Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
My U.S. Border Nightmare (zakhomuth.com)
320 points by srl on Feb 3, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 265 comments

Author seems a bit naive about international sovereignty, though I suppose one can't exactly blame him for it.

I grew up in Vancouver, a stone's throw from the border, so I suppose I take it for granted that we all learn very early on that CBP is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and everyone knows someone who was chewed out, berated, and generally treated like a criminal by them.

Seeing as how I work in the US now, it's probably fortunate that I grew up with such a cynical view about crossing international borders.

Anyways, let this be a lesson to Canadians (or I suppose more generally, all non-Americans) who want to cross the border for whatever reason: be prepared always for the worst. If you are crossing for business, always seek legal advice for your situation, and make sure all of your ducks are lined up in a row. You have no right to enter a country where you are not a citizen, regardless of what treaties and protocols your two nations have set up.

I do have a question for the author though: what kind of training involves setting up a US corp? Also, regardless of how you classify it in your head, I'm fairly certain that setting up and working for a US corp, for profit or education or just plain fun, means you're working in the USA, and would be illegal without the relevant visas.

Without knowing the specifics about his situation, it would seem to me that he was in fact trying to enter the US illegally - though he didn't seem to know this. Ignorance of the law won't help you very much when you're in a room with an irate CBP officer.

Yes to all of this. I always rehearse what I'm going to say entering any country legally. They will grind you to find inconsistencies and sometimes you just say honest mistakes that will take you to a second round of interrogation.

For example: after a series of tough questions, the border was just about to stamp my passport, he held the stamp in the air and then asked "have you been in the US before"? And I flustered, because I said no, but I corrected myself because I had crossed the border at Niagara Falls for a day trip. I explained this to the agent which granted me an extra round of questioning.

But I felt most offended when I went to Canada (I'm a Canadian citizen and I hadn't been there in years) and the agent asked me what was my reason for going to Canada. As if I needed an excuse.

You don't. Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms means that, as a Canadian citizen, you don't need to explain why you are travelling within, leaving or re-entering Canada. Not only that, but that section cannot be overwritten by the notwithstanding clause.

You do have to provide a basic customs declaration though.

Good advice. I experienced the same thing when coming into Canada recently as a non-Canadian. The agent asked me if I had been to Canada before and I said know.

He then found a stamp on my passport (which was only there because I got a connecting flight to Chicago from Toronto - I never left the airport) I got another round of questions and even further questioning by a second immigration officer.

Granted, I am staying for almost the maximum time allowed without a visa (6 months) but such a minor slip-up can lead to a lot of extra questions and if you slip-up on them you could be on your way home. It's always good to know what you are going to say before you reach the desk, at least as much as possible.

I spent about 3 hours in Canada Immigration on my first trip to Canada, I now live here. IMO Toronto Pearson's border control are the worst I've ever experienced.

I made the honest mistake of being honest. I was working as an electrician for my fathers company, which meant I had a plenty of money and as much holiday time as I wanted (I declared I was taking 2 weeks, and the officer acted like this was a lot).

My second mistake was being nervous. I came from the UK where our police, even at the border, are professional, courteous and aren't carrying handguns. The Canadian border officer was extremely rude (In dealing with 5 female officers and 4 male officers I found the male ones are the only professional and courteous officers employed by CBP).

After being questioned for an hour I was taken to get my bags searched. The male officer doing the searching was extremely polite and professional. He opened my suitcase (for a very messy person, my luggage is always meticulously packed to maximize space) and automatically adopted "We're not going to find anything here" mode, like you visibly saw the guy relax and he started chatting about the books I'd brought with me (one was a manga that he bought his kid).

I then got questioned further, and taken back to the immigration desk and asked to wait. This is when I overheard another male officer say "He's got nothing, you should have known that in the first five minutes. Just let him go." So she asked for the contact information, accused me of them being false when they didn't immediately answer (noisy terminal and 2 hours waiting). I asked if I could text them, and got grilled for her accusing me of keeping my phone on. I basically threw my phone over the desk at her and said "No it's been turned off for the past ten hours!" Then her attitude changed.

Since then I've rehearsed everything I've said. Act pissed off and say as little as possible. When I get to the person who checks my claims I say, sounding extremely pissed off "Hey, how are you?" I take the same policy whenever I get sent to the actual officers (it happens way to frequently, I have no clue why, apparently being completely white bread I look like a major terrorist threat - actually with my knowledge of chemistry and physics I'm probably a bigger risk than any of the guys who hijacked the planes on 9/11 as I actually know how to make a nuclear bomb - probably a very, very dirty bomb - and explosives).

I was detained for several hours at the Montreal airport trying to enter Canada. The immigration officer at one point started yelling at me about Wal-Mart and how Canada isn't like Wal-Mart and the workers in Canada have rights! None of which had anything to do with me. I assume she was having a bad day and decided to take it out on the first American she came across.

She began insisting that I pay $1000 cash to enter the country with my laptop and printer. I refused to give her cash but offered to pay with a credit card. That got me detained for another hour, sitting alone locked in a room.

Finally she brought someone else out that wasn't irrationally mad at me and she charged my credit card $250. The entire thing was surreal.

Regarding your last comment:

Had the same experience in Europe. I'm Austrian citizen, but live in the US. During my last flight back to Austria (via Amsterdam), the border-agent in Amsterdam asked me quite in detail about why I'm entering the European Union. Wonder what would have happened if I had refused to answer.

From my experience, that seems to be the policy in Amsterdam. I am en EU citizen, but live in the Netherlands. If I fly to the US I can reliably expect lengthy and silly questions. Example:

Agent: why did you come the Netherlands six years ago? Me: to study

A: where's your student id? M: that was six years ago...

A: any other proof you might have?

and so on...

Most of the time it's not about your answers but about your reaction.

Cool. A random stranger asks you an incredible amount of horribly silly questions in an aggressive/bored/annoyed tone and they expect your reaction to be something else than "WTF? Leave me alone." If this really were about your reaction to questions the staff at border stations would be trained to look for more than "has a beard, looks around nervously" and the questions would be tailored to actually invoke some observable reaction.

Have you had training in what questions to ask in order to properly gauge a person's reaction to said question to determine the likelihood of that person to commit a crime or other undesirable act?

I would imagine in most cases the "WTF? Leave me alone." response would not mark you as anything other than a law-abiding citizen that's just annoyed with the process. They ask the horribly silly questions for a reason. Well, most of the time, sometimes you just get someone who's having a bad day or maybe just an overall jerk high on abusing his authority.

I think tintin is right - your complaint is that it's not effective, which is also probably true. But they just want to get you talking, and your current plans are an easy topic that at least are relevant.

As long as you have a EU (Schengen) passport, another EU (Schengen) member state can only deny your entry if its authorities can prove that you pose a "genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat". The burden of proof is on them. It's very likely that even if you have refused to answer eventually the border control officer would have granted you entry.

"genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat". Reading: they can stop anyone for any reason anytime at any place. EU is not much better than US. I hold Polish, German and US citizenships. Europe is actually worse because they think that they treat people better when in reality they are much worse it just doesn't get as much attention because it is not US.

Funny, I'm an American working in the EU and my experience has been loads better than when I go back to the US. Growing up in the places I have you learn to say as little as possible to authorities (ie, don't give too much rope to hang yourself).

In every country I've visited it's known your flight number, know your hotel address, know your return date, and if anyone asks, you are just visiting. Getting into specifics just invites more and more questions.

> Growing up in the places I have you learn to say as little as possible to authorities (ie, don't give too much rope to hang yourself)

It's very true. There's a reason that, when your Miranda rights are read upon a rest, they say "...anything you say can and will be used against you.."

I'll leave it up to the viewer to judge this video with a defense attorney talking about why it's never good to talk to the Police: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

(48mins in length)

How do you have german citizenship and two others at the same time? I thought germany was a one citizenship state. Or is it in practice that you can avoid that rule fairly easily?

In some country you are given the nationality of your father, in germany it is the mother and in the US it is the country. My brother has three nationalities because of that. I have two but not the US nationality.

There are now also agreements between some european countries that you don't have to drop your previous nationality when you adopt a new nationality. So I should get three nationalities in a few months.

I will add an anecdote here. I have crossed the US-Canada land border many times. I've only ever been 'chewed out' by Canadian Border Patrol once. I've had this happen multiple times from the US Border Patrol and I'm a US citizen.

The Canadian Border Patrol has always been calm, patient and understanding in my experience. The US border patrol is hit-or-miss. Some people are nice (once I was only asked two questions, and wasn't even required to show my passport, back in ~2005), while others obviously have a chip on their shoulder and are just looking for someway to nail to the wall... no matter how small or insignificant.

I worked for Microsoft in the Seattle area for ~6 years in the early 2000s. My wife and I (both US citizens) went up to Richmond and Vancouver, BC every few months to spend a weekend eating great chinese food.

Every single time, the trip into Canada was great ("enjoy your visit!") and the return and US Border Patrol Experience was horrible. I had people try and catch me on whether Kirkland was on the east or west side of Lake Washington; deep grilling on the specific chinese buns we ate; it goes on and on. I don't think I ever made it through with less than five minutes of solid grilling. I never ended up in secondary questioning, but if it weren't for my wife's love of good Chinese food, I certainly wouldn't have made the drive --- just because of that.

I've crossed into Canada numerous times. On the Buffalo border, if you basically said "I'm going to the casino" or "I'm going to the strip clubs", they just waived you right in.

On the way back, depending on the person at the booth, it could either be a stern questioning, or a waive through. You learned to guess the demeanor of the agents by looking at the lines of cars; if one line was moving very slowly, it was best avoided. As a general rule of thumb, the less you say, the better (of course, it shouldn't be _obvious_ that you're biting your tongue and withholding information; just be polite, courteous and to-the-point).

Sundowners fan, eh?

LOL ... guilty as charged. :-D

Some more anecdotes.

I've crossed into Canada twice, both times awful. The first time (crossing from Detroit, heading towards Toronto) required having my entire car searched. The people were extremely unpleasant. Probably took close to an hour at the border. Coming home through Buffalo took two seconds. Second time was heading to Montreal from NYC and the guard was just generally a dick. Again, returning home, the guard was very friendly and advised us of some bad weather.

Maybe there's a system to the dickery, but probably not. I think border guards are generally hit or miss, regardless of their country.

  > Maybe there's a system to the dickery, but probably
  > not. I think border guards are generally hit or miss,
  > regardless of their country.
I generally find that I've had fewer bad experiences by avoiding the Ambassador Bridge (Detroit), the Peace Bridge (Buffalo), and the Lewiston-Kingston Bridge (north of Niagara Falls).

The only bad experience I had with Canadian Border Officers was at the Lewiston-Kingston Bridge.

To me, this seems to make sense. These crossings are higher traffic than the other crossings (Rainbow Bridge, Detroit-Windsor Tunnel) in those areas. There may be more pressure on the guards at those crossings to be extra cautious, or they just might find people trying to pull stupid stuff more often (which re-enforces the idea that anyone is a potential 'evil-doer').

The other pattern that I've noticed is that most of the officers with chips on their shoulders reek of ex-military, whereas the more reasonable people don't give off that vibe.

