Before you bash me for hating Canada and all Canadians, let me just say that I find the citizens of Canada to be the friendliest of any country I’ve ever been to. You Canadians are downright proud of your country (as you should be) and every time I go I feel like you are bending over backwards to make me feel comfortable and right at home in your beautiful land. I like it up there. I want to spend more time exploring your open parries and mountain west. I like nearly everything about your country, right down to the way you say “eh” at the end of every sentence. But there is one thing that really irritates me: your border agents. Your border agents are total ********. There. I said it.
Canada, your border agents are some of the grittiest and downright rudest individuals I have ever come across, and I’ve heard similar complaints from other travelers who have flown into Canada from other countries – so I’m not alone in this. It almost seems as if they have been told to assume everyone entering the country is a criminal, and it is their job to send back as many annoying and trouble-making tourists as they can.
My latest experience entering Canada was just as difficult as the other two times I’ve done it (once to Toronto, and the other time to Vancouver). I knew I was in for a battle as soon as my friendly “hello” was met with stone-cold silence from the agent. She took my passport and asked me why I was traveling to Canada today.
“Quick vacation – I’m going to do some sightseeing up at Banff tomorrow”, I replied. She wanted to know where I was staying, and then once it was revealed that I was going back to San Diego just two days later, she gave me an extra-evil glare for a few seconds, looking right through me (seemingly waiting for me to crack) saying nothing at all.
Then she got really nosey – asking why I would come here alone, and why I would only stay for two days. I started answering her questions, and even before I finished, she tossed my passport up on the ledge in front of me, waved me past, and barked “NEXT” to summon the next pour soul in line. I didn’t even get a “thank you” or a “welcome to Canada” from her, and once again, I had entered Canada feeling angry and irritated. Why does it have to be this way? Are tourist dollars not that important to this country?
It’s ok to be tough, but being human is important too
I’ve been traveling all over the world for 20 years now, and Canada has been hands-down the most consistently-difficult country for me to enter. What are they afraid of? Who exactly are they trying to keep out? Most importantly, why do they treat visitors so harshly? Most every other first-world country I’ve traveled to has the right idea: the border agents are cold and firm at first, but once they scan your passport and fingerprints and ask a few questions to verify you’re not a bad guy, they usually soften up a bit and at least welcome you to their country as they wave you past. But not Canada. I have never once had a pleasant experience entering Canada.
I get the necessity for agents to convey an aura of authority at international border crossings. I get the fact that border agents aren’t there to serve your first friendly greeting into the country. I get it. I really do. But to assume that *everyone* trying to enter is a criminal until proven innocent is not the first impression you want to give if you want tourists (and their money) to keep coming back.
Thankfully it’s not that hard to find friendly people once inside, so I didn’t hold a grudge for very long. Hey Canada: I admit that I’m hesitant to book future trips to your fine land, thanks in no part to the people you have manning the gates. Lighten up a little, will ya? I would definitely make more trips to visit if it wasn’t such a mental chore to get in every time.
Come on! Seriously? That’s not bad at all! Try crossing the US border, as a TOURIST, even being a working, middle class, frequent traveler, adult female (#SHOPPINGSOUL #SHOPAHOLIC )… but just by being mexican … 😉
I knew I’d get some flack for this. 🙂 Yes, getting into the US as a non-citizen can be tough at times (so I’ve heard), but the difficulty of entering Canada is the complaint I hear most often from travelers all over the world. It’s not that I mind so much, but I just find it funny that of all the countries on this earth, Canada is one of the most difficult to enter! It was quite a shock to me the first time I went. Totally unexpected. lol
I was pleasantly surprised to find someone else who had the same emotional exhaustion getting into Canada. I take the Black Ball ferry into Victoria about 2-3 times a year from the US and found the Border agents grilling you on all those same questions to be equally annoying. Although, when they ask you, “have you been to Butchart Gardens before?” Or another location and I say yes? They come back supciously and ask, “why are you going back again?” Part of me wants to respond sassy and say how dare I return to the same location! Perhaps maybe your country shouldn’t allowed business to have signs that say “Comeback real soon!” But I realize they are doing their job and politely tell them it’s a favorite location of mine. I have found when I docked in Victoria or Vancouver or on the French Canadian ports via a cruise, it’s much much much easier to get in! No degrading Customs Agents. What’s also interesting, there are parts of Canada where you can “hop” over the border and get in. They don’t have full fencing along the US & Canada border. So why grill us like crazy? The good thing is, we can all vent to each other and create a support group for abused and harassed tourists.
