North and south neighbors to each other, Canada and the United States of America share a rather unique bond as independent nations that have made it easy for tourists to travel back while driving to the USA from Canada and from the USA to Canada. Because both nations are as large as they are and the border between the two nations is as long as it is, there are several routes a road traveler can use to cross these borders. For the most part, the only way to do this is through the patrolled border crossing gateways, but there are the odd, smaller routes, that are normally traveled by locals who frequently bounce back and forth between nations as they go about their daily business. Unlike tourists, they're not interested in sightseeing or collecting souvenirs. This group of people makes up such a small percentage of border-crossing travelers that neither governments see enough of a threat to change how border travel takes place there despite the fact that it is, in fact, illegal. However, when Donald J. Trump became president of the United States in 2016, much of these unpatrolled crossings became a cause for concern when Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, made a promise to Americans who were afraid of Trump's position against illegal immigrants that the doors to come live in Canada were wide open. Interestingly enough, this changed a few rules for travelers who simply wanted to drive into Canada from the US, not as refugees, but simply as either tourist or for reasons that have nothing to do with politics. What also has made changes to road travel as we know it is the complications that have come about since COVID-19. Once again, the rules of how one travels about have changed yet again.
COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
At the moment, the Government of Canada has a COVID-19 Travel checklist and exemptions for border crossing travel between its nation and the US. At the moment, without proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 as regulations have it, traveling into Canada from the US is not permitted. The rules of this particular stipulation keep changing as variants such as Omicron continue to make an impact on how the American and Canadian governments go about what they think is best for their respective nations. Regardless of the public agrees with their methods or not, until the nightmare of the coronavirus finally settles enough where it isn't headlining news anymore, travelers need to be prepared to deal with a number of variables that can affect the experience of their road trip. At the moment, Canada has the strictest mask mandate policies as a nation. From province to province, the masks are a must, but they are not required to be worn while inside the car. In fact, it is not recommended to do so as the human body needs every opportunity it can get to breathe in free air. This includes even when walking around outside. The more fresh air you can take in the better. Masks should only be worn just prior to entering a public building and then promptly removed once you step back out in the fresh air. This helps the lungs continue to function properly and the blood to flow throughout your body regularly. When one wears the mask too often, they may become prone to a condition known as bacterial pneumonia.
Let's Talk Alaska
Along the main border that connects Canada to the United States, the Canadian provinces that have roadways connecting the two nations, from east to west, are New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. As for the state of Alaska, which is the only American state north of Canada, the only way to drive into Canada from there is at the border of its Yukon Territory. Although this is out of the way as the vast majority of Americans live south of Canada, if a road traveler is interested in a truly unique experience as a once in a lifetime road trip, the Alaska Highway that treks from America's most northern state, through Yukon, and into British Columbia definitely fits the bill there. It is a road not often traveled, yet among the most scenic. It was also a highway built in 1942 with the intent to connect this isolated state from the rest of the United States to its American brothers and sisters. The Travel Yukon website covers information about the Alaska Highway in great detail, plus points out some of the highlights that make this particular road trip so special.
However, once a traveler reaches the Canada Border Services Agency, which will be your first stop once you drive out of the state of Alaska, be prepared to deal with whatever regulations the Canadian government has in place regarding COVID-19. Beaver Creek, Yukon will be the first community you reach once you are given the okay to proceed. It is a small community, home to the White River First Nation and its population of about one hundred citizens. Assuming COVID-19's restrictions aren't too severe should anybody wish to take a break at Beaver Creek, Buckshot Betty's is recommended, both as a short pit-stop or as an overnight stay. However, if you're a road traveler that may not be interested in the quaint cafe and rooms, or simply want to reach a larger community, Whitehorse is Yukon's largest city that should have something for everyone. There is another Alaska to Yukon border crossing, which is situated even further north, along the Top of the World Highway. The Canada Border Services Agency there is located at Little Gold Creek, which is situated right on the border between the American state and the Canadian territory. During the winter season, this area is closed off to motorists. For road travelers that want to be more adventurous with Alaska as the starting point, it starts at the junction with the main Alaska Highway, starting as Taylor Highway, just east of the Tok community, and is between two to three hours of very scenic highway travel. Tok is 202 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Let's Talk Maine Land
From east to west, there are a large number of border crossing highways, each with units belonging to the Canada Border Services Agency, that can be traveled from the US into Canada for as long as the pandemic regulations allow it. Starting with Canada's eastern province of New Brunswick, there are seventeen border crossing locations an American can pass through when traveling into Canada. Most of them are smaller with limited hours, which further information regarding them can be found by visiting EZ Border Crossing's informative website. Going from east to west, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Bridge Border Crossing connects Maine State to the fishing village of Lubec, New Brunswick. Interestingly enough, Lubec's island, Campobello Island may be Canadian, but can only be road-accessed through the state of Maine. It should also be noted there are no gas stations found on the island, so make sure your vehicle's fuel tank has enough to get in, then out, without issues. Normally, it's just locals that come here, but in the summertime, it does become quite the tourist attraction for vacationers who just want to get away from the noise of city living. As for the remaining sixteen border crossings situated along the borders of the America's state of Maine and Canada's province of New Brunswick, most of them are smaller crossings with limited hours and traffic allowances. The larger ones are usually open at all times for passenger traffic and between 8 AM until 4 PM for commercial traffic. Before considering a drive into Canada from the US, regardless of which border crossing you choose, always check ahead of time any health advisories and road advisories. This way, there are no surprises when you reach the border that could bring an early end to your road trip. This doesn't just apply to the border crossings between Maine and New Brunswick, but clean across both nations.