I wouldn't be surprised if there is a system and your name popped. Years ago, going through US customs wasn't a big deal for me. Now, I've got loads more stamps and visas in the passport I get questioned more, every time. They'll ask about countries I've been in 20-25 flights ago. I give them the "fuck if I know" face.

Legally, they can't prevent me from entering the US, but they sure love to slow me down.

US citizen, I used to cross to Vancouver BC occasionally in the eighties. I loved going up, the CBP was always nice and welcoming. I hated coming back, the US guards were rude and terrible. Shameful.

US border guards are primarily ex-military. Canadian border guards are often civilians (in fact, a good friend of mind worked at CBSA during summers between semesters at university). This lends a lot to the attitudes of the guards.

That said, I've always had an easy time going through the border, and have rarely had more than a couple questions asked to me over the many many crossings (this may be because I have a student visa in my passport and I believe that answers most questions for the guards before they ask them). One tip in contrast from a post above -- Don't think too much about what you're going to say, because if they ask something else you won't be prepared. Imagine border guards are actually people and you're just having a conversation with them!

"US border guards are primarily ex-military."

Ex-military, like everyone else in the world, are individuals. Being in the military doesn't turn you into an asshole, although it could amplify that tendency if you went in with it. Military and ex-military are not exotic aliens, they're us, nothing more and nothing less.

I think it's more likely that poor treatment at the border is institutional.

The Stanford Prison Experiment seems to contradict your claim that normal people can't/won't be conditioned to develop hostility in "us vs them" scenarios.

I don't claim that normal people can't or won't be conditioned to develop hostility in us vs them scenarios.

I also don't claim that being in the military doesn't change people. Everything changes people, and the change in the military can be profound; in my opinion that change will most often be positive. I am biased, being ex-Navy.

What I'm saying is that the military doesn't produce assholes to the extent that you can reliably explain that behavior as a result of having been in the military. They're individuals.

You agree with him, but you apparently don't realize it. What you said is another way of saying that the poor treatment is probably institutional.

I do not agree that a military, ex-military, border agent, or other law-enforcement agent's inherent personality can be separated from his personality "on the job".

All sorts of executive-branch military or law enforcement posts seem to encourage "us vs them" thinking, while shifting the bright line in the "us" direction. Accepted norms become narrower, while "the other" becomes correspondingly broader.

That change is not confined to on-the-job attitudes and behaviors.

In this context "CBP" probably refers to Customs and Border Protection, the name at the bottom of the DHS stamp shown in the first picture, rather than Canadian Border Patrol.

Indeed, I thought Canadian customs has always been referred to as the CBSA.

I've been questioned pretty strongly the few times I flew to YYC (Calgary) from the US. All times it was for business, and I was pushed quite hard to admit that my work could have been done remotely from the US.

Granted, I am a developer, but my work couldn't have been done remotely - I had to be physically present. The CBP at the airport were generally unpleasant and surly.

Of course, there's also US Border Patrol in YYC's airport for the return back to the US, and I will say that the US border guards were pretty surly as well.

While we are adding anecdotes - my experience has been the opposite. While trying to enter Canada (Vancouver), the Canadian border guy asked me and my friends all kinds of detailed questions (How long do you know each other, how do you know this guy etc) Entering the US was as simple as looking at my passport and waving me through. (The only time I've been asked a bunch of questions while trying to enter the US was when I was walking across the border from Mexico)

The funny part is I've seen the same thing, in reverse!

I'm a Canadian citizen and I get no end of grief from the Canadian Border Patrol. "Are you trying to bring this car in illegally?" or "Visiting family? What do you mean by family?".

Then I return to the US and all I get is "Welcome home!".

It makes sense if you think about it. Who in the gov't cares if one of their citizens complain? It's not like you're going to stop coming back to your home country.

National Sovereignty = natural arseholes? Not necessarily.

I have a friend who in the pre-Euro days only realised he had drunkenly stumbled over the Netherlands-Belgium border when he went into a fish'n'chip shop and thought 'wow, the prices are really high here'.

My own experience with the US border guards was mixed. Inland in Texas, I met a guard who ruined my day at a checkpoint (though I wasn't in danger of being detained). But at the border at Nogales, the entry to Mexico is just a turnstile, and on the entry back to the US, the guard just waved me through with a bored look on his face, passport unexamined.

I agree though that you have to be prepared, and you have to just shut up and play the game if they're being fractious.

I rode my bike over the Italy/Austria border once (along the Drava river), and the only way you could tell was that the signs stopped being in Italian & German and were only in German

"You have no right to enter a country where you are not a citizen, regardless of what treaties and protocols your two nations have set up."

According to the EU:

"The first right of a European citizen is the right to travel, work and live anywhere in the Union."


I guess that's because the member states of the EU have given up complete sovereignty through things like the Treaty of Maastricht.

I'm really, really tired of the line "You have no right to X if Y". That's false; somebody might not recognise your rights, but that doesn't mean you don't have them.

I personally believe everyone has a right to move across arbitrary lines written on some map by wealthy people in the past few centuries. I believe it is a natural right for every human being, as much as the right to participate in the organization of your community (e.g. voting), the right not to be unduly harassed without habeas corpus, the right to be treated with dignity etc etc.

The fact that some specific law of some specific land recognises some rights and not others does not mean we should resign to the fact that this is how it ought to be. Otherwise, we might as well roll back to theocracy or some other rubbish way of life.

"I personally believe everyone has a right to move across arbitrary lines written on some map by wealthy people in the past few centuries."

That is false. Every country has the right to determine who can enter its borders.

> Every country has the right to determine who can enter its borders.

Every government, legitimate or not, has the power to decree who may or may not enter the country.

There's a huge difference between a power and a right.

It comes down to that inside the internal rule system of a very powerful, hopefully consistent and ultimately violent organization known as government, they won't hold back in these border crossing situation vs how they would inside their borders.

As someone growing up at a border (1 mile from the Austrian / Swiss border) - I have to say that this is a whole different thing in Europe (between Switzerland / Austria / Germany for sure). Well you get checked for the stuff and if you are over the allowed quantities for the stuff you have with you - and you may have to show your ID but that's it. If you didn't do any wrong you have no problems.

For me (and many families in my town) it was completely normal to shop in Switzerland, or go to the gym there. I've once switched the border every day just to use the swiss highway, cause my commute was shorter and faster this way.

Reminder: Switzerland is not part of the EU (european union)

  Reminder: Switzerland is not part of the EU (european union)
That's true, but Switzerland is certainly part of the Schengen treaty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Agreement), which regulates border crossing throughout the participating countries (there is no formal border control, between those countries).

Leaving from Zurich to most European destinations by plane I usually don't even need an id.

The UK and Ireland are both outside the Schengen treaty.

When you take the ferry from Britain to Ireland, if I remember rightly, the customs ask you if you are British or Irish. British / Irish citizens don't have to show a passport, but everyone else does. The beautiful thing is that you are just relied upon to tell the truth.

In fact, I have never been asked anyway, they just wave everyone through.

I was really impressed by this story. I never wanted to go the U.S.A. anyway, but my decision is even more strongly reinforced now, I certainly will never go with my children. (Mostly I didn't want to be finger-printed like a common criminal.)

Travelling between the Schengen countries, in my experience, the worst country is Germany, the second worst is Switzerland. Travelling between Spain, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Portugal and Austria I don't remember being ever asked even to produce a passport. (In Germany you are though - although Germany is supposed to be a Schengen country, unfortunately the police are still bastards. They make a big rude show of themselves, and like to feel important. We decided after that never to travel through Germany again if possible.)

Also, Australian customs - really friendly. Japanese customs, also nice.

Switzerland abolished border controls (and started issuing Schengen visas) only a few years ago (in 2008 if memory serves). Also, there may be no border control (=they don't check your entry permits if you're coming from a Schengen country), but customs isn't going anywhere.

"Leaving from Zurich to most European destinations by plane I usually don't even need an id."

Not true. Having an ID on you is needed while travelling Schengen, and you can get a fine if you don't have one.

One chick from our bus even managed to get one when we were stopped by Polizei for a random check a few km inside Germany.

What you describe is pretty common on many parts of the US-Canada border, too. There are towns that are split down the middle, and it's normal for locals to cross the border several times a day without any hassle. When I was growing up (1990s) the guards would simply wave locals through because they knew their cars.

The major highway and airport crossings that deal with many thousands of visitors a day are obviously a different matter.

In my own experience as a US passport holder, the absolute hell that is entering at Heathrow far exceeds anything that my European friends have encountered coming to the US. Border crossings are often unpleasant. Europe isn't different.

The US is scared of immigrants from outside of the US. Europe is scared of immigrants from outside of Europe. Europe is not scared of immigrants from inside Europe.

Not entirely true - there was a lot of scaremongering in the UK when Eastern European countries (like Poland) joined the EU because of fears about an influx of immigrants working for cheap wages.

I am British and live in the UK, I remember this happening, and I had it in mind when I wrote the comment above.

If you take Europe as a whole, it's not scared of immigration between member countries. The UK is simply more racist and narcissistic than the rest of Europe.

I'm British, and I've lived between Holland, Italy and France for a few years. I don't think it's really true that the British are more racist or narcissistic. I think they are more fake, and more arrogant. I think the racism is really a reflection of the British newspapers than the people.

A thing that British people forget is that our country is the only in Europe where there are no ID cards (yet). In Italy, Holland and France people think it's strange when I tell them that it's not only that you don't have to carry an ID with you in Britain, but that it's not even compulsory to own an ID (passports, driving licenses, etc. are all optional). Furthermore, you are not required to register your address in Britain, like you are in, for example, Austria, Italy, and Holland. In Britain, the state doesn't know for sure how many people there are, and where they all live because there is no national database. They have the voting register, NHS database, DVLA database, whatever the Inland Revenue has, and the census, but it's a mess and they don't really care.

In comparison, when I moved from Holland to France recently, we had to de-register (in Holland), and we took great care to say that we were travelling (not true) and we gave no address. We didn't even give the country. But they found out anyway, because they sent us letters and stuff, even though we didn't have to register in France. The Dutch state is extremely efficient, data is shared widely and easily between state organizations. It's vaguely fascist. The British system, in comparison, is chaotic.

In my opinion, the British don't appreciate how liberal their state is.

"not only that you don't have to carry an ID with you in Britain, but that it's not even compulsory to own an ID (passports, driving licenses, etc. are all optional)"

That's probably because the cameras spying on you wherever you go already know who you are.

"In my opinion, the British don't appreciate how liberal their state is."

Liberal in some ways. But there's no freedom of speech guaranteed in the British constitution, protesters are atrociously abused, and the British libel laws are outrageous. I would not call either of these things very liberal.

Of course, the British system is more liberal in some ways than some countries -- particularly in regards to their NHS -- but more conservative in other ways (see above, plus the push to privatize more and more over recent decades -- Britain is getting more and more conservative).

A lot of the other EU countries delayed letting the newer nations have full working rights. I think Germany only fully allowed Poles last year.

