NEW May 12, 2004
We are now informed that I-68 applicants will require 3 color passport photographs to apply. One should be 3/4 face, with a ear exposed. These rules are change almost monthly. Please double check, as US-INS change faster than we can keep up
Dear readers, USA entry is a very complex set of rules.
After several days studying the official web sites and a couple of phone calls we can offer you lots of official information which follows. Most important remember: whatever published guidelines say entry is permitted at the discretion of the admitting customs officer! US Customs or Immigration can & do change the policies without warning. Also each POE has its own "local" rules so check with U.S. officials before leaving.
All persons coming into the U.S., including its shoreline water, are subject to Immigration and Customs inspection. This can be done at an official Port of Entry (POE) location, which is usually located in the same place as the (I.N.S.) Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Telephone inspections are allowed by Customs Service Regulations but are not allowed by I.N.S. regulations, so boaters must also have a face-to-face meeting with a U.S. Customs inspector. Canadians can make this easier by ensuring everyone has an 1.7 form. Now in many cases this is accomplished with the video link.
Vessels longer than 30 feet require a customs decal which costs $ 25.00 US. Video or radio check in terminals, a cruising permit, or CANPASS Private Boats Permit are other ways to legally enter the U.S. (Telephone check in numbers)
(Read more explanations about the U.S. Customs & Immigration System.)
Video Check in Terminals
Many water-side Customs locations are a day's sail apart, so the U.S. began installing two-say video telephones for boaters entering the U.S. as an alternative to entering at a Customs port. Open the door and lift the handset to talk to an I.N.S. officer - have the particulars about your boat and passengers at hand. There is a small camera lens that can be used to show documents to the Customs officer who will give you a clearance number which you should record in your ship's log.
There are also Canada Customs radiophone and joint-border checkin locations for the convenience of boaters from both countries:
I-68 Form for short U.S. cruises
All persons coming into the U.S. are subject to Immigration and Customs inspection. The U.S. government's I-68 (Canadian Border Boat Landing Permit) allows both Canadian and American people entering the U.S. on a boat to by-pass inspection. You must still "check in" by phone and everyone one board must have a valid I-68. Boats longer than 30 feet are not elligible but may get a U.S. customs decal. Customs or I.N.S. ports are becoming fewer and further between, so this is a considerable convenience.
Each person on board your boat, including children, must be registered and possess an I-68 form. All individuals not listed on the I-68 form must, upon landing, immediately proceed to the nearest port of entry to be personally inspected by a United States Immigration Inspector. Possession of an approved I-68 satisfies all reporting requirements of the U.S.I.N.S. (Immigration and Naturalization Service).
If you have a valid I-68 for each person on board, you may enter at any port but current regulations still require that all vessels report their arrival into the United States. This report may be made by phone (or cell phone) to 1-800-827-2851 in the St. Lawrence River and Eastern Lake Ontario or 1-800-927-5015 in the Buffalo and Western Lake Ontario area. You may only use this form to visit the designated border area for up to 72 hours (3 days).
Canadian boaters visiting Potters Beach on Grindstone Island, a popular beach in the Thousand Islands, must report to U.S. Customs first, unless they have an I-68 form and report their arrival using a cell phone.
Of course you have to report in the normal way to Canadian Customs and Immigration on your entry or return to Canadian waters. Instructions and phone numbers are posted in Canadian marinas near the border.
This quirk passed on by a fellow boater: "If you have entered the U.S. using an I-68, after 72 hours you must leave US waters, and then return. However, if you were simply boating in Canadian waters and did not officially enter Canada, you do not have to clear back into the U.S. -- the original clearance is still in effect."
Every person on board must have a valid I-68 in order to use this program. If you have extra passengers, you must land at an official entry port, videophone or radiophone for inspection. You may also choose to buy an I-68 $16 U.S. per guest in advance, or boat to an official I.N.S. entry port for inspection.
How to get an I-68 form:
A web site where you can order a copy of the form is: www.ins.usdoj.gov/forms/, or you can call 1-800-870-3676 (in the USA only).
