Crossing the Canada-USA Border in an Airplane
Many pilots in both
Going south, here are the steps you must follow:
1) get a valid passport for everyone on board
2) get a US Customs decal for your airplane for this year
3) create an EAPIS account and file an EAPIS manifest
US customs at the first airport that you will land at in the
5) file a flight plan with NavCan at 1-866-WX-BRIEF and OPEN IT
6) establish contact with USA ATC and get a squawk code
7) when you land, taxi to the “special spot” and close your flight plan
8) DO NOT GET OUT OF THE AIRPLANE
Going north, here are the steps you must follow:
1) get a valid passport for everyone on board
2) file an EAPIS departure
3) file a flight plan with Lockheed/Martin at 1-800-WX-BRIEF and OPEN IT
4) call Canadian Customs at 1-888-CAN-PASS, answer their
questions and tell them your first airport that you will be landing at in
5) when you land, taxi to the agreed-upon location and close your flight plan
6) You can get out of the airplane. Canada Customs may or may not show up. If they don’t show up, you must call 1-888-CAN-PASS again and tell them when you landed. They will give you a number which you should write down.
The above is the “Coles Notes” and summarizes what you have to do. There are some details, though.
Everyone on board the aircraft must hold a passport which
has NOT expired. Some countries require
at least six months before the passport expires. In my experience,
US Customs Aircraft Decal
To cross the border, you will need a US Customs Decal for
your aircraft. They are valid for a
calendar year. In the old days, you
could buy one from the US Customs Inspector after you landed. Not any more.
You now purchase them online. I
won’t include a URL because they expire so fast. Google “US Customs Decal” to find the
In the Good Old Days, I would have a stack of 178 forms,
which I would fill out and fax to US Customs.
No more. It has been replaced
with the EAPIS program. Google “EAPIS”. You
must create a user account with a password.
YOU MUST SAVE THEM. Enter crew
(you) information. Every time you fly
Something new with the EAPIS program is the requirement to
file an EAPIS departure manifest every time you fly from
Hint: file the EAPIS
Of course, print out your EAPIS arrival and departure manifests and bring them with you. I use a file folder in my flight bag.
You can’t just land at any airport in the
Here’s the trick: you need to somehow find out the phone number of US Customs at your destination airport. There is no country-wide “800” number to call. Guess how you’re going to find it? Google. They oughta get a Nobel Prize, for gmail if nothing else. Heck, Obama got a Nobel prize just for showing up. Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize – I am not making this up, check for yourself – presumably for “most improved”. As usual, I digress.
Google “us customs airport of entry” and you will find a very nice list of airports, sorted by states, with all the info that you need – hours of operation, phone number. Most places will require 2 hours notice.
Call US Customs at that number and tell them when you are coming, and tell them that you have filed an EAPIS manifest. GET THE NAME OF THE INSPECTOR, in case when you land, an enraged US Customs Inspector tells you that he is going to fine you $5,000 for not following procedure, hand him your EAPIS paperwork and tell him that you phoned Inspector Wilson at 9:14 am on 13 Sept 2013 and he knows you are coming.
When you land, taxi to the “special spot” often marked with yellow paint on the ramp, that US Customs “owns”. Tell Tower that you need customs when you are inbound. DO NOT GET OUT OF THE AIRCRAFT until a US Customs Inspector tells you to do so. They will ALWAYS meet you, very much unlike Canada Customs. Immediately hand the US Customs Inspector the file folder containing your Decal receipt, your EAPIS manifest, all passports and your pilot’s licence. It is not unusual for them to have dogs present to check for drugs, and a Geiger counter to check for radioactive materials. Don’t forget to smile.
Going northbound, don’t forget to file an EAPIS departure
manifest with US Customs. And you must
contact Canada Customs by calling 1-888-CANPASS at least 2 hours before your
time of arrival at your first airport in
When you arrive in
When you cross an international border – even if you don’t land – you must file AND OPEN a flight plane, either VFR or IFR, your choice.
ATC Contact & Squawk Code
Going south, you should be aware that there is a truly incomprehensible FAA NOTAM, written by a team of frustrated lawyers for maximum obfuscation, which requires you to establish contact with US ATC and get a squawk code for border crossing southbound. If you have incurable insomnia, sometime try reading the NOTAM. It’s really quite something.
Anyways, what this means is that you need a mode C
transponder. Or if you are flying in
formation, the lead needs one.
Incomprehensibly, sometimes US ATC requires every aircraft in a tight
formation crossing the border to squawk a discrete code. I have seen this strange request from
Going northbound, I am unaware of any corresponding regulation or NOTAM requiring you to establish contact with Canadian ATC before crossing the border. I have tried in the past, and ATC has rudely refused, as it frequently does when VFR traffic requests service. Well, I tried.
Holy shit, you’re saying to yourself, I can never figure out all that crap. Yes, you can. Like going to the dentist, you will get over it. Don’t let the bureaucrats stop you from flying. And carry a thick stack of paperwork and keep smiling, regardless of how many police cars and SUV’s surround you with flashing lights after you land.