There's certainly some sectors where that happened (transportation comes to mind). Now some relatively overpaid UK/EU people are out of work, and some Polish families have much better living circumstances. It's just a determination of where you put your social borders.

Well you get checked for the stuff and if you are over the allowed quantities for the stuff you have with you - and you may have to show your ID but that's it.

I've only crossed in Switzerland once (from Italy) on a motorbike, and they didn't even stop me. I slowed down approaching the border post, and the guy just waved me through. Likewise when leaving Switzerland going into France it was quite easy. That's cause the French border post was empty and we just drive through.

Right, but they are still subscribed to many of the same rules, most specifically the "free movement of people" for which they are bound by EU law.


true - but most of that happened in my childhood, when Austria was partnot of the EU and Switzerland did'nt subscribe to these rules.

He is the founder of YC-funded upverter. At the time of the blog post they were still in stealth mode and didn't want to reveal this. A story about their YC experience is currently on the HN homepage

> what kind of training involves setting up a US corp?

Y Combinator. The company he mentions has a post on the front page right now mentioning "[their] Y Combinator experience". Calling it "business training" seems an overly simplistic description, but I don't think it's technically inaccurate. It's certainly the wrong thing to call it at the border.

But there's absolutely no question that it involves working in America, and would require a business visa. I'm not sure how one could a) be smart enough to get into YC, and b) not realize that coming to SF for 3 months to work presumably as a C-level director for an American business requires a work visa.

EDIT: And neither B1 nor B2 is the right visa, so CBP was right to send him home. The OP needed a working visa.

would require a business visa.

Just to be precise here: it probably requires an employment visa, which is in a different category than business visas. You can come to the US and talk contracts with a company your company wants to do business with: that's (probably) B-1 (business). If you're doing work in the US, you need a work-capable visa. Some options would be TN-1 ("Hello Mr. Canadian professional"), L-1 (intracompany transferee), and J-1 (specialist).

I have some accidental knowledge about this because I used to help finangle things for Japanese folks affiliated with an employer of mine, but if you have any doubt about this sort of stuff, get a lawyer. The very fact of having a lawyer makes it less likely you will get tripped up because they know how the game is played and they will provide consequential bits of advice like "Give anyone asking questions the minimum information required and refer them to the stack of official documents you will carry with you." (Bureaucracies are state machines: you give them the minimum information necessary to get the state transition you desire.) They will also to be able to give advice such as "Given your circumstances, one way we could hypothetically do things is X but the on-the-ground reality would be exactly the same as if we classified it as Y and Y is orders-of-magnitude easier to pass scrutiny for."

I didn't mean to imply it wouldn't require a business visa (or employment visa and/or status, per patio11). When I said calling it "business training" was technically accurate, I meant just that. YC technically helps train you to create and run a business, but it's only part of the equation.

I certainly agree that he should have known better. How can you honestly say (or think) "I'm going to the states for a couple months to do business training, and yes those are documents to set up a US business, but no I'm not here on business."

>How can you honestly say (or think)

The author noted why - he said as he wasn't financially benefiting [or acting as an agent to procure direct financial benefit presumably] he assumed it didn't count as business. TBH that's the measure most people use for "is this a business thing".

It could get quite tricky. For example part of what I do for money involves working with ceramics. I get inspiration in all sorts of places. If on a holiday to USA I happen to see a nice piece of ceramic art that inspires me then suddenly I've learnt something that benefits my business and one could argue it is in part a trip "for business". Perhaps that's too weak, but where's the cross-over ... if I go to visit a pottery? If I attend a seminar? If I go to a workshop [an event where one learns new techniques]? If I actively participate in a workshop?

Is the problem that USA don't want to let people learn things in the USA and leave the country with that knowledge just in case they give away some commercial advantage?

I also hadn't realized he meant Y Combinator, because calling it "training" is hugely inaccurate. The goal of participants of Y Combinator is to start a business in the US. They don't setup the corporation on a lark, or as a "learning experience."

"You have no right to enter a country where you are not a citizen, regardless of what treaties and protocols your two nations have set up."

I am a citizen, so I have a right to enter this country. Why is it that they harass me?

I suspect they just like harassing everybody. Citizenship is barely involved.

I agree. I am a dual-citizen of Canada and the U.S., and I hate travelling to the U.S. because > 50% of my interactions with the U.S. border folks are suspicious of me because I'm a dual citizen. There is something wrong with a system that is set up to assume that people are lying to you when in reality they may be confused.

IMO, better people training is required—but that requires spending money on soft-skill stuff that the U.S. doesn't want to spend on either CBP or TSA agents.

The absolute single biggest problem with the way CBP works (especially for non-citizens) is that a CBP agent with a bad attitude can decide to reject your entry for no reason whatsoever and no right of appeal. (The second problem, at least at Toronto Pearson, is that some of these folks apparently hate working in Canada. If you hate it, get a fucking transfer. You're a guest in Canada, and it's a great place to live. Stop being a sourpuss because your bad attitude is making it worse for all of the people you interact with, and you're a representative for the U.S. Do you really want to give a negative impression of the U.S. based on your attitude?)

You have no right to enter a country where you are not a citizen, regardless of what treaties and protocols your two nations have set up.

Well technically citizens of the EU have the right live & work anywhere else in the EU....

This is one of those instances where it's useful to clearly separate descriptive arguments (the way things are) from normative arguments (the way things should be). I agree that the best strategy to deal with the border, as it is, is to expect and prepare for the worst. But I sympathize with the author that, in a better world, it wouldn't be this way.

> You have no right to enter a country where you are not a citizen,

As an European, I'll be forgiven if I start to forget this. After all plenty of our traffic posts, some older then US, have been turned into cafes.

We should watch this as hackers - and as hackers, this looks a lot like a process that's failing at its job. The point is not to make crossing the border an unpleasant experience (unless it is, and then it's doing a great job) but to do whatever it has to do as transparently as possibly. And regardless of other constraints, it can _at least_ do it politely.

No matter how you look at it, somebody isn't doing his job here.

I'm a foreigner that has crossed into the USA 25+ times, about half of those at land borders from Canada (where I live, but I'm not Canadian)

>the border guard starts in on me hard. I mean he had it out for me. I still have no idea why I rubbed him the wrong way, but he sure didn't like me.

This happens to me 75% of the time I try to enter the USA.

The best one was when I had my usa-plated motorbike in Canada, and came back into the USA with it. The border guard yelled at me, literally yelled at me for 2 hours about how much trouble I was in. "You gunna get it, boy", etc. Whenever I politely asked what law I had broken, I was told to "shut the hell up, smartass". (I broke no law, and was eventually allowed on my way)

Another time in front of about 40 people the border guard booms "Can you read, Boy?". To which I replied "yes, sir", as he threw my passport across the room, hitting me on the chest and falling on the floor.

A while back I was flying out from LA to Melbourne, and upon looking at my international plane ticket, the border guard said "where's Melbourne?". I was then forced to sit in a dark room, by myself for 4 hours, until another guard came along and said "looks fine to me, on your way"

>he was trying to get me to talk and contradict myself - which I have to admit is pretty fucked up.

This is the case every time I cross the border.

For the record, I'm white.

Ouch, I'm not sure what that says that I immediately wondered if you were a minority.

Oh, and I had a similar experience re: Melbourne. I'm a US citizen living in Australia, and was landing in San Fran for a 3 week visit about 8 years ago. As required by law, I travel on my US passport in and out of the US, so no problem right? But no, I start getting the third degree about what I do with myself - "I'm a student at the University of Melbourne" - "What is that? A college? What's Melbourne?" - err, where I just came from, and its best known University.

It says you are familiar with the historical racist usage of "boy"?

(For non-Americans: a common racial slur in the southern US during the Jim Crow era was to call an adult black man "boy".)

There was a curious culture clash in the '60s when Muhammad Ali was in Australia doing a meet'n'greet and a local TV personality was doing a light-hearted interview with him, and threw in the phrase 'I like the boy', referring to Ali.

The phrase was a slogan for a product that the local celebrity had been involved with, and didn't have the connotations here that it did in Ali's home country... the interview went sour fast.

"I like the boy" really just refers to a young male the way its said here, in Australia anyway. However, having watched enough American films, people are exposed to the "something something, boy." usage and aware of its connotations. These days you might say "guy" instead of "boy" but for no particular reason except that languages change.

In older English films, you often hear "my boy", which also doesn't have the same connotations.

Across cultural boundaries, the same words can mean different things.

Nonetheless, I'd be offended if someone referred to me as "boy" when directly addressing me because of the connotations that come from a culture separate to my own.

I imagine being referred to as 'boy' while your passport is airborne is offensive everywhere :)

here's the video (can't confirm audio on this machine) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWKyDGGptA4

corrections to my story:

- late '70s

- misunderstanding was acknowledged and forgiven

I live in Holland (US Citizen) and get a long series of questions about 50% of the time when crossing the US border.

"Do you live in Holland? What do you do there? What are you doing on your visit back home?"

I usually (happily, respectfully) humor them for a few questions, and then switch to "am I free to go?" (with a smile).

Only once has this resulted in a small temper-tantrum by the agent (after which he just let me go). They cannot deny you entry, they can only delay it for a while and conduct extra searches.

I'm always worried in these situations that not using the word "sir" would impact on my experience and their reaction. It seems to be a common thing to say in the US, but I can't remember ever using it outside of a joke in my life.

OTOH, I find the habit that Americans have of calling everyone "guys", particularly from waiters, janitors, etc, annoying and vulgar, but apparently that's the habit on the other side of the pond (or am I that old?).

How would you call a person you don't know? Particularly someone with authority, like a cop, border guard, etc? Just curious; so far I still consider "mister", "man", "ol'guy" and "chap" to be deliberately insulting :)

I'm an American, I've lived several major cities (so I'm not blinded by a specific localized culture), and calling people "guy" as a generic pronoun doesn't strike me as a universal Americanism. Where it is used, it's just as a greeting:

"Hey, guy..." or "Hey, dude..." or "Hey, man...". I prefer just "Hey" or "Hi" to get someone's attention. "Mister" and "ol(d|') guy" seem anacronistic to me. (I was born after Vietnam if that helps.) "Mate", "chap", etc. are the same idea, but originate in British (or colonial British) culture.

Those attention-getting pronouns are frowned upon in formal or "civilized" (upper-class or upper-middle-class) communication, I suppose because it's considered informal or rude to try to grab someone's attention that way. However, in everyday vulgar (as in not-formal) speech, I don't consider any of them to be insulting. There are other culture-specific race-specific and gender-specific pronouns which can be very insulting, to the point of getting you killed when used in the wrong situation, but can also be okay depending on who you are and who you're talking to.

When talking to cops, border guards, or any agent of the executive branch who has the power to ruin your day, I would always use "sir" or "ma'am".

What you mean "calling everyone guys"?

e.g. "Hey, guy! Don't step on the wet floor"?

I don't think, generally speaking, that honorifics are required, even with individuals working in an official capacity (I would never say "sir" to a cop or a ICE agent, for example). That might just be a west coast habit, though. Back east, things might be different.

