What Canadians need to know when driving in the U.S.


Canadians were shocked when they heard the story last week of 27-year-old Emily Nield being handcuffed, arrested, jailed and charged in the state of Georgia for driving with a Canadian license. 

The charges against Nield have been dropped but the recent graduate wants her story to serve as a cautionary tale to fellow Canadians driving across the border.

To find out what Canadians should know about the subject, Yahoo Canada News reached out to immigration and refugee lawyer, Joel Sandaluk.

When asked about the specific case of Nield, Sandaluk says she was not in the wrong.

“I don’t think that Canadians need to keep their passports on them at all times,” he said. “The main thing they have to keep in mind is that they need to have some kind if ID document on them at all times.”

Nield’s case in particular might have been exacerbated by the fact that you do not get any documentation when you cross into the U.S., like getting your passport stamped.

“I think one of the problems with this case in Georgia is that the officer might have been concerned that she was actually living and working in the United States and not just there for a visit,” Sandaluk explained about Nield’s case.

If someone finds themselves in her situation, Sandaluk says the best thing to do is give simple answers about what you will be doing in the United States and how long you will be staying.

“They may be asked some additional questions about who they’re staying with, where they’re staying – but that’s usually it,” he said.

And if you do run into any trouble while you are abroad, Sandaluk advises to contact the Canadian consul

“Every Canadian consulate offers services for Canadians abroad if they’ve encountered some kind of trouble with the police in a different country, a medical emergency, anything of that nature,” he said. “So they can always contact the Canadian consulate in the event of an arrest or in the event of just difficulties.”

There isn’t really a reason a Canadian driving south of the border would raise a red flag, said Sandaluk, except for a few situations.

“If you were in the United States and you were driving a friends car for example, if you were clearly traveling form work in a work vehicle or something of that nature, thats the kind of thing that would give an officer reason for suspicion,” explained Sandaluk.

As for why Nield ran into trouble in the first place, Sandaluk has some thoughts.

“Theres a lot of different police forces in a lot of different parts of the United States and this is a time right now, you know, of heightened awareness of illegal immigration in that country,” he said. “There were a lot of stories over the course of the last year or so about what you can only describe as empowered border officers questioning people about their religion or about their twitter feed or whatever.”

Unfortunately, Sandaluk doesn’t see Nield’s case being an isolated incident.

“It seems like the sort of thing will probably reoccur at some point, but with how much frequency, no one can say,” he said. “It’s probably a product of the political environment as much as anything.”

Things to remember while driving south of the border:

  • It is legal to use a Canadian license while driving in the U.S.
  • You do NOT need to have your passport on you at all times
  • You do need some kind of ID on you at all times
  • You need to be able to explain what you are doing in the U. S.
  • If you run into any difficulties, contact the Canadian consulate

Have you ever run into legal trouble south of the border? Tell us about it in the comments below.