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I’m about to move from Chicago, IL to Vancouver, BC for a new job (US citizen, I have work permit approval). I’ve arranged movers already for my stuff (coming Monday); the issue is to bring myself, my cat, and of course some clothes/laptop/etc for until I can get the things from the movers out of storage. I pretty much need to enter Canada before the end of December, for a variety of reasons. I did have a plan for doing this, but it seems I screwed up and it’s not actually an option; discussed below.

There are two obvious options to do the move.

  • Fly. (I’m not thrilled about going through two airports plus a flight near Christmas with the current state of the pandemic, but I’d do it, I guess.)

    • My cat is too big to go in the cabin.

    • Baggage hold options: AA/Delta/United have suspended pets-in-the-hold programs during COVID; Air Canada is suspended from Dec 15 - Jan 12. The only one running seems to be Westjet, which does run (with limits) until Dec 22, but looking at their (extremely limited) flight plan literally the only option at this point seems to be driving 26 hours from Chicago to Phoenix on Monday to take a flight to Calgary (and then getting from Calgary to Vancouver). I don’t know of any other programs running.

    • Air cargo options: seem to only accept household pets when the outdoor temperature is at least 45F, which is not likely in a Chicago winter, and even if I went to Memphis or something, iffy in a Vancouver winter on the other end anyway. (Next week’s forecast is at most 44F.)

    • Use a pet ground transport company and fly myself: the first one I happened to look up is roughly $3,000, and I can’t find any that confirm online they’re actually doing cross-border moves currently anyway. Also maybe not super fun for my cat given the distance; he’d be much happier hanging out in the car with me than being in a crate for a long period of time.

    • I could drop my cat off with family (in New York, renting a car to get there – $700ish for the rental, plus gas and a night of a hotel partway) to watch him for several months, then fly myself (<$200). This mostly works, but might require some slight skirting of NY quarantine rules, some risk to my older parents who I really don’t want to give COVID for Christmas, and also means I don’t get to have my cat for at least several months, quite possibly longer.

  • Drive. (I don’t own a car.)

    • Rent a car. This was my plan, based on checking several months ago that one-way cross-border rentals seemed to be available on rental company websites. When I went to book it tonight (after long delays getting the movers’ dates sorted out), though, this seemed to no longer be an option. I’ll call some tomorrow to confirm, but even if so, returning the car during the quarantine period is also potentially difficult; I might have to rent the car for an extra two weeks where it’ll sit parked.

    • Buy a car in the next few days; I might be getting one in Vancouver eventually anyway. But importing cars from the US to Canada is a complicated and expensive process, which among other things involves paying sales tax on the car in both countries. (Chicago, incidentally, has the highest sales tax rate in the US at 10.25%; compared to just buying one in Vancouver, the net extra cost is likely to be on the order of $2-3k.) I also don’t know whether I’d be able to get Illinois registration and title quickly enough to begin the export process, especially with Christmas and also most of the DMV-equivalent offices closed due to the current increase in the pandemic.

    • Rent a car to Seattle/Bellingham and find another way to cross the border:

      • None of the usual buses, train, ferry seem to be running. (Maybe I missed one?)
      • I could perhaps take a cab to the border, walk across, then take a cab on the other side. I don’t know whether this is practical? It seems it’s possible but inconvenient in normal times to cross on foot here; I don’t know whether I can reasonably get a cab/Uber/etc at the border on the other side. The cat carrier is quite large and difficult to handle with a suitcase, and I also don’t know if the pet inspection stuff “works” when walking through.
      • I could send the cat with a presumably-cheaper ground pet transport option from Seattle/Bellingham, then fly myself. This seems ridiculous, but is likely cheaper (at the cost of a lot of driving) than ground transport straight from Chicago. I didn’t immediately find a pet transport company I could confirm is actually doing cross-border moves right now, though.

(Amtrak, unfortunately, only allows pets if they’re in carriers, for a max of 7 hours, which makes it not really an option; it also doesn’t help with crossing the border right now.)

I guess the current frontrunner is driving my cat to New York then flying. But I don’t like it as an option, for a bunch of reasons. Is the walk-across-the-border plan feasible? Am I missing something else that would be better?