You know, something like "Hey guys, what would you like?" and "Hi guys, How're ya doin'?". When I enter a restaurant, I'm not looking forward creating bonds with waiters. It always feel quite awkward to me. But hey, I was taught "English" not "American English", and corn isn't maize, you may colour the centre, and so on :)

BTW how would you talk to the said cop? Officer?

Well, I guess that all depends on your upbringing.

I'm from Southern Europe and I'd say it's quite normal for waiters to greet customers like that (except on fancy, expensive places of course). You don't have to "create bonds" with them, it's just a matter of being friendly.

Also, don't forget that waiters in the U.S. live off their tips, so I guess that can be a reason as to why they try to be as friendly as possible.

(I should stress that this might be different for other Americans -- it's a big place with lots of regions)

When interacting with authority figures I am generally polite without deference.

I find that people generally use honorifics when they're being quite rude and would like to soften the impact (e.g. the perennial "Good day, sir"), or while insipidly attempting to endear oneself to another (e.g. perceiving someone as wealthy or powerful). I don't know if it's my own egalitarian nature, or cultural, but I find both more rude than the omission of "sir" or "madam".

"Hi guys" to a group of mixed gender is just considered friendly but casual in Australia. The cleaners of my office stop to chat or generally work around us if we're working late. They can call me anything friendly, to be honest. "Mate" is obviously common amongst some sets.

I wouldn't call a cop anything. Would just say "hi".

I am a us citizen, and I'm sure this sounds (is?) naive, but in the 75% of times when you catch flak for no reason are you asking for the officer's badge number or some other form of identification which you could later use to report their inappropriate behavior (yelling and calling you "boy" are inappropriate)? If not, I would recommend it in the future. Border guards shouldn't be needlessly abrasive, and the situation will only improve if there are consequences for their actions.

> " the situation will only improve if there are consequences for their actions"

You're under the impression that complaints filed with DHS will lead to consequences. I'm not quite so certain this is the case.

TSA is annoying, but for the most part just see like miserable people grudgingly following policy. CBP on the other hand, consistently seems like it attracts only the most power-trippy of individuals known to this country.

I can’t imagine that being a good idea. I’m not an US citizen and I wouldn’t ever want to speak up against any US border guard in any way. That doesn’t seem like a wise idea to me. They don’t have to leave me in.

I don’t have any rights, right?

> I don’t have any rights, right?

Exactly. By very definition, when I enter the USA under the visa waiver program, I have to sign the back of the form, which essentially says "You have no rights".

(That's actually what the guard was talking about when he asked if I could read)

Even when I've applied for a working visa, been interviewed and approved, paid the fees, have an entire page visa in my passport and caught a 15 hour $1200 flight, the border guard can deny me entry and force me to go home simply because (s)he doesn't like the cut of my hair. (S)he doesn't need any more reason than that.

I will never, ever talk back or be in any way uncooperative to a US border guard, or any law enforcement during time in the USA, including asking for a badge number. I don't want to deal with the st storm that will likely bring down on me.

hmm, maybe you're giving off unconscious vibes that create those situations because they know they can get away with it.

I've been a visa requiring foreigner for about a third of my life, and I have found that apart from being nice, humble and unassuming the best is to dress conservatively, be clean and just basically look like you are too conservative to break any rules. Also make sure you carry the right papers, know all the questions and have answers to them, and have enough sleep beforehand.

That's a pretty lame excuse for having someone repeatedly treated like shit.

I think you are right, even though you got downvoted.

I'm not white. In fact I look like I could be the younger, nerdier brother of Mohamed Atta. I got off my green card and became a US citizen only in 2009 (After I was sure McCain wouldn't become President, and after I was certain they couldn't draft me :-)

My papers have always been in order, and I've never had a problem with any customs or border guards.

At the airport, that's effectively correct. At a road crossing, you can always come back and try again later.

This is sadly a pretty obvious case. The author was moving to the US to start a company. It wasn't to travel, nor to pop in and out to conduct business, and calling yCombinator a training program is a stretch. It might be, but it's a 'training program' that helps you start a business. A simple google would have told the agent what was what.

Blame dumb visa requirements, not the agents who actually managed to catch you out. The laws need to be changed, and Obama actually got the point in his SOTU.

In my five years living in the US during the first dot com boom first a student then on an H1B visa I knew enough not to bother trying to start a business. I've since started or helped start over 10, but none in the USA. Their loss.

I would go so far as to say that calling YCombinator "training" is an outright lie. It's a business incubator and angel investment program; they pay you to develop a prototype, and introduce you to potential investors.

I feel misled after reading the article. Not knowing the context, I assumed that he was actually referring to some sort of training; something like business school, in which you pay to be taught. Instead, being given an initial investment to form a corporation, write a prototype, and shop it around to venture capitalists is pretty much the definition of "doing business," even if it is only the first few steps.

I can imagine why CBP officers would feel misled as well. And it doesn't help that he is saying he had no intention of keeping the business in the US. Starting up a business in the US just to take the capital and move the business overseas? This isn't something that a lot of border officers are going to take kindly to, nor is there likely to be much in the way of laws encouraging it.

I would absolutely like to make it easier for successful, smart, and educated people to immigrate to the US, and make it easy for people to immigrate to the US in order to start a business. But going to the US to hit up investors, work for three months to get a prototype going, and then move the business elsewhere? You're going to have a hard time selling that.

He's still making his US investors a huge profit in the process. Somebody else does the work, we get rich. How can you not want this? :-)

Right now America doesn't. You're making a philosophical argument in the context of a US Border cross where predetermined visa categories have already been established.

Glad you posted this, otherwise I was going to do so. The weird wording of "business training" immediately set alarm bells off and I assumed something like Y Combinator. It sounds like a weird generic reworking of the truth you'd use when you know you're trying to skirt around the rules.

I can't help but agree.

Perhaps if he was able to prove that his business was not in the USA and that it would not be in the USA, then he may have been able to show the difference between training and returning, and incubating a new business.

That's pretty messed up that people trying to start a business in America are considered criminals. Then again, it's not with the visas only - even being fully legal resident or citizen, you still need papers and permits and licenses to do business, or you're a criminal. It's like they go out of their way to discourage people from doing business.

even being fully legal resident or citizen, you still need papers and permits and licenses to do business, or you're a criminal

Er... What? You create a business in order to give yourself legal protection. You can go mow lawns, or do contract software, or whatever, without forming a business. But by forming a business you 1) give yourself personal liability protection and 2) create more options for handling taxation.

It's like they go out of their way to discourage people from doing business.

That's not really true. For something like $150, and minimal paperwork, I can start a business right now, in my state. In fact, it was only $50 until just a couple of years ago.

Starting a business from another country, however, is another matter. I don't think it should be particularly easy for a non-American-resident to start an American business.

It is easy to for a non-American resident to start an American business.

I started a Delaware corporation a few years back, and it took a couple of hundred dollars to a company to have them set it up for us. It would've been cheaper except for some complexities in the way we wanted thing set up.

The only thing that's slightly more hassle is getting a US business banking account set up, but that's easy enough too (my first attempt at getting a US bank account many years ago required me to go in person to the US consulate to have them certify my signature and a copy of my passport, and that's the most hassle it's ever been).

If you want to work for your new US corporation _in_ the US, that's another matter.

started a Delaware corporation a few years back

You did this through a registered agent service, correct? How did you get a federal EIN? Is it really your business, or is it a business of the registered agent, who defers to you?

I have a certain amount of sympathy given that Japanese immigration features in all of my nightmares.

That said, attempting to cross borders for the purpose of working illegally (sorry, I don't like the law either, but there is no conceivable way that YC does not count as employment) will not endear you to law enforcement. I wish they had been more polite in the course of discovering your true purpose and refusing you entry, but if they hadn't, that would have been a crazy result under US immigration law.

There's better ways to handle one's business and legal affairs tactically, but start with knowing that the US really doesn't have a visa category "People from countries we like, for any purposes whatsoever, no questions."

Any stories of Japanese immigration you'd like to link to/share that might help prepare someone planning on visiting the country?

I think that the author is misleading his readers. YC is a far cry from a training program.

"Often this training involves setting up an American corporation for the startup activities - but I'll get to that later.".

Why didn't he just say he was accepted into a start-up incubator, and his company was being funded in exchange for a piece of the company that was being incorporated, and that they were going to make a real product and try to find customers for that product?

"We go through his whole list and at the very end, he very stubbornly says none of it matters because the real grounds for refusal are that I am trying to start a business in the US as according to the notes on my file by the Lewiston prosecutor. I refute this, explain the documentation prevents and disproves this, I explain and explain and explain and all to no effect."

What exactly are you doing in YC then...?

Agreed 200%. Classifying YC as a training program to immigration officials is bordering on fraud. He's lucky that he didn't get banned.

"start-up incubator" doesn't make sense to people outside the industry, and may even seem to be cause for concern.

> Why didn't he just say he was accepted into a start-up incubator

Then they'd arrest him for being a bio-terrorist.

never enter the US with an unclear leaving date

He makes it sound like this is an evil US policy. But in fact, every country I've ever visited outside the US, and I've visited a lot, asked me when I would be leaving and issued the appropriate visa. For example, if you visit the Philippines, the initial visa is 21 days. You can extend the visa, but again you must inform the government of your leave date. But if you mess around with Customs on this, you're likely to get in trouble all over the world, not just in the US.

Honestly, the same is true for Canada.

I was in Toronto for a week for work in December, and part of entering the country was presenting a letter signed by our Canadian office verifying that I really would be leaving on the set date, that my accommodations and travel out of Canada were already booked and paid for, etc.

Having travelled to both Canada and the US for a dodgy-looking (but in both cases totally legitimate) 3 month visit, I can tell you the Canadians are very much stricter than the American border guards.

This has not been my experience, but both are much stricter to those who are not their citizens, since they're pretty much charged to be. If you're an American entering Canada, expect to get asked why, and vice versa. It seemed like the OP was trying to enter on a non-work-authorized visa waiver, and that's just not kosher to USCBP. I say this as a US immigrant from Canada.

Always make sure you have your ducks in a row at the border. I still find it hard to believe that someone approved to YC would not know that. If you're doing anything more than just visiting, you probably need to apply for a visa in advance. Lying to CBP (they call it "misrepresentation") is grounds for a lifetime ban from the US.

Well, I entrered Argentina with a back tickett in 6 months, and asked for the 90days automatic tourist visa at the border (and got it), got a bit lost and re-entered the international zone with my stamped in passport, the border guy recognize me, and guide me back in the national zone, up to my luggage. I then crossed twice the border with Chile during the week-ends to get new 90 days tourist visa (and it was clearly way more difficult for an Argentine than a European, also they have special treaty and are neighbor).

Here in Europe, we have mostly no border between 15 states, when you cross one by car, you have a few signs on the side of the road: flag of the country you are entering, european flag, and local speed limits. That's pretty much it.

Schengen Agreement, which eliminates border control is in effect in 26 countries (including non-EU countries, like Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, but excluding some EU countries, for example UK).

I cross the border between the Republic of Ireland (independent) and Northern Ireland (part of UK) in a car all of the time, never stopped once despite lack of Schengen.