From Quebec to British Columbia
Between the state of Maine to the province of Quebec, there are seven border crossings. Between the state of New Hampshire and the province of Quebec, there is only one border crossing and it is a relatively small one. Weather permitting, the crossing is always open for travelers going into the United States, but the same isn't true for Americans traveling into Canada. Again, weather permitting, travel from the Pittsburg, New Hampshire port into Chartierville, Quebec port may only do so between 8 AM until Midnight. Commercial traffic is also permitted, but only from 8 AM until 4 PM. In the state of Vermont and the province of Quebec, there are fifteen border crossings that range from small to large. From the state of New York, there are a total of sixteen currently active border crossings that allow Americans and Canadians to drive back and forth for as long as all the rules and regulations are met according to the Canada Border Services Agency. These are always kept up to date so those road travelers who refer to it are able to pass into Canadian territory without issues. Between the state of Michigan and the province of Ontario, there are four border crossing locations and each of them is among the busiest. As for the number of border crossings between Minnesota and Ontario, there are eight of them. Four of them range from quite busy to extremely busy while the other four are quieter and less traveled. The state of North Dakota has a total of eighteen border crossings leading into the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The most heavily used are Pembina, Portal, Peace Garden, and Neche. Also extending into Saskatchewan from the US are border crossings from the state of Montana. From Montana, there are thirteen active border crossings in total that also connect to the ports located along the southern borders of Alberta and British Columbia. Americans traveling into British Columbia through Idaho have two border crossings to choose from while travelers passing through the state of Washington have thirteen. Four of those border crossings are extremely busy where it's not uncommon to wait four hours just to reach Canadian soil.
NEXUS is a joint program the United States of America shares with Canada for pre-approved, low-risk travelers coming and going between these two nations. This form of travel can be by air, land, or marine. The NEXUS program allows travelers from either country to use an automated service that is found at airport kiosks, dedicated lanes at border crossings, and by for boat travelers, calling telephone reporting centers. Not every drive-through border crossing location has this, but usually, the busier ones do.
Do Your Homework
While Canadians seem to have the most in common with Americans as a people, it is still a foreign country. This means there will be different customs, different currencies, and different laws. Even the food is different, especially the junk food. For instance, carbonated soda in the U.S. normally uses corn syrup to sweeten their drinks while in Canada it's white sugar. Also, using American coins in a Canadian vending machine may or may not work. Some of the older vending machines will take the money, but there are also newer machines that know the difference and will not accept anything other than Canadian coins. Before hitting the road into Canadian territory, definitely make sure it is safe to do so. Now with COVID-19 and its new wave of complications, it's more important than ever to make sure there are no travel restrictions of any kind that will prevent you from crossing the border by car. Whatever the United States government is doing about the pandemic is not exactly the same legalities and mandates that have been imposed by the Canadian government. With this being said, be prepared to have masks with you should you drive into Canada. Until the mask mandates become a thing of the past in Canada, entering any public building without wearing one may result in refusal of service that can also lead to legal complications that will make your time in Canada less pleasant than it should be. Another key difference between America and Canada is how math works. In the US, all the measurements are Imperial. In Canada, it's metric. What are sixty miles for Americans is one hundred kilometers for Canadians. The signage on the highways will show this. Unless you are comfortable figuring out the math, there are apps like Google's Metric Conversions that can help calculate the difference between imperial and metric measurements. This will also come in handy when figuring out gas prices as its liters in Canada, not gallons.
Not much different than America, Canadians refer to paper currency as dollars and coined currency as coins. However, unlike America, instead of a one-dollar bill in Canada, it is a loonie as it is a coin. There is also a toonie, which is a two-dollar coin. The difference between the two is the loonie is gold-like in color while the toonie is silver on the outside and gold-like in the middle and it's slightly larger in size. Another key difference is the Canadian bills are printed in different colors whereas America's billed currency is all the same. Should you prefer to use cash as opposed to credit cards and debit cards, pay attention to the colors as this helps figure out what you have. Normally, the American dollar is also worth more than the Canadian dollar, but the value fluctuates. The best bet, when spending money in Canada, stick with either the credit card or debit card and let the banks figure it out. When spending cash, sometimes Canadian stores near the border may treat the American currency at par and you will not get an exchange rate in your favor. Unlike banks, some store owners won't adjust the currency differences on a daily basis as the percentages have been known to dance around too much. Keep this in mind when you're traveling on the road into Canada from the US. It is recommended to have cash of some kind on hand, just in case. While governments do push for more people to use credit cards, debit cards, and travelers' checks, having a few dollars cash comes in handy when facing situations where the cards are of no use at all. Believe it or not, there are still some vendors that will take cash only.
Exercising Sound Judgement
The drive into Canada from the US, whatever the reason, requires doing the homework first to learn about any advisories. Much has changed since 2019 and it seems unlikely things will go back to the way it was. Pandemic aside, planning ahead in key areas such as booking reservations and mapping out your travel is always advised. If you have a reliable GPS you know you can rely on, great. If not, road maps still come in handy. Your best bet is to have both. Sometimes, the GPS information isn't always so accurate, especially if something unexpected has happened and the device isn't aware of it yet. Be sure to know what the Canadian laws are, especially when it comes to alcohol, medication, as well as Canada's marijuana laws. In Canada, province for province, marijuana is legal for as long as it's not an amount exceeding governmental regulations. EZ Border Crossing is very thorough in covering every little detail to make your road trip as uncomplicated as possible and does have one.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn