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I need to make a quick trip to Canada to get lemonade. Canadian lemonade is the best if you haven't had it.

My question is, can I go to Canada, get lemonade, and come back into the US without a passport? I would bring all my documents such as birth certificate, driver's license, social security card, etc.

Is it just up to the discretion of the border patrol officer whether we are citizens or not to let us through?

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Not necessarily. In most countries, border guards have little or no discretion in letting citizens in (but you need to convince them you are in fact a citizen). They have more discretion in refusing entry to non-citizens but do have to follow some rules and procedures and can't just let in anybody they feel like. I think your main concern would be entering Canada, if you have all the documents you mention you should at least be able to come back to the US. –  Relaxed Aug 13 at 8:10
    
This one's better: leninade.realsoda.com –  Karlson Aug 13 at 13:20
    
Canadian Mike's Hard Lemonade is made with clear pure vodka rather than the nasty malt liquor used in the US (something to do with taxation). That brings up a whole different set of issues with crossing borders with quantities of alcoholic beverages though. –  Spehro Pefhany Aug 13 at 14:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you want to make a quick trip I would recommend getting a Passport card and a NEXUS card / Global Entry card. Quoting the wikipedia article on NEXUS:

NEXUS cardholders are generally screened more quickly at the border, however they are still subject to standard immigration and customs checks, and may be selected for secondary screening. Participating border crossing points typically have one lane solely reserved for NEXUS use and some will also designate a second lane for NEXUS use on an as needed basis. A vehicle can only use the NEXUS lane if all passengers (including children) hold a valid NEXUS card, and nothing requiring a special customs declaration or payment of duty is being brought into the country (see below).

Also, quoting the wikipedia entry on Passport cards:

The passport card is being issued by the United States Department of State in response to border community residents' needs for a less expensive and more portable alternative to the conventional booklet since the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative's requirements for travelers to carry a single document verifying both identification and citizenship have come into effect. In an effort to improve efficiency at land crossings, the passport card also includes a vicinity-read radio frequency identification chip with a unique identifying number tied to government databases; unlike the passport book, the RFID chip in the passport card is designed to be readable at a greater distance and will not contain any information from the MRZ of the passport card beyond the identifying number. To prevent the RFID chip from being read when the card is not being used, the passport card comes with a sleeve designed to block RFID while inside.

So from a speed perspective, NEXUS will help more, but from a convenience perspective, the Passport card will be handy. Just keep it in your wallet or something.

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Canada would require proof of U.S. citizenship, which a birth certificate may or may not suffice.

But U.S. law requires that U.S. citizens enter and exit the U.S. with a U.S. passport except as provided by the President. And what the President provides is what the CBP requires, documented here. Basically, a passport, passport card, Enhanced driver's license, Global Entry/NEXUS/etc. card, or, if you are under 16, just a birth certificate. I don't know if your driver's license is an enhanced driver's license, but if not, you can get one (if you're in one of the states that offer it), or get a passport card or one of the other types of frequent traveler cards.

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1  
Or just get a passport - it's not that difficult or expensive, provided you have a couple of weeks. For some extra cash you can get one in 24 hours. –  Aleks G Aug 13 at 9:33
    
@AleksG Or slightly more expensive but much faster. –  Karlson Aug 13 at 13:19

To enter into Canada you need http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/security-securite/admiss-eng.html

If you are a citizen of the United States, you do not need a passport to enter Canada. However, you should carry proof of your citizenship, such as a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, as well as photo identification.

(this contradicts the other answer saying "Canada would require proof of U.S. citizenship, which a birth certificate may or may not suffice" -- it will suffice.)

To enter into the USA by land http://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/whti-program-background/docs-land-sea

U.S. citizens and nonimmigrant aliens from Canada entering the United States by land or sea are required to present a valid WHTI-compliant document, which include:

  • Passports
  • U.S. Passport Cards
  • Enhanced Driver's Licenses
  • Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI, Global Entry or FAST)
  • Military Identification Cards (for members of the U.S. armed forces on official orders)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Document (for U.S. citizens on official maritime business)
  • Enhanced Tribal Card (where available)

Therefore, if you have "birth certificate, driver's license" and that's an "enhanced driver's license" (EDL) then you are good for both countries. You can study https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/1269/~/what-is-an-enhanced-drivers-license-(edl)%3F this page about the EDL.

While this is the official version, the reality is that US citizens can always return to the US if they can convince the border officer that they are indeed citizens (this is indeed the case for every country for their own citizens, this is an essential part of being a citizen). This is murky and can get complicated.

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It's worth noting that enhanced driver's licenses are only an option if you live in one of the few states that issue them. Currently, as far as I can tell, they are Michigan, New York, Vermont, Washington, and possibly Minnesota. –  Nate Eldredge Aug 19 at 15:11

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