Canadians are happy we didn't win!
If you a HOG member who wears a leather vest adorned with pins and patchs, take it off going through US Immigration at Canadian -US border posts.
Took our group over 2 hours to get through. Hard to convince them we were 60 year olds from New Zealand and not some head bangers out to do a bit of G.B.H on some innocent bystanders.
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