Thursday, November 22, 2007

Crossing Borders

Well, we did it. We're in Canada.

You may think this is not that big a deal, because Americans go into Canada all the time, and vice versa, and it's generally no more than a few minutes delay at the border as paperwork is checked.

Not this time.

By law, you must declare your intention to immigrate if that's your purpose. For us, that triggered a three-hour examination of our lives, vehicle and possessions that involved both countries' border patrols.

We entered at Abbotsford, a little town that we hoped would be less busy than the traditional Seattle-to-Vancouver route through "Peace Arch," and it probably was. Our papers were in great shape, but we had totally forgotten one aspect: our vehicle.

In order to bring the van into Canada, we had to go back to the US border office (just a short walk away) to get an export stamp. Only it was two hours after they normally stopped doing that for the day. And tomorrow was Thanksgiving. The Canadian border officer didn't give us much hope, but we had to try.

This brings up an interesting point: we were treated very kindly by both the US and Canadian border officers, but there was a very palpable difference in their demeanours. The Canadians were uniformally sunnier and more pleasant, laughed at jokes, smiled etc. The US officers were every bit as kind, but more cold and impersonal. Light-hearted remarks went over like a lead balloon, and conversations were like talking to McGruff the Crime Dog. I have no explanation for why this is, but this has been the case on all my border crossings.

That said, the US border guards relented to our pleas and inspected our vehicle and gave us the export stamp we needed. Without it, we would have been forced to return to the US, give up our hotel plans, and wait the entire holiday weekend to get going again, so we were (and are) very grateful for their above-and-beyond-the-call help.

So we took the van back through the Canadian border, returned to the immigrations counter and got the van imported into Canada (it's now a Van-nadian, eh?) :) and finished our background checks (Heather sailed right through hers of course, because she's still a Canadian citizen and considered a "returning resident").

I on the other hand, felt rather a lot like Albert Brooks in "Defending Your Life." All your (legal) sins, no matter how minor or how long ago, are laid bare. I'm not the sort of person who looks "back" (in anger or otherwise) a whole lot, so I had long since forgotten almost all of these little speeding tickets and parking offenses and misc. run-ins with Johnny Law, but that "permanent record" our generation was threatened with all those years ago came marching back into my life today.

Luckily, I am as incompetent a scofflaw as I am a careerist, so nothing of any significant import came up. I will need some further documentation when I come up for sponsorship (step one of the immigration process, more about that later), but that's a long ways away and plenty of time to find the papers. I'm a little bit embarrassed that the worst thing on my record stems from almost 30 years ago. Some "rebel" I am. :(

Next, we had to make a list. No, not a list of what we want from Santa, a list of everything we own. I mean everything, both the items we were bringing with us now, and the stuff we plan to bring in with us when we settle here. Inventorying the van was relatively easy, but trying to remember what we stuffed (and I do mean stuffed) into our storage unit in Florida was much more trying. The difficult part is that you're not really allowed to amend the list later: you can bring in less stuff than you said you would, but no more (without paying penalties, taxes and duty).

Luckily for us: our entire lifestyle can be broken down into six categories:
1. Clothes and personal effects
2. Computers and peripherals
3. Kitchen stuff and a half-dozen small pieces of furniture
4. DVDs, CDs, Laserdiscs, video tapes and books (I'm not going to embarrass myself by saying how many, but trust me way more than most of you reading this -- indeed, way more than most public libraries!)
5. Doctor Who related crap and other toys
6. Home electronics needed to play, store and organise the above.

We purged/sold/gave away a remarkable amount of stuff before we left. I seen documentaries on nomads where they had more stuff than we did*, but we still have way more crap than the average hobo.

*(mostly in the form of tents and livestock, mind you, but still)

Anyway, after three hours we passed the various tests and were allowed to enter Canada. Heather now has a list of to-dos (including getting a Social Insurance Number, a new license and safety inspection for the van, filling out sponsorship papers for me, getting a Canadian passport and so on) and I have a renewable six-month residency visa attached to my US passport and a much shorter to-do list (apply for a work visa, help with sponsorship paperwork). I'm not going to be allowed to work for a while, but we have some money (and money coming) enough to last us (probably). If Heather can find a job reasonably quickly, that will help.

I write this from the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver. We'll be here for a couple of days before taking the van for a ferry ride across to Victoria. Then our next task begins: finding a place to live. We have a hotel to cover us up till Dec. 1st, but after that the magic 8-ball says: "Answer unclear, please try again."

I'll get pictures and reports of Portland Oregon and Seattle Washington up in the next day or so. Stay tuned, there's more to come.


Farrell said...

Congratulations, Chas! You must be thrilled, though weary; I grok, or "reach", as those Star Trek hippies said. Sounds like the border crossing was pretty brutal, bureaucratically. I envy you, medical, an avowed liberal state, open ranges and beautiful land. I really wish I could do the same, though I doubt I could move through at all; I had a few "youthful indiscretions" that were very indiscreet indeed. I understand it's still possible to gain special permission from the immigration authority there, if one pays a "rehabilitation" fee that's usually several hundred dollars.

Speaking of which, it sort of sucks that the value of your cash on hand just dropped by a third (last I checked, the looney was a buck-fifty each), but I hope you'll do alright.

Looking forward to your Portland post. Be well. We're missing you, and think of you often. And since you won't be hearing a lot of it anymore...HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


Sandy said...

Glad to hear I'm not the only American celebrating Thanksgiving in Vancouver (my show is currently here). All my love to Heather! Sandy