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For example, if one enters canada or the United States by land, typically no stamp is applied to one's passport. However, if one enters Canada or the United States by air, typically a stamp is applied to one's passport. Why the difference?

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  • I entered the United States by air on August 23, 2021, and no stamp was applied to my passport or to my wife's. Sep 18 at 20:12
  • @DavidSupportsMonica interesting, I amended the question. If "typically" isn't correct, then I'll ask how the border agent decides whether to stamp. Sep 18 at 20:14
  • First you have to be before an agent...both Mary and I traveled with Global Entry, and addressed the GE kiosks for the entry decision. The closest we got to an agent was to proffer the kiosk's receipt and get waved on. If there'd been no kiosks, or they'd been inoperative, I don't know if our passports would have been stamped. Sep 18 at 20:54
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    For entry by land (as apposed to air), a passport is not strictly required (enhanced driver’s licence (EDL) or enhanced identification card(EIC) can be used). So what percentage of travelers crossing daily will have a physical passport to stamp? The answer to that question should give you a hint as to the reason why passports are not typically stamped when crossing the Canadian/US border by land. Sep 18 at 21:53
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In many cases, land crossings see a lot of back-and-forth cross border traffic, including a lot of people working or running errands across the border and crossing the border very often (sometimes multiple times a day). Cross-border commuters, really. Known in French as “frontaliers”.

This is especially true in border regions in Europe, but I suppose that also happens a lot for US/CA and US/MX borders.

Back when I was a kid living in CH, going to school in FR, due to the weird border layout, my father could cross the border 8 times a day or more… If they stamped every time, you would need a new passport every few months to accommodate all those stamps!

In many such situations a lot of the traffic is just waved through (especially if car plates allow easy identification of local traffic), so of course they won't stamp anyone they wave through. In some places where immigration officers are not allowed to go on strike, when they want to have some leverage in negotiations, they will actually start checking every single car going through the border (known in French as "grève du zèle"). Very long queues and chaos ensues.

Most border regulations make special cases to take into account that traffic, because it just wouldn't be possible to accommodate it using the "regular" rules.

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