A recent article in Bloomberg highlighted the reason behind the dwindling tourism in the United States from other countries – the horrendous application for travel visas.
And while it is an interesting read, I found myself far more interested in the email conversation that followed on The Daily Dish with readers sharing their take and experiences on applying for visas and re-entering the US.
A couple of comments stood out. The first from The Dish’s author, a UK citizen who lives in the US as a permanent resident:
Most Dishheads are American citizens, so they don’t fully see what it is like to enter the US as a non-citizen. It’s a grueling, off-putting, frightening, and often brutal process.
And another from a US citizen who lives overseas on what it is like to merely visit family:
I’m a US citizen who has lived outside of the US since 1998. My least favourite country to travel to is the US. While I’m sure that my experience is not as brutal as yours or as others who apply for visas, it can also be brutal for US citizens going home.
A year ago at Christmas my family (my wife and daughter are also American) was traveling home to be with our extended family. The border agent – I think this was at LAX – after asking us many questions about where we worked and what we did then asked us why we were coming to America. I wanted to tell him to fuck off as it was none of his business why I wanted to come home to my own country. Of course all I could do was smile and answer or else suffer the pain of being pulled into an interrogation room for hours. Previously to this he’d subtly changed our answers and repeated the same question back to us to try and catch us out as he appeared to assume we were lying.
Most of us have stories or know someone who has a story about the paranoid and sometimes semi-Gestapo attitudes of US Custom and Border officials, and yes, this is a bit off the FATCA wagon, but with about 81% of countries around the world required to have a visa before visiting the USA, how long can it be before no one does anymore? And when even being a citizen of the US isn’t enough to keep you from being a suspect simply because you chose to live elsewhere, tell me why again that the US is allowed to dictate the domestic policy of other sovereign nations? Nations that the US clearly thinks little of if they treatment of those nations citizens is any criteria by which to judge them.
Fortress America. Two out of three of my most recent experiences entering the US on my US passport I got asked where I was going and how long I’d be there. So much for “welcome home”.
It’s as though America is caving in on itself.
Good points bubblebustin.
As for the right of entering as a birthright US citizen, I was never ‘welcomed home’ once that I can remember. Never. And I was asked the purpose of the visits and where I was going. I was a US citizen, had proper ID, had no reason to be concerned about crossing, and was not a frequent traveller. No ‘hail fellow well met’ for me.
I was repelled during my few trips to a US consulate to see how the non-US citizens were treated – forced to line up outside in the street – once even in cold weather. And packed into the overcrowded waiting areas inside. The guards and personnel were curt, and cursory to me even as a citizen, (wouldn’t answer a perfectly relevant question – no answer – they just ignored me) so I really wonder how the visa and other applicants were being treated.
The first time I ever went there it was because I’d read somewhere that I was supposed to be able to register and to vote from abroad absentee. I decided to try. The personnel behind the glass wouldn’t explain or assist. Simply pointed to the large telephone directory sized books chained to the wall and said it was up to me to figure it out. So much for that vaunted right to vote in US elections.
The consulate in Calgary was not bad but I suspect because many of the frontline people who check you in and the screening/security folks are Canadian. Even the people behind the glass upstairs were pleasant enough.
What was odd, and sad, was the look of envy from those seeking visas as we were ushered on past like VIPs to the “short line”. When I read about the way potential visitors are treated, I am ashamed though not surprised. America was built on immigration but Americans have always treated their immigrants like shite. The melting pot has always been a trial by fire sort of hazing.
But the border is different. The only time anyone has been cheery was on the “gotcha” exit check points before you hit the Canadian border. Those guys were positively gleeful. Mostly it is pointed questions about purpose of visit, destination and they are most eager to know when you will be leaving again.
No, there is no “welcome home”. We only hear that coming back into Canada, but that’s appropriate because Canada is our home.
To be honest I had a very different experience. I renounced last year and went through the visa application process in a Mideast country for a businesss trip to Washington. It was long, but mostly efficient and done online. The embassy staff was courteous and gave me 5 years. My entry into the US was simply effortless, more so than times I entered on a US passport. I’m sure there are bad experiences, but that’s not inevitable.
