Ooh, well I’ve had a day and a half. I didn’t want to talk about my plans ahead of time for fear of jinxing them. But now that I’m here, I’m happy to say that I managed to cross over into the US for an extended vacation with my rig!
As I said to US customs, quite some time into my interview, I picked northern Washington because a) the cost of living is much cheaper than in Canada and b) I’m still close to the border in case of a medical emergency (I did take out some supplemental coverage, just in case). Now, I’m well situated to visit with blog readers in the area, tour around, and perhaps even do a bit of shopping.
I didn’t expect the border crossing to be easy, so I’m surprised that it went as smoothly as it did, all things considered. I think I was there about an hour and a half. It took all of thirty seconds for them to pull me over and tell me to go inside.
The American customs officials were very decent. They treated me with respect and asked only relevant questions, but there was one huge issue that I hadn’t even though about: the leftover CDs from the RV show! I had them out in plain sight because, to me, they are essentially useless. Who wants to pay shipping on a disc for a file you can download?
The American officials said that because I’m selling the book online, the discs have value in their eyes and that thus I was importing a commercial product, and well over the legal limit. Until this point, I was sure I was going to be allowed in once they were done playing hardball with me regarding confirming that I could support myself and that I would be returning to Canada in April. Soon as they said this, my heart sank. I figured that they were going to say I was trying to do fraud or something and I actually got a little scared. I was completely unprepared for this scenario!
The supervisor and a subordinate talked a bit more to me, to understand why I’m on the road, what I left behind, how I support myself, and why I had all those discs on board. Their tone went from being hostile/cynical to being very friendly, but I didn’t let me guard down and watched what I said, but I got the impression that I was in a situation where more info was better than too little. Remember, I used to process security clearances, so I’ve had intensive training conducting these same types of interviews.
The supervisor finally looked at his subordinate who nodded, then said “From an immigration point of view, we’re satisfied. But from a commercial point of view, we can’t let you in. Are you willing to go back to Canada and dispose of the discs?”
I’d already made back more than what the discs cost me and didn’t expect to sell more, so I didn’t have a dilemma there. They talked some more and told me I could leave the rig in the US customs parking lot, walk back to Canada, get rid of the discs, and come back. I said I would go straight to the dumpster of the duty free store and the subordinate actually looked pained. “Isn’t there anyone you could leave them with?” I said “No, they really don’t mean anything to me, ma’am, and I feel stupid for being in this situation.”
She gave me a piece of paper to show to Canadian customs so they would know I hadn’t come into the US and thus had nothing to declare. I walked into the Canadian office and was greeted, as always, like a criminal. The woman told me that I’d better not dump the discs on their property, such as the bathrooms! I acquiesced and walked across the street to the duty free, dumped the discs, and headed back to US customs.
At this point, I thought that they would have to do a more thorough inspection of the rig and ask more questions and I was really getting worn down, but, again, I feel that the Americans were doing their job well within reason and that all the questions were completely justified. I also had a feeling that this first time was going to be the hardest and that I might as well play this to the end so that I would know what to expect next time. I still didn’t think I was home free at this point, but I was optimistic. After all, they had let me to leave the rig while I walked to Canada and back.
I went back into the customs office and the lady was waiting for me. She smiled brightly and said “You made it! Have a great trip!” without making me hand my passport back. I headed back to the rig feeling a bit stunned, and drained, but I’d been allowed in!
For the next time, I will make sure to print out all my financial info. They wanted to see bank, credit, and investment statements, plus proof of the money I’d made in the last year. I had all of that on my computer, but that wasn’t good enough. They did let me through without having to produce anything.
So, now I’m okay to be in the US until April 8th! I might go back a bit earlier than that, as a good will gesture, but I paid rent at this RV park till March 8th. It cost me half of what it would have cost me to stay in a much less nice place in the Vancouver region!
I’m really feeling drained and will be taking at least the next couple of days off, but I have to share one last anecdote that made this day completely surreal. I arrived at the RV park and left the rig to check out the sites. I met a couple and the lady said to me “Hey, I saw you on TV last week!”
So much for coming to the US for a bit of anonymity…