Haha, yes, the thought of crossing the border in some remote part of Montana (just to avoid Canadian passport control) has crossed my mind in the past. Seems like it would be worth the effort! And I totally agree about how hard it is to stay calm and cool when they ask all those inane questions. I’ve certainly been tempted to blurt out “none of your business!” but I know that would do far more harm than good. 🙂 Despite how tough they are, I do respect them for what they are trying to do – after all, it’s in their best interest to keep the riffraff out.
I read your article, and I know it’s from last year, so I don’t know if you will see this or not .
I’m sorry you had bad experiences entering Canada, and I believe wholeheartedly that you did. First of all, I wanted to mention that I’m not a border guard or anything of the sort, but I am Canadian, so it feels a little embarrassing to know that happened to you, even though we don’t know each other.
I really have no internal knowledge to share, but this is what I think happens. We get a lot of *unofficial marching orders* from the US Border Control folks, and the US Department of Homeland Security. Canada is *very* reliant on the US market for our GDP level, something like 20% of it. We absolutely need access to your market, even though this is changing rapidly. So, if we want the border to be “thin” as far as goods and people are concerned, we have had to harmonize our entry requirements, I’m not sure if it’s official, but it’s definitely de facto. The powers that be call it a “Smart Border”. The border acts as if it’s part of a perimeter system, even though it’s not a perimeter. The US is as concerned as we are that “bad hombres” (not my wording ) will try to get into North America.
There was a guy, Ahmed Ressam, who was an Al-Qaeda agent living in Montreal. Just before New Years 2000, he tried to cross on the ferry from Victoria, BC to Port Angeles, WA., With explosives, etc. (I have no idea what sort), and he was caught trying to enter the US to bomb the Los Angeles airport, they called him the Y2K Bomber, and his name is a household one here, and the US DHS has not forgotten him. It comes up ALL the time. Thank goodness he was caught, and nothing happened! Then 9/11 happened, and at first, the US news was reporting that the terrorists all came through the Canadian border. Of course, they didn’t, they were living legally in your country, each and every one of them. That didn’t stop the rumour mill: Hillary Clinton thought that’s what happened, and many others did too. As recently as Obama’s government, just a couple of years ago, the DHS Secretary still thought that’s what happened. Many Americans still believe it, and think Canada is a haven for these types of “people” So even though we had nothing to do with it, lots of people and many, many government employees cast a watchful eye on our borders and refugee/immigration policies.
So that’s what I think is going on. For the USA, the border is all about security (and rightly so), but for Canada, it’s all about security *and* economic lifeblood! I’m glad though, that at least you found our people to be friendly and polite once inside Canada, and that you enjoyed your trips here. You’re welcome back anytime! Just a little PS, I had occasion to go to the States on business a fair time ago, and I felt the same concern and wariness from your border patrol. They asked where I was going, and I told them to a corporate retreat. They asked what I meant by that, and I said I really wasn’t sure exactly, because I’d never been to one before (and it was true, I had no idea). They were not happy with me, so I said “thanks but no thanks” and stayed in Canada (you can preclear US Customs in major Canadian airports), but they made me feel like a crook. I just chalk it up to border agents wanting to keep their fellow citizens safe, and I guess it happens here *and* there! Sorry for the length of my reply, but maybe it will give you an idea of why I think they do what they do.
Hey Andy – thanks for your insight. Yes, it all makes sense and deep down I really do understand why they do the things they do. It’s unfortunate that it has to be that way, but this is the world we live in now and all we can do is accept it. It does make me think twice about traveling to Canada though – I really want to go to Toronto this summer (just to look around), but I’m hesitant to go if I can’t come up with a legitimate excuse to give to the border agent. Just saying that I’m “sight seeing” is sure to cause trouble for me, so I need to find some kind of event or conference to attend to use as my reason for travel.