Yup, the same happened to me when I used to enter the US on my US passport. Where are you going, for what purpose, who are you visiting, for how long, blah,blah,blah. I think the border guys must get so sick of asking the same old questions of endless lines of Canadian cross-border shoppers they don’t even lift their head when someone hands ’em a US passport; they just blindly launch into the same routine.
For me it’s all academic now, I’ll never use that passport again. I think we Canadians are lucky because Canada is a visa-waiver country. Most of the time we are probably spared the worst that US border guards can dish out. But I never forget when I drive up to the booth that those guys are in total control; they can make your life a living hell if they feel like it. I actually feel safer traveling on a Canadian passport. The worst that can happen is to be turned back….to safety. It’s always a great relief to return to Canada at the end of a trip to the US.
There is a thread here somewhere asking if people had trouble entering the US post-renunciation.
I mentioned there that I had a pretty bad experience PRE-renunciation – I was visiting the US (on my US passport…) and at JFK was grilled about where I would be staying and what I would be doing. When I wasn’t able to give them an exact address, from the way they treated me I was genuinely afraid I would be refused entry. I was alone, unprepared, naive and scared. Later at the US border crossing into Canada I was told that it’s not legal to refuse entry to a citizen, and that I shouldn’t have had to answer any of those questions.
A travellers’ blog in the Sydney Morning Herald once asked, “what’s the most unfriendly country you’ve visited?”. The US was pretty high on the list, but more accurately one person commented, “If US border control was a country they would be the most unfriendly country on the planet; once you get past them, actual Americans are not that bad.”
My teenage daughters want to visit the US and I have zero interest. I used to look at the country from afar with fondness – then fondness mixed with concern – now I’m just convinced the country is going down the tubes. sigh. 🙁
To all, I am quite nervous about making my first visit next month, flying into Philadelphia. I would imagine it should go reasonably OK but am dreading if I have to show them my copy of my CLN…will it be a problem that it’s not notarised?? I’d assume it should be OK as they’ll have it on their records…but am still scared of being bullied and interrogated, especially if the staff take personal offence…will be bringing my phone and am also scared that they might want to download all my files and web history.
I’m frankly far more scared of the DHS than the IRS! Now, my biggest fear going forward is of possibly having future problems visiting as I still want to be able to go ‘home’ to see my Mom and Dad. I still have a deep affection for the place…it’s just the damn border crossing which scares the Hell out of me!
Have it notarized. You dont want a hassle at customs.
@monalisa1776, I understand your concern. I will feel the same way when I visit the US later this year for a memorial service. After you get back, please tell us here at IBS how the border crossing went. If they give you trouble, please think of us here supporting you. Good luck!
On Isaac Brock Society:
Question: Has anyone had a bad experience when entering the US?
What Do You Need for Travel? (post includes an e-mail from Halifax consulate regarding entering US post-expatriation)
On Maple Sandbox:
Crossing the US Border on a Non-US Passport Showing a US Birthplace
The whole experience at a US airport is so unfriendly. One time going through immigration (I still have a US passport for now), he started with the questions. He asked why I was entering the US for the second time this month, I told him Europeans get more ‘vacation time’ than most Americans. He twisted his face at me. He asked where I was staying. I gave him an address of a famous baseball park in the city and he didn’t notice. He asked where I worked. I told him I managed a coffee house in Amsterdam where we sold marijuana. All the nonsense to enter a country that I’m a citizen. Going through EU airports they just glance at my EU passport rarely ever asking one question. US immigration is a joke. Someone should write a book call ‘Crossing the Yellow Line.’
