Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm planning to see some friends in Toronto ON and Buffalo/Batavia NY. The plan is to fly into Pearson, see my friend in Toronto, then drive across the border at Niagra to Buffalo and Batavia, before driving back to Toronto to fly out.

My question is, is it possible/is it worth asking the immigration officer in Toronto if they can pre-clear me for the land border crossing? Would it help shorten the time I have to wait?

I am a UK national who has been to both countries multiple times on the VWP with no issues, so I'm not concerned about getting in (though I am planning to stay with my friends so won't have proof of accommodation, but that's another question), just if it would be worth doing it in the airport to make the crossing faster.

share|improve this question
3  
"pre-clearance" is a misnomer. You are actually clearing immigration, just doing it before your flight rather than after. It is not like ESTA where you get a preliminary clearance to enter under the VWP. So No & No to your two questions. – Tom Mar 11 at 11:26
3  
I find this question perplexing. It's analogous to clearing UK border formalities for the Eurostar, then not boarding and driving to Calais, skipping immigration before boarding the ferry. If you could get some kind of pass in Toronto that lets you cross the land border, how would the land border officers know you have it? How would they know you didn't pick up additional goods or contraband or people on the way? How could you even think the answer could possibly be "yes"? – phoog Mar 11 at 12:58
    
@phoog well, obviously you can't control much in terms of customs, but in terms of immigration, your details aren't going to change. I wasn't expecting to get waved through, but perhaps I could skip the usual questions about purpose of visit, accommodation and funds, since I would be giving pretty much the same answers to the US official as I would have given to the Canadian one. Canadian citizens still have to go through customs, there is no avoiding that. – Crazymoomin Mar 11 at 13:09
    
Your comment seems to assume that airport preclearance is conducted by Canadian officials on behalf of the US. It isn't; there are US officers stationed in the preclearance facility. So even if you could do the interview in Toronto, you'd still have to do it twice. – phoog Mar 11 at 13:18
    
@phoog Well, if it would speed things up, I'd probably do it. Doesn't matter now obviously, since it's obvious I can't. – Crazymoomin Mar 11 at 13:22
up vote 7 down vote accepted

No, you can't. Pre-clearance is an airport thing: all travellers flying by air from Toronto Pearson to the United States are pre-cleared, kept quarantined in a hermetically sealed portion of the airport, as if you were already in the USA. Then, when you arrive to a U.S. destination airport, you are treated as if you arrived domestically.

At a land border crossing, you are all in the same queue. Typically, people with US and Canadian passports are waved through. With any different passport, you are likely to have to park your car, go into the office, wait for an officer, be interviewed, fingerprinted, perhaps have your luggage scanned, etc.

I am a Dutch national and I used to live in Toronto. I have crossed the land border twice from Ontario to New York, and twice from Ontario to Michigan. Every time I had to go into the office for an interview.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks. Could you give me any info on how long it might take? I would find it useful for planning. I've heard horror stories of 3h+, but most of my experiences of airport arrival has been less than 30 mins. – Crazymoomin Mar 11 at 11:19
3  
@Crazymoomin That very strongly depends on the time, place, method. I've had 2+ hours when I was on a full Greyhound bus at Buffalo on a Friday night, I've had <20 minutes alone on the Tunnel Bus between Windsor and Detroit around midnight, I've driven a car over the St. Lawrence Bridge encountering a bored officer happy to find something to do (which was talking to me for longer than I've experienced at any other border crossing, but that night my address was tent in forest which his forms didn't recognise). – gerrit Mar 11 at 11:25
1  
You can find unusual waiting times listed at this official Canadian website. Note that this only covers the waiting time until it is the turn for your vehicle. After you're told to enter the office, it may be a while before it is your turn personally. Bad luck if you enter just after a Greyhound bus full of backpackers who don't have a coherent story on where they're going to stay tonight or at all (although I seem to recall that buses are treated in a different office than private cars, but it depends on the crossing). – gerrit Mar 11 at 11:26
    
Thanks again. I'll be most likely crossing at Lewiston-Queenston on the 405/190 if that helps, I'm not yet sure of timing, but probably in the evening as I'll probably be a tourist for a day at the falls, either outbound or on my return. There is also a possibility that my Canadian friends will be coming with me, either with me as a passenger or in separate cars. I didn't want to hold them up while crossing the border, hence another reason for asking. – Crazymoomin Mar 11 at 11:40
    
Things must have changed since I was last there. I'll delete the comment. – DJClayworth Mar 11 at 16:05

To clarify the situation: the Toronto airport is nowhere near the border. Although there are pre-clearance facilities for flying into the US (with US agents stationed in Canadian territory), that's not what you intend to do here.

When you fly from the UK to Toronto, you will go through Canadian immigration and customs. You will not be interacting with American agents. To speak to an American agent, you would have to be transferring to a US-bound flight.

Even if you somehow weasel your way into the US pre-screening area without showing a valid boarding pass, what good would it do you to enter the US side of the airport? That's not where you want to be. Getting screened to enter the US at that point would just waste time and raise suspicion.

So, just go through Canadian formalities at Toronto to enter Canada, and go through US formalities when driving to Buffalo, like a normal traveller.

share|improve this answer
    
Nowhere near the border? It's only 1h30 drive away according to google. I know from a European perspective that's pretty far, but from a US/Canadian perspective that's just down the road. My friends certainly think so. That's my opinion anyway. – Crazymoomin Mar 11 at 11:19
2  
@Crazymoomin For immigration purposes, any distance longer than where a border guard can keep constant track of you is not near the border. The point is, you're going to enter Canada. (Note that a huge percentage of the Canadian population lives within a 1h30 drive of the US border. That means nothing.) – 200_success Mar 11 at 11:23
    
Fair enough. From the perspective of the general population, and definitely compared to somewhere like Yellowknife, Toronto is pretty damn close to the border, I think you'll agree. But yes, it is not relevant to immigration. – Crazymoomin Mar 11 at 11:31

I think I would add that a Global Entry membership is about as close as you can get to US "immigration pre-clearance" in the sense you seem to be using the term (which isn't how the CBP uses the term). Unfortunately this only helps non-US people when travelling by air; having a Global Entry card allows one to use the NEXUS lanes at Canada land border crossings, but I understand they only issue the cards to US citizens and permanent residents and to Mexicans.

Also, unless things have changed very recently, the land border still operates with paper I-94's so your visit to the office will likely include buying one of these. Take some US cash (are they still $6?). Once you have the I-94 I think you can use it for its period of validity if you want to cross the border again, and that might keep you out of the office on subsequent crossings.

Be sure, however, to surrender the form before its expiry once you are done with the trip. I think you can ask the CBSA officer you see at your last land crossing into Canada to take it or, failing that, turn it over at one of the CBSA offices at YYZ. If you leave with the I-94 or you didn't have one when you left the US via the land border (which might happen if you fly into the US but fly back from Canada or Mexico) the departure likely won't be recorded in your I-94 history and you'll need to fix that by mail. If your timely departure isn't recorded they'll give you a hard time over the apparent overstay on future visits to the US.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.