I wish it was a lot easier for US and Canadian citizens to travel back and forth between these two countries!
hi, great reviews & content. as a canadian i can confirm they treat their citizens, when re-entering canada in much the same way or worse than potential visitors. particularly if you aren’t a homogenized hockey loving family type canadian with an rrsp savings account and a labatt blue keychain/bottler opener. individuality can certainly work against you with the bourgeois patrol, with questions such as, “where did you stay?”, and follow-up replies, “why there? the best western is only $80/night”. plus, they love to look at what you are wearing & what’s in your suitcase to determine if they can charge you GST & a penalty for not writing any those items on your form. even if you bought them in canada before you left. there are many instances of citizens having to leave items at the border, forced to retain a lawyer to get them back. when it’s all said & done they thoroughly mess with their citizens to make sure that whatever hip or exciting experiences they just had on their trip stays out of the country, as nothing cool & forward thinking is allowed to originate in canada. unless it is a real estate investment trust, oil sands re-development project that recycles potash & sponsors the local hockey club. so in all, they actually treat visitors much better because they don’t identity shame you for not being boring & one-dimensional. keep up the flying & being who you were meant to be. happy travels!
I used to be a Canadian customs officer before 9/11, through that big event and for a while after. I think it was a gentler place back then, when we used to be glorified tax collectors armed with only a date stamp. People would mistaken us for Chevron attendants with our baby-blue uniforms when we’re filling up our tanks on the way to work. Immediately after 9/11 hiring policies changed. Even we old-timers noticed that the attitudes of the new hires changed to a more Type A personality. Add to that, big international airports are well-known in the department to be places where employees go to climb the management ladder, fast, because of the high-paced and varied work environment. This mixture creates a toxic atmosphere made up of apathetic and self-serving employees and managers. There is pressure to get customs seizures, make detentions and arrests, look good on reports, and move up. It is not a pleasant place to work and I can see how this translates into agents simply not giving a shit about travellers and their problems. In Government of Canada employee surveys, the Border Services, especially at the airports, often rank last in terms of employee satisfaction. They’re probably just waiting for their shift to end.
Very interesting insight Jordan – thanks for letting us know what it’s like on the “inside”!
Thank you for the insight into Canada Customs before and after 9/11. I used to cross the Montana border frequently back in the 1980’s and things were relaxed. Now that I am living in Australia and arrive in Vancouver airport to visit my parents; it is stressful. Time and time again a Punjabi Sikh starts questioning me as to why I left Canada in the first place. He seems convinced that I am up to something and a thorough interrogation will bring out the truth. I now travel with two passports which helps a bit but sure enough the Indian will be waiting for me at Vancouver airport. They seem upset that I would leave their multicultural paradise.
Agree completely have been traveling internationally for 40 years…hands down Canada is the rudest, slowest and most difficult crossing every time…will never go back again
Now with Canada opening back up again after Covid, I wonder if things have changed? I’ll probably be doing a trip to Canada sometime within the next few months, and I’m not looking forward to going through passport control.
I just chanced upon this discussion after doing a frantic read on the web on how to cross the border painlessly. I visited Toronto in October 2021, right after most international borders were opened for leisure travel. I went to Toronto with a purpose – to see my daughter’s potential university and also explore how livable the city is. I have always had the impression that Canadians are the nicest people in the world but my encounter with the first face at Toronto Pearson airport made me feel like cheated. The border officer wasn’t nice. She was an a**h*** and a bully. My husband and I were interrogated like they were suspecting we were going to plant a nuclear bomb in the middle of Ontario. She asked who my friends are in Canada (we have a few) and demanded us to show their birth certificates to prove that they are true-born Canadians. Birth certificates I kid you not. She allowed us to call our friend who was waiting for us at the arrival hall to request for her birth certificate and I could hear my friend screaming expletives on the phone. Who the heck carries their birth certificates around ? We showed her driving license instead and she didn’t even glance at it. Next she asked where and why we were staying at Air BnB and not with friends. Seriously it was none of her business but we patiently answered her anyway saying that our friend lives in a one bedroom condo and there isn’t room for us. She asked about our jobs, how much we earn and if we carried guns and drugs. Guns ?! I am a Singapore citizen, a visa exempt national and both my husband and I are registered teachers in government only schools. She obviously have not heard the capital punishment the Singapore government metes out on drug traffickers. Being the first time in Canada, we didn’t expect that to be coming (since we were told that Canadians are the nicest people in the world) therefore, didn’t prepare much documentation for proof in case we were asked that sort of questions. I mean, who knew ?! Luckily we were able to provide electronic documentary proof like the Singapore government directory listing our names and our designations and letter from HR to show our approval for vacation leave.