Are you a British or Irish citizen? Then you can do it, because of the Common Travel Area (Irish border authorities do conduct random checks, though). It is, however, strictly speaking illegal for somebody holding only a British visa to cross into the Republic, or vice versa.

Yes, but the Irish-British common travel area has been in existence since the instant there was a Republic. Our (Ireland's) visa policy on EU citizens is to all intents and purposes formulated in London because we're not going to have more than minimal border checks with the North and the UK isn't going to have internal border controls between the North and Britain.

Not as weird as the fact that Irish people without UK citizenship, resident there can vote in all elections, and that UK citizens resident in Ireland can vote in all elections bar for President (seeing as Irish people in the UK don't get to vote on the Head of State.)

Schengen is just one mutual agreement of no border controls between member countries and enforced border controls to other countries. Any 2 countries which are not part of Schengen are free to enter a similar bilateral agreement.

This border is a bit particular, it's the place where a long religious war has taken place.

They may not be religious, but many borders (probably most of those which aren't due to the natural geography?) are the subject or result of some kind of conflict. So is this border really that special? Probably most borders in Europe were the subject of conflict within the last 100 years, but we've ended up with the Schengen agreement nevertheless.

I think this is a very recent conflict. Not over the border exactly, but between the religions.

It's been going on for over 400 years:


Any country you need a visa for prefers in all cases you to have a round trip ticket.

I'm a natural born U.S. citizen from the Canal Zone (former U.S. territory). I get harassed quite a bit whenever I come back to the U.S. from overseas. The last time I was brusquely asked if I was a natural born citizen or had been naturalized at some point. I responded, "I was born in the same hospital as John McCain." The officer let me through after that retort.

In my experience the CPB is the worst customs agency in the world and I'm an American. Natural born, of course.

> The last time I was brusquely asked if I was a natural born citizen or had been naturalized at some point.

If you're naturalised, my understanding is that you have all the rights of a person originally born in the country, with everything that implies. Is there even a point of asking this question other than aggressiveness?

Not quite all the same rights and privileges. If you are entering the USA for the purpose of working as POTUS, They have grounds to refuse you as ineligible ;-)

Well, presumably he does have the right to become POTUS if he was born in the same hospital as John McCain seeing as John McCain was a presidential candidate and thus his eligibility was already predetermined.

As I understand naturalization it is a pointless question. Whether I was naturalized at birth or at a later date is entirely irrelevant. In case anyone is wondering, I'm white and a native speaker of English who doesn't speak any other language.

The question is not simply pointless and irrelevant, it is potentially illegal. Border agent may be giving you grounds to claim discrimination on the basis of national origin, which is illegal (similar to asking applicant's age on a job interview).

But it only works this way if you're a US citizen. With any other status border agents can do and ask pretty much whatever they feel like.

I couldn't get through that wall of incoherent text. But from what I read, he's 100% wrong...maybe the story gets really weird though...however..

Traveling to a country which you are not a citizen of is not a right, it's a privilege. There are places where you need to apply weeks (or months) in advanced just to visit. Every country has different types of visas, and each visa has restrictions on what sort of activity you can and cannot engage in. If you are unprepared, or worse, you get caught breaking these laws, whatever happens is your own fault.

Don't like the system? Don't like how a particular country enforces its laws or what the punishment can be? Don't travel.

This is completely true. If somebody's house stinks and is ugly, it's totally within his right to say to everybody: "don't like the stink? Don't come to my house!". However, the house doesn't stop to stink because of that :) I think US immigration policies could use a lot of improvement (using more polite expression here) and their implementation, including proneness of some personnel to power trips, could use a lot of improvement too. I myself crossed US border many times (not a citizen) and never had a bad experience, but I have read enough horror stories to conclude it happens much more often than it should have. And yes, nobody forces anybody to come to the US, and yes, it's totally within rights of the US to deny entry to any non-citizen and be as rude as they want while doing it. But that does not negate the facts expressed above, and I think US would significantly benefit if they fixed it. Saying "don't like our border guards - stay the hell out" won't benefit anybody.

Well, technically it benefits the citizens of the US if it prevents terrorists from coming in. Recall that the 9/11 terrorists came via the US/Canadian border. The first goal of the border agents is to prevent that from happening again. The 2nd goal is smooth service for all the non-terrorists. Unfortunately this is the world we live in.

Recall that the 9/11 terrorists came via the US/Canadian border.

Not one of the 9/11 terrorists entered the US from Canada, and it is a startling indictment that there are people still so incredibly ignorant to make this claim.

Further the US has one of the most porous borders on the planet, with some 12 million+ illegals within its confines right now. They didn't get there from Canada -- they flew directly in from overseas, or walked across the land border from Mexico.

Excuse me, it was Ahmed Ressam. So just a terrorist, not a 9/11 terrorist. I guess that completely negates my point right?

The topic was not about catching terrorists at all. But even if it were you'd be wrong. I'm sure all the terrorists also used cars and probably brushed their teeth. So what? The point of security is to figure out relevant things - that distinguish terrorist from non-terrorist - from irrelevant. Coming from US/Canada border is clearly an irrelevant thing - millions of people come through and even if one of them is a terrorist treating all of them as a terrorists would be highly ineffective. Moreover, it's even worse than ineffective - it's hurtful. Since the officers can't spend hours on every border-crosser, each innocent they wrongly detain raises the chance that they won't have the resources to inspect the real bad guy, because they were busy with harassing the good guy. The fail here is that they denied entrance to the innocent. Imagine spam filter that would put a lot of legitimate email into "spam" folder - would you argue it's an excellent thing to have because once 10 years ago you had one spam in your inbox - or would you argue it needs to be rewritten and fixed so that the false positive rate would go down? Nobody argues for no border protection at all. But border protection that confuses protecting with harassing the innocent has clearly lost the vision of its purpose and needs to be reminded of it. And if somebody from the personnel can't understand the difference he should be given a job that doesn't involve contact with people - like cesspool cleaning or monitoring early-warning radar stations in the Arctic.

It is an incredible mistake to make, so yes it does bring your perspective into question. Especially given that this story has absolutely nothing to do with "catching terrorists" -- even the most paranoid interpretation wouldn't go down that route -- and everything to do with immigration thinking he was going to be a lazy layabout who would end up working illegally in the US (or worse would end up resorting to petty crime to support himself)

The fact that you have only been a member here for 22 days is plainly apparent. Our community doesn't take the tone you are using.

I frankly don't think you understand one bit of what I was saying. You latched on to one part of my original statement - which particular terrorist it was that crossed the border - and missed the overall point. The border patrol is not there for travelers convience. The burdon is on the traveler to have their affairs in order. The officers are going to really dig into anyone who has a wierd story or raises red flags. The fact that you know you are innocent doesn't mean they know you are innocent.

Let me give you an example. The last time I crossed the border from Canada into the US, I was waiting in line in my car. I was probably 10 cars from the checkpoint when I realized that I had left my passport in its usual home in my suitcase - which was in the trunk. I thought, "oh, I'll go get that now so I don't have to waste time later and hold everyone up in this line" which seemed like the efficient thing to do. As soon as I got out of my car to open the trunk I had a pile of border patrol agents running at me yelling to put my hands up. I hadn't realized it, but apparently going for the trunk would be an obvious move to set off a car bomb.

Once they came over and we talked about what I was doing it was all cleared up and I had no issues, but at the moment what was an entirely innocent action to me appeared to be very suspicious to them. That is not an indictment of them, it is just a fact based on the red flags they are looking for. If you hit those red flags, whether you know you are innocent or not, you are viewed through the lense of their training.

Now if you got that from my original message and still think I'm an idiot, then thats your opinion. But that's my perspective on the matter and I'm almost certain that you are judging it without understanding it.

The fact that you have only been a member here for 22 days is plainly apparent.

How utterly obnoxious. I suspect that few of the HN community would embrace your inability to accept your error.

You latched on to one part of my original statement - which particular terrorist it was that crossed the border - and missed the overall point.

You claimed that all of those responsible for the worst terrorist incident in the US history came through Canada. Only none of them did. It's a pretty egregious claim.

The rest of your boring story is irrelevant. Terrorism has nothing to do with this situation. Nothing at all. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

"Traveling to a country which you are not a citizen of is not a right, it's a privilege."

I agree. I worked for 8 years for a Canadian company, during that time travelled up to 4 times a year for our US clients. Often having to bring ample documentation to prove that:

* I work for a Canadian company, and am paid by the Canadian company. (See letter from my employer, on my company's letterhead.)

* The American client I'm visiting is a client of my Canadian company. (See Statement of Work, license agreement, copy of purchase order. Note the SOW specifically has a provision saying "onsite travel required".)

* The American client invited me into the US for the installation/support of our product. (See letter of invite, signed by American client on their letterhead.)

And so on. Regardless of bringing this documentation, I found that the US boarder guards often did not even request it.

But if they did, and if I didn't have it, this business trip would be fscked.

Anyway, I'm going to try inserting <p> tags every few sentences to see if I can make sense of his rant :)

"I'm going to try inserting <p> tags every few sentences to see if I can make sense of his rant"

- super tempted to make a bookmarklet for that later on.

This is why i never go through the US anymore, nor do i plan to ever go there for vacation (or work). US immigration law is outright retarded for a developed country, i don't understand why the US doesn't follow the European model, we are all developed countries, let the citizens travel and work where they want to. I just started working in the UK, i'm French, it took me exactly 3 days from getting confirmation to starting in the company. No visa, no questions asked at the border, no trouble anywhere. This is how it should be.

> Traveling to a country which you are not a citizen of is not a right, it's a privilege.

Sort of. But we are all citizens of the world. States are just arbitrary things made by ... historical reasons, I dunno why. This reason is the same reason the customs guards use to excuse their crappy behaviour to other people. No-one deserves to be treated like that.

Does President Obama get that sort of treatment when he goes through the U.S. / Canadian border?

> Don't like the system? Don't like how a particular country enforces its laws or what the punishment can be?

>Don't travel.

I would have said, "Complain." Because the more people in a position of power act like that, and people don't complain, the more it gets accepted as normal.

I find that often you get pestered by people in museums, saying, "Don't point!" and whatnot. The last time we went, my daughter got told off for touching the plastic sign next to a painting. It didn't used to be like that, the museums have got more ... well, fascist. Some of them now have airport-like security with X-ray machines (e.g. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).But people put up with that crap, and they've got used to it. 50 years ago, people would have thought, "What the fuck?!"

In the 70s (I think) Jean Tinguely made machine-like sculptures that people were allowed to touch and use. Now those sculptures are worth millions, so they don't even turn them on. But even new works by unknown artists nowadays, they would never let you touch the art works.

It's interesting to compare it to a restaurant. Because in a restaurant you pay afterwards. So if the waiter starts being dickish, and you complain, and ... he carries on, nothing changes, well you can just stand up and go! And not pay! But the fact is that the restaurant wants their money first. So usually they are much nicer than customs guards or museum attendants.

(I live in Europe, but) why don't you U.S. / Canadian people do the following:

Give a tip to the guard when you next pass through customs, but only if they are reasonable, do their job properly, and they aren't rude. You like tipping anyway! Make it a new American institution, get all your friends to do it.