To get the I-68 form, you have to present yourself, in person, to an I.N.S. (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service) office. They "may" send you a renewal by mail the following year. It costs about $16 U.S. per person. Payment methods include money order, personal checks drawn on a U.S. bank or U.S. cash. They didn't accept credit cards or Canadian cash last time I checked.
Family I-68 Form:
There is a maximum fee of$32 per family (all members are listed on one card). Note that family members can only use a family I-68 card while travelling with the person whose name appears on the card. If boating with others, they must either carry their own I-68 or check in to an I.N.S. location.
Family is defined as: husband, wife, unmarried children under 21, and parents of husband or wife. Common-law families are not recognized -- friends were charged $64 ($100 Canadian) for themselves and their two kids for a weekend trip to an American park!
Vessel size rules: 30 feet or 5 tons?
For many years, only pleasure boats of five net tons or under were elligible to enter with people having I-68 forms - very confusing! If your boat length was over 30 feet (9.14 metres) you had to enter at an official entry port to get a customs decal. 30 feet (9.14 metres) was measured by eye from stern rail to bow pulpit. For Canadian registered vessels (professionally surveyed), the length is measured from stem to rudder post -- often several feet shorter than hull length. Even the measure of gross tonnage on a registered vessel is a measure of cargo carrying ability, not vessel weight!
Customs decal for large boats or long cruise
If you boat is over 30 feet* (9.14 metres) or you wish to enter the U.S. longer than 72 hours, you must buy a customs decal (about $25 U.S. each year) and display it on the outside of the boat. This applies to Canadian and U.S. boats. You are sent an annual renewal by mail. Every time you enter U.S. waters, you must go to a recognized Customs location - usually the same as the I.N.S. locations. The "up" side is that you get to stay as long as you want and go anywhere inland (you can't with an I-68). (More information from U.S. Customs.)
A customs decal allows you to stay in the U.S. for six months (every Canadian tourist entering the U.S. can stay 6 months).
A Cruising Permit allows foreign boats to cruise in the U.S. for a year, after which you must leave U.S. coastal waters and enter another country. An alternative is to pay the U.S. duty (about 1.5%) so the boat can stay in the U.S. as long as you want.
CANPASS Private Boats Permit
Canada has a program of its own called CanPass Private Boats Permit in which boaters and immediate family can register once only for $25 and then report their intention to enter Canada by telephone up to 4 hours in advance (for Canadian or U.S. boats entering Canada). You tell the officer when and at which offically sanctioned dock or marina you are heading for, and whether you have purchases on which duty is payable (duty may be charged on your credit card). You will be instructed either to proceed to the designated dock or to another site for inspection.
CANPASS allows you to avoid long lineups at Customs phones, but you will likely still be asked to undergo an inspection. As with the I-68, your guests are not covered. A pilot program in Quebec called CANPASS Private Boats Plus, exempts holders from customs reporting unless they import goods above duty limits. CANPASS also operates programs for planes, snowmobiles, cars, etc. For more information, please contact Revenue Canada toll-free at 888-226-7277 or read the CANPASS information from Revenue Canada. Phone 800-461-9999 to reach an automated service and 514-283-9900 to apply in Quebec.
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Politics and Change
The rules change quite regularly, so best to check with the government officials for the latest information.
U.S. Customs rules for buying foreign boats is about 1.5% duty on sailboats or inboard powerboats, 1% outboard boats, etc.
U.S. Bill H.R. 2027:In June 1997, a U.S. bill was introduced to aid American boaters in the Great Lakes returning from Canada. A pilot program to December 1998 would allow passengers on recreational boats to carry a passport instead of an I-68 form available only in person from an I.N.S. office. [no further information]
U.S. Bill H.R. 694:In February 1997, a proposed bill by U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) would have eliminated the requirement that U.S. citizens report in person at a port of entry or have prior clearance with an I-68 form from the I.N.S. when returning from a trip to Canada of less than 72 hours. [no further information]