We travel quite extensively for vacation and we have been to third world countries and the experience at the border was nothing like Canada even when the border officers look like thugs or members of the mafia to me. Our first visit to Toronto left me quite traumatized !
As much as I understood that these questioning may be necessary because they really need to screen potential threats but was the rudeness and bullying travellers necessary? I have read a lot of forums that Canadians were not treated any less. Why does it have to be like this? There were complaints filed to CBSA but nothing seemed to have been done. Latest forums dated as early as this year discussed the same old thing – rude CBSA officers and some were much worse.
I will be visiting my daughter who is studying in Toronto in 2 weeks’ time. From now until the date I fly, my mind has been occupied with nothing but my potential experience with the CBSA officer at the border. Are they going to give me hell again? They can ask me all the questions they want but the least I expect them is to be cordial about it. I am just feeling very stressed out now.
And by the way, the Canadians (those beyond or before the borders) truly live up to the reputation of being very warm, respectful and nice. I love Canada but I do not like the border officers.
Hi Wirma – that sounds like a terrible experience! If it makes you feel any better, I suspect that it’ll be easier for you to enter Canada from now on (now that they know you aren’t planning on blowing up Ontario lol).
The only reason I say this is because I (a US citizen ) don’t seem to be having much of an issue getting in anymore. My last few entries into Canada have been fast and easy with minimal questioning.
I’m going to update this article soon with my updated thoughts on the matter…
Thank you for the consolation. I pray all will be well with our travel and likewise for you too ! Take care and stay well 🙂
I have had to deal with border agents pretty much on every continent….For me, the US has the rudest and Singapore the nicest (they give you a mint) border agents. Cuba has agents with no sense of humor. Egyptians have the stupidest questions (like where was your father born :-)), Hong Kong – the easiest border, no questions asked ever and they have what must be the fastest passport scanner. Canad is pretty cool – the only thing they ask me if I have anything to declare and how long I’ve been out of the country. There was a poll once – travelers were asked to identify the rudest border security agents. Canada comes in at number 5. Check out who tops the list 🙂
Very interesting! I do agree that US customs and border agents can be salty at times, but it’s never as bad as Canada IMHO. That said, the last two times that I have entered Canada have been shockingly easy. My last visit (8 weeks ago) was the easiest yet. The officer simply looked at my receipt from the kiosk and waved me through (no questions asked). I’m still hearing from others how difficult it is at times, so I’m not ready to delete (or rewrite) this article yet…
Canadian here – crossed down to seattle and today On my way back in the border guard a Caucasian male was brutal to me
I’m Caucasian / clean cut and drive a newer clean luxury sedan …
Apparently I’m not allowed to go see a baseball game and come back freely into my country. Bud asked me if I bought anything in the USA and I advised I bought 2 dress shirts for $100 usd and my partner bought a pair of shorts for $25
We saw the baseball game and came straight to the border – sir turn your car off and unlock all your doors and open your trunk
When he discovered all I had was 2 shirts and a pair of shorts .. he slammed my trunk door so hard I thought something for sure would be broken … meanwhile I got 15 cars behind me and only one lane open …. He tells me my eyes are red and how many beers did I have at the game …. Never had a drink all day and I have seasonable allergies …
Finally after we just had a stare down the guy finally gave us our documents back . Our border guards are all cringeworthy . I get far better treatment from the Americans . Quite frankly our Canadian guards are too many ethnic people or hot heads thinking they got something to prove .