Eventually, the customs guards will learn to expect their tip, and will be nice to you.

Yeah, I'd like to have sympathy for the OP because the USCBP and DHS can be annoying to deal with but you have to know what to say before going in there.

He brought it upon himself. You can't just go unprepared expecting them to help you out.

Yes, he himself admitted that in his post. He's not asking for sympathy.

As someone who, up until recently, traveled to the United States on a regular basis (I'm Canadian), this doesn't surprise me at all. The author basically committed every mistake in the book.

Generally, every question that the CBP agent will ask revolves around money: who pays your salary, in what currency, are you attempting to get in to the USA to find a job, will someone be giving you money for whatever reason (e.g. honorarium for giving a talk at a conference), etc. Even if the question sounds innocuous or completely unrelated to money, chances are that depending on your response, a follow up question would be. Additionally, if for whatever reason the agent decides that he doesn't like your story and believes that you are going to the USA and are going to be given money while you're there, you're basically shit out of luck.

> I say Waterloo (totally out of habit) and that I left my job so its no issue about the time off (just a pointer here - never enter the US with an unclear leaving date, and no paying job).

As someone who got locked up in a tiny room for a few hours because I mentioned that (at the time) I had been self-employed, these are basically the worst things that you can say.

I really do understand what the author went through, and I sympathize. But the reality of the situation is that entering a country where you are not a citizen is not a right, it's a _privilege_.

Remember: The CBP agents aren't there to let you in; there are there to keep people out.

I really do understand what the author went through, and I sympathize. But the reality of the situation is that entering a country where you are not a citizen is not a right, it's a _privilege_.

The reality of the situation is that any country that treats its most productive guests in this way won't remain an attractive destination, regardless of whether those guests have the right or privilege of visiting.

I'm wondering when that's going to happen because it seems that the US has always treated people this way since nigh on the beginning of its time.

It's one of the few countries in existence with a century-long isolationist movement, and in decade after decade has had anti-immigration sentiment run high for one immigrant group after another.

Maybe our relatively high resource-to-population ratio and economic inertia allow us to maintain a large enough economy that people have no choice but to come, regardless of how badly they are treated.

Not really. The US-Canada border was far easier to cross pre-911. You didn't even need a passport to cross up until 2004.

At one point in the nineties I was driving from Canada to Maine and actually had to wake up the guard at the border crossing.

The best thing to do is to just not give them any reason at all to become interested in you. The way you do that is pretty simple - just tell the truth.

I never got actually locked up like this guy, but I did have to sit in the lobby while they went through our van and had to answer tons of questions. If you're telling the truth it's not really a problem. If you're lying though, you'd better be a damn good liar because they are trained to try to trip you up.

To be fair, I wasn't put in a jail like the author was; I was sequestered in a very small room, door closed, and asked rapid-fire questions by two CBP agents for 2+ hours.

I was telling the truth the whole time, which is why they ended up letting me travel that day. But let's just say that the next time I crossed the border, I had a mountain of paperwork that proved that I was employed by a Canadian company, that I was paid in Canadian dollars, that I had a return ticket booked & paid for as well as lodging, and a letter of work and an agenda indicating what I would be doing in the US while I was there.

Almost comical in how he did everything to seem more suspect (one way travel, long undefined stay, no job, etc.). As an American who went to university in Montreal and holder of the rare distinction of being called a "retard" by an officer in front of a crowded lobby at the Canadian Border, I have more opinions than healthy about the American-Canadian crossing experience. But as the officer who called me a retard told me in the back room, if you aren't a citizen, they are under no obligation to let you in. It is just best to be aware of what they want to hear (you aren't staying, you don't have a lot of cash/booze/cigs/perishable goods, all the papers have been filled, and you don't come across as deceitful) and give the version of the truth that fits that narrative the best.

> you don't have a lot of cash

...but you have enough that you're not going to need to start working to support yourself.

I think they mean as in literal cash on your person vs. access to cash or lines of credit to sustain your living condition.

It would have gone much smoother like this:

Border Patrol: What is the purpose of your visit?

Liar: I'm helping my friend move

Border Patrol: How long are you staying?

Liar: Heading back on Monday.

Border Patrol: OK, have a good trip.

The problem is, well, primarily that he chose to lie when crossing the border. But, more specifically he chose the wrong lie to tell. If you're crossing the border and planning to lie about the purpose of your visit, you'd be better off making it easy on yourself and lie about the length of your stay instead.

I don't mean to suggest to anyone that you should lie at all - it is much smarter to just tell the truth. I'm just saying that if you are planning to lie because you have the wrong visa type or whatever, then at least be smart about it and think of better story. Otherwise you wind up trying to explain to a border patrol why you are entering the country with no return date and staying for 3 months just to "visit California."

Some tips for border crossings, based on my Canada to US experiences:

The border agents don't like one-way flights. My sister was turned away at the border because she had a one-way flight to visit her boyfriend and they figured she was going to visit illegally. She also had "suspicious" things in her suitcase like a cookbook: "So you're going to take an illegal food service job?"

Make sure you can prove you have enough money to support yourself. The guy in line in front of me got sent back once because he couldn't prove this.

Avoid hard-to-explain travel arrangements, such as travelling in the US, crossing the border back into Canada to visit someone, then crossing back into the US to catch a plane. My best friend got stuck in Windsor because of this, although his scary hair and beard probably didn't help either.

If you have a green card, don't leave it at home by mistake. I got taken into the little room and had to pay a $265 administrative fee because of this.

Make sure you have documentation for everything. When my friends drove through the US to a wedding, I told them to make sure they had the invitation, hotel info, etc, to show customs so everything went smoothly.

Don't have a complex story that makes no sense. I'm sympathetic to the original author, but reading his post I couldn't figure out what he was really doing in the US and I'm not surprised he got turned away.

The strangest questioning I had crossing the border: "Where are you visiting?" "What's your father's name?" "What does your father do?" "A teacher? What school did he teach at?" By this point, I was wondering where this line of questioning was leading. But then the border guard said, "I know your father. He taught me in Grade 11."

While I'm on the subject of border crossing, I've opted out of TSA body scanning several times. I've seen complaints from others, but the patdown has always gone smoothly for me.

> I still have no idea why I rubbed him the wrong way, but he sure didn't like me.

Border guards are trained to make you feel uncomfortable, because they need to be driving with you to in a reactive state. They adapt to build psychological pressure. Don't get too hung up on them "singling" you out or targeting you, a lot of it is carefully choreographed and rote.

It is not choreographed. Some of these people do actually have chips on their shoulders. I've seen the frustration they show towards fellow officers while off to the side that they didn't get a chance to 'nail me to the wall.'

I've also heard from a cabbie that crosses the land border often that sometimes the guys in the booth will send someone inside, then come inside and request to deal with that person themselves. This allows for massive amounts of abuse for assholes on power trips. If it has to go through multiple people, there's at least a chance for one officer to say, "WTF" if another is out-of-line.

Some people are super-nice, and others are complete assholes. This is not by design. If it was all choreographed, then the experience would be very much more homogeneous.

That said, there is a difference between a 'stern line of questioning,' and making an ass of yourself. Conversations like:

  Officer: Question1?
  Me: Answer, because...
  Officer: Stop trying to qualify your answers! I'm asking
           the questions here asshole. Just answer *exactly* what
           I ask you, are you stupid or something?
Are the office being an asshole. I've only had these conversations happen a handful of times, over a ton of land-border crossings, but they do happen. Saying that it's all 'choreographed' just gives these guys a blank cheque to do whatever the hell they feel like and get away with it. Having a bad day? Just take it out on people crossing the border! It's not like they have any rights or anything once they get in line! No one will care if you abuse them! (This is obviously a recipe for only good things!)

Indeed, I had gotten back from a fortnight holidaying around Croatia and flew into Gatwick in Britain on an Irish passport (with a New Zealand accent). I got stopped at the EU entry and demanded I explain because my passport was fake.

Later I found out its a common ploy they use to illicit an emotional response and they watch for tell tale signs that I would give myself away if I was lying.

Unfortunately for the lady the holiday was roughly a week of heavy drinking on yatchs and partying all night, so I was absolutely exhausted. So I let out a rather unrepeatable hail of abuse at how stupid she was and the poor woman didn't look up to meet my angry gaze and just stamped my passport... and I walked off nervously, full of guilt, expecting a security guard to escort me off for questioning or something but no one did thank god.

So they have all sorts of things up there sleeves to try and read your intentions from the get go, I've never had any abuse myself though, but then I've never travelled into America before either.

True, but, it seems some guards tend to take the role more seriously than others.

Case in point, my co-workers and I would always have difficulty going through US customs (which, is located in our Canadian airport) when questioned by one specific agent.

If we go through US customs and get any of the other agents, 9 of 10 times there would be no issue at all.

You can't go anywhere in this post-9/11 world without the potential for being hassled by the gendarmes.

When I landed in Helsinki en route to Osaka, I was stopped by a border agent because my passport was not stamped. I was led back into a downright skeery waiting area for what looked like one of those good-cop-bad-cop, beat-the-crap-out-of-the-suspect interrogation rooms you see in cop shows and movies. She also had a pistol on her hip. No mere paper jockey, this one. She had to be ready to shoot a motherfucker.

Now as it turns out I landed in France, and to the French, it seems, stamping your passport is something of an optional administrative detail that may be overlooked. So my passport was looked at but not stamped. That raised some WTF alarms when I landed in Finland. (Good old EU! A model of international cooperation!) I tried explaining this in the best way I knew how, me not knowing WTF was going on either since this was my first European landing, and waited, tensely, for 15 minutes while they decided whether to do the old good-cop-bad-cop routine on me.

Thankfully, they said I could go. But I was on pins and needles there for a while.

Out of curiosity, what was the starting point? Wherever you start from, France and Helsinki sounds like an unusual route if you're on the way to Japan.


It was actually cheaper if I went that way around the planet via Finnair.

I have no sympathy. This sounds like an unprepared traveller, who confused his story, and then was denied due to the suspicious nature of his story. I know, start-up rush and hustle, but do your homework. Customs and border protection are very formal, and it's your responsibility to explain your story clearly and accurately the first time.

Is he going to roll up to VCs offices and ask them to cut him a cheque because he doesn't know what investment instruments are?

Two hints for easily crossing the boarder:

1. Enter via private plane. The staff at airfields handling private air traffic tend to be less stressed and way more relaxed. I've taxi'd right past the allotted space (Found it eventually) as well as made gitmo jokes with BP - they just laugh.

2. Cross by car at a smaller crossing. Again staff tend to be less stressed and more accommodating.

3. (I took CS!) Have all your ducks in a row before heading off. Really. No really, work it all out beforehand. Even if just going for lunch (Which is easy. "I'm going for lunch sir, I'll be leaving in 2 hours")

If the solution is to take a private plane, why not just suggest teleportation? It's as viable an option for most travelers.

I specifically said private plane instead of private jet for a reason. They make very useful business tools and they're a lot more accessible than people think. A used Cessna 172 goes for about $20K these days. While charters can be had for $200 and up - for three+ passengers.

This can be a serious advantage if you do a lot of business within 1000 mile range of home base.