I have had both great and ghastly experiences entering the US – I think that a lot depends on the attitude of the individual border officer you encounter. One once threatened to turn me back after driving over the Bridge from Windsor Ontario to the Detroit side; after threatening me he eventually let me proceed on my way – I found myself wondering whether his wife had given him a hard time the previous night as my crossing was very early in the morning. My most recent experience was a breeze …. Despite the announcements that certain lines are for Citizens and Green Card Holders only …. Canadians are also accepted in those lines and the “ushers” will direct Canadian Passport holders to those lines if asked. This time there was an area with robot machines at which I had to scan my passport, answer a few questions electronically and then the top of the machine rose to a relevant height and took my picture …. all info and the picture was then printed out on a receipt to be handed to an officer guarding the way out of that holding area. Very slick yet no entry posted in my passport – so it makes it more difficult to count the number of days that you spend in the US as the year progresses. It seems that the US Border considers Canadians to be a version of Americans … not completely Alien.
@maz57 – Canada is NOT a visa waiver country … like England is. Canada is Exempt from visa requirements. There is a huge difference apparently.
Back to my main beef however, any way you cut it FATCA is evil.
Canadian Immigration can also be off-putting sometimes – I live outside Canada but was visiting Canada on my Canadian passport with a friend who is a US citizen who was attending a medical conference in Vancouver. We were questioned and put through the hoops and directed into a separate area for additional questioning and searching – I had to ask the Interrogators what on earth they were looking for or why were they treating a medical doctor traveling to a conference in Vancouver in this manner. We never got a straight answer to anything we asked. My friend swore that she would never return to Canada .. she has but rarely.
The last experience I had entering the US was the one of three where I didn’t get hassled – but ended up being biggest hassle regardless. It’s actually kind of a funny story.
My husband and I had to pass through a US airport, and US immigration, in order to return to Canada from Mexico. There were two line ups, one for US citizens and residents, and one for visitors. Being US citizens, we though it would be better to enter via the former line. At that point the line ahead of us was not much longer than the visitor’s line, but because of a lack of manpower and one border guard being particularly slow, we found ourselves looking longingly at a now almost empty visitor line, however, still not wanting to do anything “wrong” we stayed in the longer citizens line. Well wouldn’t you know, someone from CBA came along and told half of those in our line to go over to the visitors line, but only up to the party right behind us! Eventually we got to the point when the visitors line emptied and as there were still a couple ahead of us in the citizens line up, we decided to walk directly over to an agent in visitors. I told the agent that we were confused as to which line up to go into, because we’ve been told to enter the US as US citizens and asked him as a Canadian visitor which line up to use in the future. He said “either”.
That’s how we ended up being the last and most annoyed people to clear immigration!
@ Nervousinvestor. Thanks for that clarification. I had no idea there even was such a distinction. I’ll have to check it out. It’s always good to understand the fine points of the rules as much as possible when dealing with the US government!
ML. You don’t need to have it notarized. That means nothing. It is already an official doc. They won’t bother you in any way. Be intrepid.
A Swiss friend of ours recently travelled with his wife and teenage children to visit Disney in California. When passing through immigration he was asked what he did for a living and he made the mistake of saying he was a lawyer (he acts as a Notaire in house purchasing). He was taken aside and questioned for almost an hour. He was asked if he had any American clients and who they were. He was repeatedly asked the same questions although he said he had no American clients and even if he had it would be privileged information that he could not or would not disclose it. He reiterated that had only come for a vacation with his wife and children to spend some money. He was eventually permitted to enter .
He says it was the most uncomfortable experience he had ever experienced and will NEVER return.
My nephew who works for a Swiss accountancy company told me that many Swiss bank staff have been warned not to enter the US as it may result in the same treatment.
The US has changed so drastically from the first time I entered nearly 40 years ago when we welcomed wholeheartedly. It has now become a prison that I feel relieved to have escaped from.
Don’t take your phone and/or computer to the USA. Buy a “throwaway” phone to use while you are visiting (available at Wal-Mart, etc.). Verizon and TracFone are good (so my husband says). CBP agents have been given legal power to search and download anything they want from any electronic device (including cameras). At least check this site out first …
I was told that border/airport officers tell US citizens “welcome home” or “welcome back” when they enter the country. I think that’s another one of those national myths, because I’ve traveled internationally many times and never heard any officer say that to me. Instead, I’ve been questioned several times about the purpose of my trip and my occupation. And I live in the US.
