Border-Crossing Fees to the United States From Canada?

Will you one day be required to pay a fee to pass by this sign welcoming you to the United States? Photograph courtesy of Craig Nagy from Vancouver, British Columbia.

Each year, millions of people use a variety of modes of transportation to enter the United States through scores of checkpoints over approximately 5,525 miles of border — the longest international border in the world shared between the same two countries over both land and water — which the United States shares with Canada. The checkpoints are manned by federal employees who check the documentation of each person entering the United States — and, of course, the salaries and benefits paid to those employees are only two of the items which cost money to operate border crossings.
Especially as a result of the current sequestration budget cuts, it may come as no surprise and little wonder that included in a budget proposal for 2014 by the Department of Homeland Security — how I loathe the name of that agency — is a request for Congress to authorize the study of a possible fee that could eventually be collected from every person who enters the United States from Canada at border crossings via land as an effort to increase funding for border protection and inspection.
Currently, there is no cost to cross the border via land into the United States — unless you use a toll bridge, in which case agents of the operator of the toll bridge collect the funds from which the operator benefits.
Passengers who travel via aircraft and sea vessels already pay fees to enter into the United States from Canada — and those fees may be increased as well.
If cost and revenue are issues, then I wonder why the proposal did not include a proposal to charge a fee at the border separating the United States and Mexico — not that I would advocate that proposal.
According to an article by Scott Baker of The Blaze, the costs associated with the border separating the United States and Mexico — not including Canada — can be as high as $90 billion over a period of ten years. Some of those costs include but are not limited to:
  • Deployment of 1,200 National Guard soldiers for one year: $110 million
  • One rail cargo x-ray screening machine: $1.75 million
  • Average annual salary per Customs and Border Protection officer: $75,000.00
  • Cost per drug-sniffing dog: $4,500.00

Perhaps the costs of securing the border separating the United States and Mexico is at least part of the reason why that federal agency whose name I despise needs more money? Furthermore, was that supposed $90 billion well spent?
The questions I have as an American citizen about the possibility of charging a fee to cross the border into the United States by land from Canada is this: how would that fee benefit me? Will the increased revenue reduce my taxes? Will I be more safe and secure as a result?
I suspect that I would not pay fewer taxes or be significantly safer as a result — not that I do not feel reasonably safe now anyway. Perhaps I am being selfish — but why in the world would I support such a fee?
How does paying this proposed fee benefit those who enter the United States from Canada via a border crossing? Would those people now have the pleasure of paying a fee only to be treated like a “criminal”?
In the event that the fee was approved, would you have to pay to go from one side of the reading room to the other in the Haskell Free Library and Opera House — one of a number of buildings which straddles the border between the United States and Canada?
Many FlyerTalk members collectively would not support this idea either, which could result in reciprocal fees imposed by Canada, as well as reduce commerce from Canadians who purchase goods and services in the United States and possibly adversely affect the annual merchandise trade between the United States and Canada worth several hundred billion dollars.
Reciprocity fees have precedent: Chile, Brazil and Argentina are three examples of countries who charge a reciprocity fee to holders of passports issued by the United States as a result of a visa fee it charges to visitors from those countries — and the fees in Brazil and some of the other countries have increased since they were first implemented in response to the United States raising its visa fee last year. Would Canada respond by charging a reciprocity fee for those entering from the United States via a border crossing?
As far as I know, the fees imposed by the United States would cost me money whenever I travel to those countries which retaliated by charging visa reciprocity fees of their own — and yet I have not noticed any benefit as an American citizen as a result of the fees charged by the United States. I would just as soon rather that all of those countries — including the United States — drop those visa fees permanently.
Perhaps the opposite should be discussed: an open border arrangement with Canada similar to that in those European countries within the Schengen Area. It was only a few years ago that I visited a FlyerTalk member who lives in France but accompanied him as he went shopping at a grocery story in Germany not far from his home. Only a sign gave any indication that we crossed over from France into Germany. There was no checkpoint. No fee. No traffic jam. No need to pull out a passport or declare anything — although some FlyerTalk members would lament at not collecting another passport stamp. It was as simple as traveling from one state in the United States to another — and it would possibly be much easier not only for Canadians and Americans alike to freely move about both countries, but it could possible increase trade between the two countries as well.
Please do not interpret that as me naïvely thinking that a free border between the United States and Canada would be easy to implement. I know that there are barriers and issues which would first need to be resolved — but isn’t the idea worth considering?
For the record, I am opposed to charging a fee at the border which the United States shares with Canada. It is similar to charging a toll on a highway, requiring personnel, technology and expensive equipment. We need to simplify the border crossing without sacrificing safety issues, in my opinion — not create a potentially more complicated mess.

  1. “Perhaps the opposite should be discussed: an open border arrangement with Canada similar to that in those European countries within the Schengen Area.”
    The idea is definitely intriguing but I think it is also dead in the water. In order to erase the Northern Border, there would need to be some sort of harmonization of laws and access to databases to ensure security on both sides. This would naturally entail the loss of some sovereign control by each side which would not be acceptable to a good number of citizens of each nation. Moreover, there are certain laws in Canada (ex. Federal Privacy law PIPEDA “Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act”) that would likely clash with certain US laws and/or regulations. There would also be an issue with healthcare coverage in that if the northern border were erased, what would stop those with no health insurance from going to Canadian hospitals and pharmacies and getting treatment or relatively inexpensive prescriptions? Erasing the norther border is feasible but it will entail many many years of work by both sides.

  2. I should qualify my statement above by saying that I think it is dead in the water in the short term.

  3. I don’t why the US and CAN don’t adapt the european system of opening the two countries borders up and get rid of all these border crossing points saving billions of dollars of tax payers money and enhance travel and trade between the two countries making them the largest trading block in the world.
    We share many things (values and traditions and freedom of speech) with our neighbor in the north and we can survive together forever as a single block.

  4. I certainly don’t want to see border fees for entering the US. It would certainly kill what ever remains of commerce in a lot of US border towns which suffered horribly after the increased line-up and passport requirements introduced after 9/11. I would certainly be forced to curtail my shopping in the US as a result. However, I don’t think an open border would work either. We have much stricter gun control laws in Canada, and that is unlikely to change. In fact, most of the illegal guns in Canada seem to have been smuggled in from the US.

  5. “There would also be an issue with healthcare coverage in that if the northern border were erased, what would stop those with no health insurance from going to Canadian hospitals and pharmacies and getting treatment or relatively inexpensive prescriptions?”
    The only thing that stops them now (on both sides) – residency.
    You should have to prove that you live in that country (thus paying the taxes in the correct country) before you can get the benefits, including the ability to buy the prescription.. lest not forget that a US doctor prescription may not be honoured by a CDN pharmacist.
    I don’t see any reason why this can’t happen – in the long term. There’s harmony to be achieved in some things for sure, but not for everything. Border controls to stop someone entering Canada and then popping to the US (and vice versa!) and living as an illegal is one such challenge.
    The UK still have their “strict” immigration controls, but they seem to handle the influx of “illegals” via France quite well. There are other ways to handle these things than just plain keeping the border as the filter.
    How does the rest of mainland Europe handle all these challenges? Yes, they harmonized their laws somewhat, and that took time, but they don’t seem to be in a complete state of anarchy, do they?

  6. im just wondering if theres any charges to pay at the border station from yukon to go to alaska n wat is the fee for it,if you have a clearence to pass and they dont alloow u to leave unless u pay the officers first is tis true, at the yukon border station h the officer in charge wont allow to pass unless the exit fee have to pay i would appreciate it if someone can give me an answer cuz the officers do t his to people who wants to pass the border. thank you

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