Mark Shuttleworth had trouble landing in the US in a private plane -- despite doing it all the time. Reinforces the 'get the paperwork right' advice.


As an Australian living in Vancouver who travels to Seattle quite often, the best way is to take the Amtrak. You have to pass immigration at the train station but it's a breeze, and they board the train and check everyones papers are in order, but it's nowhere near as intense as driving across the border or flying.

Smaller crossings can be a real gamble. They can be less stressed, but bored and will give you shit. It depends on the crossing.

I agree with it being a gamble. I got lost in the US once, and used an absolutely tiny border crossing to get back from the US to Canada. Worst crossing experience of my life - car search, shouting, "I can make your life hell", the whole bit. I only cross at big bridges since then.

My wife works for Air Canada in the US and consequently when traveling we see both US and Canadian immigration on a regular basis. I can assure you that there are royal dicks working in both offices. And also great people. There's some skill and some luck involved in getting more of the latter then the former.

One memorable occasion: Just over a year ago I booked a ticket at the last moment, traveling one way and by myself to join my wife for New Years. I couldn't find my passport but with nothing to lose I gave it a shot with no picture ID on me except a 19 year old expired passport and a Costco card. Shockingly, through massive understanding and goodwill, I was able to pass through both Canadian and US security and immigration, albeit not without a few extra questions. Did I mention my mixed background is often mistaken for Middle Eastern and I have a scary drifter beard that sometimes causes my neighbors to politely decline riding in the elevator with me (lest they be mugged or assraped apparently).

So yeah, when I read this article, my impression is the whole story might be a little different. If you could also get the story as told by (1) the guys he was traveling with, (2) the guard, (3) the guard's wife and (4) the spirit medium well might be a cool movie in there.

The biggest mistake made here is the inconsistency. He was invited to do business training yet has no job to go back to.

At least he didn't do anything stupid enough to get banned for ten years.

Next time: Try being nice to the border guard. Let them do their job but at the same time try to engage in some conversation that is of interest to them. Don't try to engage to much. Social engineering goes a lot further than the rule book.

Don't forget border guards know how to use the the internet and read his blog/website/Resume. Which leads to the question, if he wasn't working for upverter anymore, what exactly was he wanting to do in the US.

I'm a US Citizen. I recently went through the process of setting up a Canadian subsidiary of my US company, and obtaining a work permit to oversee Canadian operations temporarily.

The process was ridiculously stressful and daunting. My company is not exactly a huge economic driver in Canada (right now I'm bringing about $500k per year in local economic investment to BC), but it's amazingly time-consuming to get all the paperwork right and get a work permit.

After going through this process to enter Canada, I am considerably more sympathetic and tuned-in to the discussion of immigration reform in the USA. Zak may have technically been in the wrong here (and the border officers may have been correct in turning him away according to the law) but I think the law is profoundly sub-optimal, and it saddens me to see that my native country is this economically backward.

You need a laywer. Plain and simple. There are very good lawyers for this type of stuff - unfortunately they are not cheap and I assume the cost would eat most of the YC investment. But it can be cleared up and worked out if you want to.

Having done business across this border before I'm sorry to say this is a very typical story. Recreational travel across the US/Canada border is quite simple but both sides are sticklers for business travel. People have crossed 50 times to go skiing or visit family without a problem and get used to that process, and then show up the 51st time saying they're on a business trip and end up getting refused because they don't have the right visa.

It's really not that complicated, at least when going between the US and Canada. A lawyer is perhaps a good idea for getting an H1-B, but beyond that, not so much. Immigration law is more straightforward than other areas, it seems. Perhaps because it's less adversarial.

I used this guy's website to successfully (and without hassle) get a US work visa: http://www.grasmick.com/

I'm constantly back-and-forth between the US and Canada, on a variety of visas. Generally, US customs officials based in Canada are far nicer. It's good to try and minimize the possibility that they'll be cranky or see you as suspect. I never feel like I have a right to enter the country I'm not a citizen of.

Also, if you're frequently back-and-forth between the US and Canada, you might consider getting a NEXUS pass. If you're Canadian it's just $50, good for five years, and should minimize border agent hassle.

After reading this it seems like a lot of the guys problems could have been avoided and were his own fault.

Now, I think the behaviour of some of the border patrol agents seems unacceptable, but he was trying to enter the US for 3 months with no proof of ties to home and no return flight.

Putting the business visa aside, that alone is enough to be rejected. If you have no job, and do not own a house or have a mortgage, and have not booked a return flight home (and I don't believe he had any documents to prove he could afford one) you are going to be rejected.

Normally I wouldn't side with border patrol but despite the poor treatment he received he brought a lot of it on himself through poor planning.

Having been born in the UK and travelled to Europe a lot, jeez do we get it easy there. You can drive across ten countries in a month and have nobody blink twice. They see the coat of arms on the UK passport and just wave you through.

The one time I did go to America was precisely through the port the OP did - from Niagara into Buffalo. I got asked some pretty awkward questions and made to feel quite uncomfortable - at the time I thought they were massive bunch of assholes.

He really didn't understand that we were just going over the border for 2 hours to eat chicken wings!

It's just different. The lower 48 is roughly twice the size of the Schengen area, without any border control anywhere.

Throw in Mexico, Canada and Alaska and you are up to 6 times the area, with 3 borders (and the Canada-Alaska border is sort of its own thing).

"It's a big place" doesn't really relate back to border control policy, but the borders of the U.S. and Canada aren't really all that similar to the borders of countries like the Netherlands or Spain.

"the borders of the U.S. and Canada aren't really all that similar to the borders of countries like the Netherlands or Spain"

They used to be.

Yeah. I was thinking more about the physical scope of it and the variety and amount of traffic.

I imagine it would be far less expensive for the U.S. and Canada to just open the border and spend some of the savings on policing any problems from that, but I don't really expect that to happen in the near future.

I've never had an awful lot of sympathy for people who assume that because they know they're not up to anything dodgy that the immigration people will know too. I was married in the US and knew that when I went on my honeymoon I better have letters from my employer in the UK as well as my return ticket or I might get refused entry to the US when I was heading back to where my new wife lived. Predictably I ended up in secondary checks, they were fine and I moved on. I've had the same half a dozen times when traveling for funerals, weddings or just holidays. My wife was also interrogated by British immigration for two hours before we got married. Again they want proof that you're up to no harm and it's your job to do that.

A former colleague of mine tried to get his American girlfriend to the UK and they had massively different stories when she arrived. She got a 1-month holiday visa and a severe threat that both (he was a US citizen) would be deported if she overstayed by even a single day.

The onus is on the person crossing the border to know what they're doing. There's plenty of info, particularly on going to the US and no excuse not to prepare, especially if you're going for work not a holiday.

Things have changed dramatically since 9/11 . I remember coming back to the US via the same Lewiston bridge, after a night of partying in Canada, and on occasions not even being asked for an ID (I was not a US citizen then, and I'm not white). Maybe it was the car's registration. And a couple of times I was just asked to show my student ID (I was on an F1 visa then).

> Thats right ladies and gentlemen, if I told him the truth he would fight for me, but agreeing to his truth is in conflict with my originally story, and thus I have committed fraud

Yikes. You really walked into that one. The more I kept reading the more I was cringing. The good cop, bad cop routine, letting you sit for hours, "let me talk to the supervisor" thing.

The thing that struck out at me on first read was the new officer that was "working hard for you, provided you told him the real truth". Smelled fishy to me.

It was easier and more fun to get into communist Hungary and Czech Republic in the nineteen eighties.

Ow. Please put in some paragraph breaks, it's a nightmare to try to read a long wall of text like that without some kind of landmark to latch on to.

I think he might have been a little upset when he wrote it.

You read that and your first reaction is punctuation?

It is mentally arduous to try to parse through it. I really tried but had to give up.

Punctuation exists for good reason.

OK, fair enough. I thought you were just nitpicking. And after reading about his ordeal, I wasn't really open to nitpicking. As one human to another, I would suggest that when commenting on a highly-emotional blog post like this one, where the author has lived through a difficult experience, prefacing your criticism on their punctuation/grammar with a simple "wow, tough experience" or some other kind words would go a long way. Chances are high that this individual will read your words.

We can debate whether or not the ordeal was deserved or not, but I don't think many of us can honestly deny that he lived through a tough experience.

To those downvoting me, that's fine. But please realize that I was trying to uphold one of this community's core tenets, which is don't write things you wouldn't say to someone in real life (paraphrasing). I don't know groggles, but I'm guessing that he/she is an emotionally-mature adult, and so I can't imagine him/her saying to someone who just described being jailed and harassed by customs, "Please enunciate better when you talk -- I had a hard time understanding you". To me at least, this kind of attitude represents a major reason for the decline of online communities. Sometimes I just can't watch it happen without saying something.

Whether intentionally or not, your own post came off as fairly rude, in my opinion much moreso than the parent, which is probably why you were downvoted.

You are replying to a different person than the original poster.

Secondly, no, emotional situations don't excuse the delivery. Unless he was literally writing a cry for help from confinement somewhere, he can take the time and respect readers by putting in some semblance of appropriate formatting. If it's just a rant then so be it, but it doesn't belong here.

Thirdly, HN isn't a support group. I'm not going to bother with comforting words because the parts I could decipher give the image of a very naive, assumptive, flippant person. So many mistakes were made -- on their part (at the very outset by proclaiming a right to enter another country -- that I'm surprised that they spent the effort seeking sympathy.

I can only read so many comments, so if this has been covered, apologies.

I don't think any one begrudges countries their border paranoia. But what is utterly un-necessary is the rude, psychotic, OTT behaviour of the border people. Fine that they want to check people out, but to scream, shot, and abuse people visiting is frankly outrageous.

I've rarely left my country, and every time it was no pain what so ever. But after reading that, which confirms all the negative press, has confirmed that I will never ever travel to the USA. Why would any one want to risk that?

I keep seeing a bunch of US Citizens posting here about issues they have with CBP/DHS on re-entering the US. Just a quick note + a link - you are protected by the fifth amendment and are not required to say a word to any officer at any time. You are NOT protected by the 4th amendment at the border and your consent is not required for any search.


Thats right ladies and gentlemen, if I told him the truth he would fight for me, but agreeing to his truth is in conflict with my originally story, and thus I have committed fraud - I believe that is called a catch-22.

This reminds me of the difference between Australia and the US in regards to the right to withhold comment. With similar legal backgrounds, there are similar rights about being questioned, but there are subtle differences.

In the US there's the good old 5th amendment that everyone knows (from TV if nowhere else). You don't have to comment, and your unwillingness to comment cannot be used against you in court. However the police can quite freely and happily lie to you to get what they want.

There are subtle differences here in Australia. You can reserve the right not to comment. You don't have to speak, but depending on circumstance, withholding comment can be used against you in court (I guess for things like "I refuse to say where I was on the night of my wife's murder" kind of stuff, I don't know for sure).

But on the other hand, when questioned by police, they have to tell you what they're questioning you about at the start of the interview. If they're questioning you about a robbery down the street and you let slip that you have illegal drugs in the house, it's not connected to their reason for interview and technically they can't use it. There are exceptions for very serious crimes like murder, of course.