One explanation that I’ve read for why US border/airport officers are so harsh is that many of them used to be police officers, trained at interrogating criminals, and it seems that DHS doesn’t explain to them that asking questions to travelers is not the same thing.
nervousinvestor, I agree that Canada Immigration can be very stick up the bum too. Currently I have my MP and the NDP shadow minister looking into a snafu and a bit of weirdness with PR renewals. They actually summoned my grade six child to their centre to pick up her card. Something I understand is only done when they suspect residency fraud or some other issues. They do randomly force people as well though that is to make the procedure appear less racist then it is (that the immigration process here is heavily tinged with racism is another post for another forum) but they don’t pull children. The people at the centre that day not only didn’t know that we were coming but they didn’t know that it was a child who’d been summoned.
Anyway, yes, Canadian borders can be nasty too but from what I understand much of it in the last decade has been due to the fact that the various govts here have been trying to please the US and assure them that we are not just letting anyone in up here. Some of the coming intel sharing and online pre-flight nonsense that Canadians will have to engage in are basically edits from the Americans. FATCA is not the only sovereignty overreach that we in Canada have to look forward to.
Em, I agree. Be careful with electronic devices. Even apps to your social media sites or email can be fair game, so don’t store passwords.
Shadow Raider, in my opinion it’s the personality type. That’s what drew many of them to the military and why so many ex-military end up cops and working the the USG as homeland security and border thugs. It’s likely no less turn on the Canadian side.
A couple of points –
The vast majority of US border guards work the southern border – more than enough to shape the whole institutional culture. When they’re transferred to the Canadian border, they take their edgy, militarized assumptions with them. Jacques Poitras’ book on the Maine-NB border brought this out very well.
There are a lot of possible, for want of a better word, interrogation strategies. ‘Fear-up’ doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to execute, and is easy to train. In many cases it isn’t the best way of eliciting information, but that’s a different discussion.
Back when the Canadian border guards were less growly, I would typically get someone cheerful who seemed very interested in everything about my comings and goings, in a friendly way, but was clearly screening for contradictions and inconsistencies. That kind of thing is probably more effective as well as being less alienating.
The classic parody of ‘fear-up’ at the border is Jello Biafra’s cameo role as a US border guard in Highway 61. (“Why should AH let YOU into MAH HOME?”) It really belongs on Youtube.
It sounds to me that some border guards have now specifically been directed to target bankers and lawyers, supposedly to glean financial information. Thomas Jefferson said something like “if you control the finances you don’t need an army”, isn’t that what FATCA and the NSA is all about?
I’ve had a few stories from customs.
As early as 1982. Returning from abroad to USA. Usually “welcome home”, even when I have been a resident overseas.
1985. Leaving Poland, a Polish girl asks me to put her western money down my pants as she is not allowed to export such. I oblige. A beautiful tall East German border guard grills a Polish/French dual old woman. She proceeds to myself, shaking, and addresses myself with a smile and a nod of approval.
1980’s Eurailing via night trains, every other night at 3:00 am, the couche door slides open to slam to its stops, and in whatever language applies, “passports bitte”. No real questions.
Crossing from Detroit to Windsor to go to the Windsor stripclubs, all 25 yr olds wearing ties as required. “Visiting the Windsor ballet tonight, gentlemen?” “Yup” “Enjoy”
Coming into Canada as a 30 yr old engr to visit a Canadian supplier, I used “for work” instead of “on business”. Mistake. 15 minutes of questions.
Coming into USA with a bag of Swedish crystal. Mistake. 15 minutes.of questions.
Most other crossings to USA, minimizing problems, always answer in shortest possible sentences. Always answer in a conclusive manner, with a descending tone. No problems. Never open up an avenue, never pursued. Offer nothing. Receive no questions.
2013: Loading onto a bus in Norway alone in a dark parking lot, near to the bus baggage area. Alone and separated. A Norwegian customs agent sticks his face in mine, and asks questions. Not believing him, I go around him. He sticks his face back in mine again, and I say “you smell like you’ve been drinking”. This ended in a patdown. 150 km from the border.
I recommend Ken O’Keefe’s “The United States of Hypocrisy”