A colleague got stuck at the border for two hours on her return from Montreal last week, and I feel guilty about it. I had given her some advice about her visit, but I forgot to share my finely honed border strategy.
The husband and I have crossed the border quite a few times, in New York and Vermont, over the past few years. The kid was getting educated in Montreal, so we were forever driving back and forth.
We learned the hard way that the main crossings at I-87 in Champlain, N.Y., and I-89 at Highgate Springs, Vt., can jam up. The kid got stuck for three hours one summer weekend – in my car – and ended up with an overheated engine, a ruined alternator and an extra night in Canada.
The mechanics who tended to the Buick ("LeSahb" they called my LeSabre) in Napierville, Quebec, clued us in to some alternate border crossings. Over time, we got to know three small crossings – at Overton Corners, N.Y.; Rouses Point, N.Y.; and Alburgh, Vt. – between the larger ones at I-87 and I-89.
The key was knowing when to divert. So we’d check the border wait times online. When we were leaving Montreal, we’d consult the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site first. When we were heading into Canada, we’d call the kid as we approached the border and have her check the Canada Border Services Agency Web site.
If the wait was more than half an hour at Champlain or Highgate Springs, we’d head 1o or 15 miles out of our way to one of the smaller crossings. The Web sites don’t give wait times for those smaller border stations, but we never had to wait more than 15 minutes.
And, no, you don’t need a passport to cross the border by land – not yet. The deadline for that keeps changing, but it won’t be at least until next summer. But if you do have a passport, you might want to bring it. The border agents like to see them, and it may get you through faster.