It means that authorities do not have the right to go on 'fishing expeditions', though I don't know whether it applies to border control.

disclaimer: I don't follow law in much detail, just read the above from an Australian law site when I was wondering what our version of "the 5th" was...

The 5th amendment covers US citizens, not foreign nationals attempting to enter country.

Actually I believe foreign nationals are provided many of the same rights that citizens enjoy when within US territory. This comes from the language of the 5th and 14th amendments, they refer to "persons" and not "citizens". Also I recall reading that the 5th amendment right against self incrimination doesn't apply at border crossings for anyone.

Border crossings are a legal no-man's-land. You aren't guaranteed any protections under either Constitution, as I understand it. Once you're in the country, you're afforded all the protections (as you said, "persons" not "citizens"), but the border is a different matter entirely.

I know, but the quote just reminded me of a difference in 'no comment' laws that I thought was curious.

I don't get why it's so difficult to travel from Canada to the U.S.

I'm from France and I can travel everywhere in Europe without having to show any identification and without having to prove something...

Right now I'm near Toronto and planning to go to the U.S. in a couple of weeks... Heard so many stories about other students buying their plane tickets and then being stucked at the border, and now this rant, I'm shitting myself.

Calm down. Just have your papers in order, be polite and courteous and you'll be fine.

Enjoy your trip!

So what we learn is that it doesn't really matter if you're trying to be honest down to details or enter with illegal plans to stay in the US: what matters is not appearing different, and hopefully be equipped with a rehearsed canned explanation that comes with paperwork to back it up.

The border officers ask generic questions and try to see how you respond to them. This is good because the response will reveal more than your words.

However, the caveat is that if you honestly enter with a reason that is somewhat out of ordinary then you just make it more complex the more honest details you spit out. On the other hand, if you manage to appear like the thousand other people who went across the border the same day, you can have lots of things that you never need to or want to explain.

So, it comes down to playing a role. Rehearsing answers to likely questions helps not because you'd want to learn to lie to the border officials but to keep the process smooth by sticking to its rules. Unfortunately, the same rehearsal will allow you to cover a purpose of the trip you don't want to reveal.

So, it comes down to playing a role.

That's why they call it "security theatre".

I'm filing this in a long list of "be careful about crossing borders" articles.

Seriously folks, this isn't like walking to the corner grocery. Know what documents to have, what to say, how to act -- everything -- before you cross the border. There are lots of people who get paid everyday to "protect" their country, and they would like nothing more than to have an excuse to fuck with you.

Now you may not like that. I do not like that at all. As an American, I really wish we could be more friendly about these things. I love my country and am proud of it, but I am also ashamed about it in many ways. This is one of them. But whether we like it or not or whether we're ashamed of it or not -- you still gotta know what the hell you are doing when you go to cross a border.

I wish I could upvote this, but sadly it's just too much like a bunch of other articles.

I always wonder about legalities when I hear of foreign nationals doing, or applying for, YCombinator or the like. I have a hard time seeing a legal route for them to do it. What is the correct way to do it? Is there one, or are they all bending the rules?

At the Vancouver to US border, when I was was on vacation, I had a bit of trouble not to laugh: all these guys were very big dudes in uniforms with glasses and mustaches. They all looked exactly alike. Anyway; it was an interesting experience.

My girlfriend has traveled to 60+ countries around the world, and she said that the US border experience was worse than any other country she has been to by a long margin.

It's a pity that the first welcome people get amounts to "we don't want you here".

Pardon me, but why are there so many stories on Upverter / related to them today?

First, as a Canadian, you probably have more right to come here then most others. So I apologize for how they treated you. If it is any consolation, cops do that to us all the time. I don't know why, what is benefit of locking someone innocent or making people accuse themselves (remember, do you know how fast you were driving). Anyhow, sorry, enjoy Canada, who knows why this was good for you. Also, it is not your fault, system is rigged to be abused by everyone else who will work illegally, but you who will not. So now I am ranting.

I have to add this as well. Going to foreign countries is always unpleasant experience because you are without your support structure. In that regard you were naive and not prepared.

I still think we should have agreement with Canada and people should move more easily.

I'm sorry for the author's experience but knowledge and preparation is the key to winning the war i.e. getting in the US and/or stay for certain amount of times. I'm not a lawyer but I have filed visa applications and petitions with the US Immigration Office USCIS many times by myself and have always been successful despite the fact that my country used to be in a war with the US. The laws are complicated if you don't read ahead and prep. If you do, it's a breeze. Hope this helps someone: visajourney dot com

It's important to frame your story in a way they can understand. e.g. if you are an entrepreneur winging it to the USA. Just make sure that you frame it in terms they understand, instead of relying on your version of the truth to save you.

e.g. most border guards believe you need a 9-5 job for life and if you don't have that you are probably up to no good. So answer with that in mind. Don't include irrelevant details that don't fit what they can understand.

The more stuff you say they don't understand the worse off you will be.

Having gotten a secondary inspection myself because of forgetting to bring a letter from my internship that I was going to, I know what it's like, but if you don't have a suspicious story or one that's easy to track down, it shou;d be fine.

Another post mentions money: they just want you to have enough till you get out and not be a burden. They asked me what my parents occupation was (they were my backers), and I did have documentation as to that (their payslips), not that they cared much.

I can't believe how many people are defending this because "those are the rules".

FYI: If a visitor from a friendly first world nation tries to enter your country carrying a valid passport, the appropriate response at the border should be: "welcome".

The one in a million who wants to enter the country with the intention of outstaying their welcome can do this so easily by booking a hotel and having a return ticket that is is really not worth harassing all the other visitors for.

Wow _you_ got funded for running a company? That's inspiring.

Damn this country is disgusting. For what little it's worth I apologize for those that refuse to.

Yes I know there are worse places in the world but that doesn't mean we have to be a-holes ourselves.

And stop apologizing for border guards - they don't take that occupation to do anything noble, they take it because they get off on it.

I am from Honduras and last year I spent 3 months in NYC on the DreamIt incubator program, I just told the customs officer that I was going on a 3 months workshop, he just asked me where I was going to stay, my other 4 friends did the same we all got a 6 month business visa. We got lucky I guess.

I travel a lot and I've never had as much problem traveling internationally as I do dealing with Canadian border guards. Oy vey. I always seem to get pulled over. I've since learned to practice my answers in a terse cold unfriendly manner. Smiles and friendly doesn't work.

For what it's worth, setting up a C corp in the USA as a non-resident, which is technically legal, will almost certainly flag you for further interrogation by DHS. If they can find any reason to refuse entry, they will. It's happened to me. [I'm now a US citizen.]

Its not so hard: get a Visa before you go to the US. Don't just assume you can cross the border like its some sort of drive-through situation. If you know you need to visit the US, go to the US Embassy in your country and file your paperwork.

I was flying to San Francisco one day at Pearson and was faced with a similiar situation. I was turned down and asked to be withdrawn. I had all the necessary paper work and even brought my degree / lawyer look over my papers.

Were you applying for a TN via YYZ? That's one of the most notoriously difficult TN gateways, I'm surprised your lawyers let you fly through there.

I've seen people go YVR-YOW-ORD-... just to avoid going through either YVR or YYZ.

I was told once it's better to drive to Niagara Falls, cross the border by car, get the TN there, drive back home, and fly to the US by plane a few days later.

TNs are best requested when you don't have a plane to catch in an hour.

Huh? I thought Virgin America canceled their routes between SFO and YYZ a year ago?

They did. The date of the blog post is Jan 2011. I used to fly that a couple of times. I even upgraded to first class a couple of times because it was only $250 extra. I'm actually very disappointed they cancelled that route.

Not only is the article from Jan 2011, he was able to successfully enter the US in March, and seems to be able to go there often now. So really not a problem for him long term.


God damn it. I would of loved that route!

FWIW, they didn't cancel it due to poor ridership - VX decided to concentrate on other routes while their fleet was still small. AFAIK there are still plans to restore the YYZ route once the fleet size is up to par.

Are people in the US aware that visitors have to agree to be fingerprinted to enter the country? When I told an (American) friend about this the last time I visited the US, she refused to believe it.

No, not all of them. Not all the time. Canadians entering from Canada, and usually people entering on a tourist visa, don't need to be fingerprinted.

I got it for my first TN visa, although I really don't know if that was necessary, since she seem a bit new. She was really nice too!

If you're ever locked in a jail cell, I have one word of advice: lawyer.

If you're a starting a corporation in the US and not very very familiar with it: corporation lawyer.

If you're a foreigner starting a corporation in the US and planning to come over for 3 months: corporation lawyer AND immigration lawyer.

(Aside: seems like the kind of thing guidance a early-stage startup incubator could very usefully help with.)

As a foreigner being detained in the US, with no official status in the US, he had no right to a lawyer.

Theoretically, the constitution applies to all people in the united states jurisdiction, not just citizens. certain rights, like voting, are given only to citizens, but the Bill of Rights (which gives the right to a lawyer) applies to any person inside the US.

Practically, there are a few exceptions to this, eg 4th amendment rights are suspended from everyone at the border and within 100 miles of the border.

>applies to any person inside the US.

When detained at a border, a person is not considered inside the US.

>Theoretically, the constitution applies to all people in the united states jurisdiction

That is absolutely not correct. When I enter the USA on the visa waiver program, it very, very clearly says I have no rights while in the USA. No right to a lawyer, no right to appeal, no right to anything. I must sign that to be allowed in.

> That is absolutely not correct. When I enter the USA on the visa waiver program, it very, very clearly says I have no rights while in the USA. No right to a lawyer, no right to appeal, no right to anything.

No, it does not.

I've traveled to the US on the visa waiver program around 20 times or so, and your claim sounded bizarre, so I actually checked the form to see whether I could truly have misremembered it that badly.

The visa waiver - form I-94W contains no language even remotely as extreme as what you portray it as.

It does contain a waiver of rights that states that you waive any right to appeal or review a US CBP officials determination of whether or not to admit you, or to contest deportation other than on grounds of a request for asylum.

In other words, you only waive rights related to preventing them from refusing you entry and sending you back. Once you're in, you're still subject to most of the the same protections.

JoshAg is right. The Bill of Rights applies to everyone.


If what you said is true and they made you sign that form it doesn't matter because the Constitution is still paramount and trumps your signature.

Wasn't this part of the hysteria about the Guantanamo Bay detainees; that if they were brought to the mainland, they'd have to be allowed due process?

What eventually gave detainees the ability to file habeas corpus writs was a decision that guantanamo bay is, even as a rented US territory, still under US federal court jurisdiction.

That's not true, but even if you don't have the right to a lawyer, a lawyer can start petitioning the court on your behalf. You just have to pay for it yourself.

Despite all the rhetoric about Guantanamo Bay and the 500-mile "Constitution-free zone", the government still has to charge you with a crime to detain you. And to punish you, they have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty of the crime they say you are. The Constitution applies to all "people", not just citizens.

by that logic (and thank god it isn't true) who in their right mind would ever risk entering through that border?

you're absolutely wrong on that i'm afraid

Applications are open for YC Winter 2024

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact