Understand the limits of cross-border trucking: Driver’s Education

Cross-border trucking opens up many new horizons for drivers. But on top of the additional earning opportunities comes greater scrutiny, and a new set of rules and regulations to understand.

A good carrier partner can help with everything from training to mentoring and support. The carriers to avoid are those that figure you should already know it all, turning you loose to sink or swim.

It’s the same with the paperwork of international commerce. The process is fairly streamlined, but certain procedures have to be followed. Carriers can walk drivers through all that, and good carriers will offer support and guidance along the way.

Canada-U.S. border
Cross-border trucking is allowed, but your admissibility is not guaranteed. (Photo: Jim Park)

Are you even admissible?

To be a cross-border driver, you must first be admissible to the United States. Immigration regulations and policies there have long held that alien truck drivers may be admitted as “B-1 visitors for business” so they can pick up or deliver cargo for international commerce. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all truck drivers qualify.

Anyone can be denied entry to the U.S. for any reason or no reason — at least, no fathomable reason. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have sweeping discretionary powers and are not obligated to grant you entry to their country. An officer may not like your attitude or your tattoos or the color of your truck. There’s little room for appeal. There’s no talking to supervisor for a second opinion.

Short of running into an officer who got up on the wrong side of the bed, there are general entry requirements as a visitor for business under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA).

To qualify as a bona fide visitor for business, a truck driver must:

  • Have a residence in a foreign country that they don’t intend to abandon;
  • Intend to leave the U.S. at the end of the authorized period of temporary admission;
  • Have adequate financial means to carry out the purpose of the visit to and from the U.S.; and
  • Establish they are not inadmissible under section 212(a) of the INA, which includes such grounds as health-related, criminal, subversive, public charge, improper manner of arrival or improper documents, other immigration violations, and several other categories.

Among the most common reasons for denying entry is an untruthful declaration during the primary inspection at the booth. Officers will often ask if you have a criminal record or if you have ever been arrested or fingerprinted. If you answer no to any of those questions, but the records the officer can read on the computer indicate otherwise, you may get sent inside for further interrogation, and possibly be sent back to Canada.

Questions about criminal records are straightforward enough. If you have a conviction for which you have not received a pardon, the record will appear on the CBP database. Depending on the nature of the conviction, it could be grounds for inadmissibility. Most carriers conduct criminal record searches prior to hiring, and a record search is part of the FAST (Free and Secure Trade) card application.

However, questions regarding arrests or fingerprinting should be answered truthfully. The event that led to the arrest and subsequent fingerprinting may not have resulted in a conviction — and would not appear on a criminal record search — but CPB may have that information on file. Enter the risks of the untruthful declaration.

Even if your criminal charges are dismissed, stayed, withdrawn or acquitted, or conditional or absolutely discharged, you can be denied entry to the U.S. Once you have been denied entry the first time, it’s very difficult to return to the U.S.

If becoming a cross-border driver is on your agenda, and you have previous convictions, it’s strongly recommended that you apply for a pardon before applying for your FAST card.

Sometimes called a Record Suspension under the Criminal Records Act, pardons do not erase the record completely, but the record of the conviction is hidden from view and will not appear during a criminal record search. Earning a pardon isn’t a slam dunk, though. If you are a repeat offender, or have recent convictions, you may not be eligible for a pardon.

Even if you have previously been denied entry to the U.S., you can apply for a U.S. Entry Waiver, also known as an I-192 or I-194 form. They are usually issued for limited terms such as two or five years. Various agencies can help procure pardons or the U.S. entry waivers.

A different set of rules apply for drivers who are not Canadian citizens or are in Canada on temporary work visas. Drivers in these situations should consult their sponsoring companies for the proper procedures.

Ambassador Bridge
(Photo: istock)

No ‘interstating’ allowed

There’s much to know about operating in the U.S., but if you learn nothing more from this article, know that foreign drivers are not allowed to pick up and deliver domestic shipments within the U.S. The technical term for regulations involving foreign carriers making point-to-point moves within the U.S. is “cabotage”. In trucking, the practice is commonly referred to as “interstating”.

As a matter of convenience and profitability, Canadian carriers have been known to try reducing the expense of long deadhead trips by hauling domestic freight between two U.S. locations. Inexperienced drivers may be convinced by dispatchers that such moves are allowed under U.S. law, but rest assured, they are not.

For example, let’s say you haul a load from Toronto to Miami, pick up a load in Miami for delivery in Baltimore, unload in Baltimore, and reload for a trip to Toronto. Interestingly — or confusingly – U.S. customs regulations allow such moves using Canadian equipment. But a Canadian driver is not allowed to drive the truck. U.S. immigration regulations prohibit such moves.

Many misconceptions exist when it comes to the intricacies of customs and immigration regulations, and Canadian drivers can inadvertently violate the rules. Here are few common activities that Canadian drivers can and can’t perform while in the U.S.:

Prohibited activities

  • Pick up a shipment at one U.S. location for delivery to another U.S. location.
  • Reposition an empty trailer between two points in the U.S. they did not enter or depart the U.S. with that particular trailer.
  • Pick up additional domestic shipments to fill up a partially loaded trailer carrying an international shipment.
  • Solicit shipments for delivery (return loads) while in the U.S.

Allowed activities

  • Deliver a shipment from Canada to one or more locations within the U.S.
  • Pick up a return shipment from one or more U.S. pick-up locations for delivery to Canada (provided the pick-ups were pre-arranged).
  • Deliver a shipment from Canada to the U.S., drive with the same empty trailer to another U.S. location, drop the trailer, and pick up a second loaded trailer for delivery to Canada.
  • Deliver a shipment from Canada to the U.S., drop that trailer and pick up a different empty trailer, and then drive to another U.S. location to live load that trailer for delivery to Canada.
  • Deliver a loaded trailer from Canada to one U.S. location, drop that trailer, and bobtail to another U.S. location to pick up a loaded trailer for delivery to Canada.

Canadian lobby groups have for years been seeking concessions from American regulators, particularly with respect to trailer repositioning. So far, they have been unsuccessful.

Drivers caught engaging in prohibited activities risk permanent or temporary bans from operating in the U.S., possible equipment and cargo seizures, and some pretty steep fines.

Pick the right team

If you are truck driver new to the industry or looking to work with a cross-border carrier for the first time, try to sign on with a company that knows what it’s doing and has the horsepower to help you make the transition.

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to grappling with cross-border paperwork and the border crossing process. You don’t want to try to figure it all out for yourself. The risks of making a mistake are high, and the consequences could be severe.  

Some carriers are just not equipped to execute all the behind-the-scenes footwork that might be needed to fix a mistake or sort out problems. Partner with a carrier that will provide the training you’ll need, not just hand you the paperwork and wish you luck.

Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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  • Can a driver deliver a loaded trailer from Canada to a client in the U.S then pick up a loaded trailer for delivery to ie Lorado TX for a client in Mexico?

    • NO – you would have to deliver in Mexico

      Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The distribution of goods is defined in 8 CFR 214.2(b)(4)(i)(E)

  • Jim, I specialize in I-192 US Entry Waivers and Canadian Pardons, and this is the best article I have read in a long time. Your information is accurate and correct regarding a criminal record or history. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. This will help many truck drivers.

  • Since the 1990 going across to the USA with a load it has been kind of difficult especially working for a small company I had to get in touch with broker and send fax and call for entry number and on and on . Today it is all done by personal out of the office and all you got to do is have all the necessary information and passport and all and you on your way to the great USA.