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    Have you looked at entering Canada at Windsor or Sault Ste. Marie and renting (or buying) a car there? I don't suppose it would be less expensive or more convenient, but it's probably worth checking it out to confirm. At least it's less out of your way than Las Vegas or New York. – phoog Dec 19 '20 at 14:11
  • @phoog I don’t see how that helps with any of my problems, unless maybe it’s easier to walk across the border there? But then I think I’d have to quarantine in/near Windsor/Sault Ste. Marie, and I’ve already booked a place in Vancouver. – Danica Dec 19 '20 at 15:21
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    This is a very specific question that is unlikely to help anyone else. Can you make it more general? – Azor Ahai -him- Dec 19 '20 at 17:36
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    @AzorAhai-him- "That said, you're much more likely to get infected in the US" That may be an example of the ecological fallacy. – Acccumulation Dec 20 '20 at 7:13
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    I think the plan phoog meant was: get to the closest/most convenient point in Canada, rent/buy a car there, drive back to Chicago, pick up your cat plus some of your belonging, then drive to Vancouver. If you rent, it won’t be a cross-border rental as you’re picking the car up in CA and returning it in CA. If you buy, no import formalities or tax, just a regular transfer of ownership. Not sure if there are any legal issues with driving a Canadian-registered car in the US when you’re still a resident. – user149408 Dec 20 '20 at 23:28
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Your best bet is to use U-Haul, although for some reason their prices are highly unreasonable if you choose Chicago rather than Seattle as the pickup location. They currently quote me $343 for a move from Seattle:

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But a whopping $2,796 for a move from Chicago:

enter image description here

So the solution is to drive/fly to Seattle, hop on a UHaul truck and then drop it off in Vancouver. Alternative options I can think of:

  1. Consider asking your employer if you could just work from the US until the pandemic is over, presuming your job is going to be remote of course
  2. Get a one-way rental with drop-off in Seattle, drive to Vancouver, leave your cat, then drop off the car in Seattle and fly
  3. Arrange a pet hotel in Seattle (or possible Bellingham), fly to Vancouver, then drive a Canadian rental down to Seattle to pick up your cat

Options #2 and #3 are complicated by the 14-day quarantine requirement, but luckily you're allowed to break quarantine to leave Canada so you would only have to do the full 14 days once.

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    I hadn’t thought to check U-Haul after deciding to use (company-paid-for) movers! It does seem a little silly to take an almost-empty truck, and I need to see about returning it with quarantine restrictions, but this is the new frontrunner. (My job is remote, but I need to “activate” my work permit by entering Canada – and in any case, the movers are scheduled and the rent paid already for my temporary place in Vancouver.) – Danica Dec 19 '20 at 7:01
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    @djs added a couple more ideas at the bottom – JonathanReez Dec 19 '20 at 7:08
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    @djs You're allowed to break quarantine to leave Canada. So you would only have to do the full 14 days once. – JonathanReez Dec 19 '20 at 7:11
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    Turns out Avis added an allowable one-way rental, which I’ve now booked. Marking this as accepted, though, because finding an available U-Haul made it clear that this was an availability issue and not an unpublicized new legal/border policy issue. – Danica Dec 19 '20 at 20:54
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    #1 may be problematic for legal reasons. (I live in Germany and work in Switzerland, the hassles are epic.) An employer in Vancouver may know more, since they may have multiple employees who live in the US and are in similar situations. Just be aware that this may not be possible through no ill will by the employer. – Stephan Kolassa Dec 19 '20 at 20:57
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I checked again, and I’m fairly confident this wasn’t showing up last night, but it now seems that Avis has exactly one “Mystery Car” option to go from Seattle to Vancouver. (Maybe not anymore, as I’ve just booked it.) The issue, then, seems to be one of inventory management instead of blanket policy changes.

I also called Service BC and confirmed that it’s explicitly okay to return my rental car before starting my quarantine period.

So, for others, the answer to the question in the title is indeed find a one-way rental car as I had expected in the first place. Maybe just try not to do it with a week’s notice at Christmas. 🙃

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    When the time comes to select an accepted answer, you can (and maybe should) accept your own. – Willeke Dec 19 '20 at 20:57
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    I don't have a better solution for you, but do wish you a welcome to Canada. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 19 '20 at 21:09
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    The Uhaul will be a reasonable back-up plan if Avis doesn't honor the reservation. – Dean MacGregor Dec 21 '20 at 13:19
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Renting a car in the US and then returning it in Canada may not be possible, however you should have no issues driving a US-based rental in Canada and then returning it in the states. So perhaps you drive your rental car to Vancouver, drop off your cat at your new residence, drive back across the border, return the car, then find transportation back across (much easier without a cat in tow).

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