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Warning to those travelling to Toronto

Reykjavik, Iceland
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10 posts
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Warning to those travelling to Toronto

I traveled to Toronto from Iceland several days ago for a weekend trip to the "the most multicultural city in the world". I'm married to a stewardess so her job allows me the perk of travelling a bit more than I otherwise might. In Toronto though I had a very unfortunate encounter with Canadian immigration officials:

On the plane every visitor has to fill out a simple form where you have to state whether you are travelling on business, if the trip is personal and for how many days you intend to stay in Canada. I wrote 3 days and checked with Personal.

When I came into the customs/immigration area a young woman checked my passport and asked a few questions: "Where will you be staying?" "Why are you here?" "Why are you only staying 3 days?" etc.

I thought it interesting that she asked so detailed questions but she was simply proud of her city and wanted to know why tourists decided to visit. Unfortunately she had obviously marked the visitor form because shortly after I was shuffled into a semi-interrogation area and met by another official:

"What are you doing here?" I'm a tourist.

"What are you going to do in Toronto?" Eat, explore and bicycle.

"Nobody comes to Toronto for 3 days. What are you really doing here?"

It was then that I understood that this wasn't normal procedure because he then pulled out my passport, told me to shut up and said: "Does it say Canada on the Passport?" "You have no right to be here!"

I was frankly dumbfounded and was waiting for the "Candid Camera" crew to show themselves. I decided though not to argue with him because based on his questions it seemed possible that he might decide throw me into a holding cell if I made a fuss.

It wasn't until then that he told me the real reason I was being interrogated: My trip was too short (3 days), I wasn't carrying any luggage and I was dressed in a blazer jacket! I might well be trying to smuggle me into the country!

I was then shuffled to another room where a slightly more courteous official went through me hand luggage and told me again that it was highly suspicious that someone would want to visit Toronto for 3 days! But considering that I had explained to them that my wife was an airline employee I could enter the country.

On the way into the city I asked two other passengers that had arrived by the same plane and walked without incident through customs what they had written on the visitor form. Both of them had written 5 days and what had possibly also "saved" them was that they were wearing sweaters and had luggage.

So the moral of the story is: When travelling to Toronto carrying light luggage and dressed in a jacket don't admit you are a tourist!

SE Ontario
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1. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

First of all, this has absolutely nothing to do with Toronto - Canada Border Services agents are federal employees, and are stationed in all international airports in the country ... you could easily have been asked the same questions if you were flying into Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, etc.

Secondly - since your wife is an airline employee I'm sure she could have reminded you that the world is a different place these days, and security is of number one importance no matter where in the world you travel. I'm sure border security in Iceland is just a strict. These days all Border officials, no matter where in the world they are, are on the alert for anything they might consider out of the ordinary. And it is part of their job to ask odd questions, to determine whether or not a person is indeed a regular traveller, or up to something else.

It's a pity that this was your introduction to our wonderful city, however there are many travellers out there in the world, and many of us have had, at some point, difficult or stressful moments when entering another country.

In the end, they let you through and you continued on your way. Move on ...

Reykjavik, Iceland
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2. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

I have no complaints about Toronto, it is a fine city with wonderful people.

I have though traveled to a lot of countries and cities around the world and have never experienced anything like this before. It seemed like the officials simply couldn't believe that anyone would want to travel from Europe to Toronto for 3 days.

Toronto, Canada
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3. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

I'll disagree a bit with Phpr -- I haven't been to Iceland, but wouldn't be surprised if its border security is not nearly as strict. I've been let into France (and thereby the entire Schengen Area) without being asked a single question, and am generally surprised how little European border officials ask. Canadian (and American) border crossings generally involve more scrutiny, although it's not very often it goes as far as "secondary" questioning. And beyond that, it's extremely rare for a legitimate visitor whose documents are in order to be turned away.

And I do agree with Phpr that this sort of thing does happen when travelling, and the best approach is to answer their questions honestly and patiently. Border officials look for unusual patterns, so you can expect to get questions if the length of your stay, the amount of luggage you have, where you're coming from/going to, or the travel patterns in your passport aren't typical.

Edited: 1:22 pm, August 28, 2012
Toronto
Destination Expert
for Tokyo
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4. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

Drug mules typically visit a city for a couple days with no checked bags, lone male travellers, just so you know.

Border officials ask you the same questions again and again, in different ways, to see if you are consistent with your answers.

At least they don't give you a free overnight stay and the famous burgers and fries:)

Ottawa, Canada
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5. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

I've traveled all over the world and probably crossed 1000 borders. I agree completely with MATTINTO. By far the most difficult (in terms of level of questioning and suspicion) are Canada and the US.

I one flew to the Netherlands to visit a friend for the weekend... only a small carry-on pack... and of course nobody batted an eye.

Coming to Canada, I've experienced everything from breezing through customs and immigration without a question... to spending 2 hours having my luggage torn apart after an 8 hour overseas flight with 2 toddlers in tow.

Best I can offer is an apology for the sometimes overzealous mode the officials seem to get into.

Toronto, Ontario
Destination Expert
for Toronto
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4,021 posts
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6. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

I guess, being such a close neighbour with the US, I'd rather have them OVERask than UNDERask. And just because someone's spouse works for an airline, that doesn't make them any more or less suspicious a character. As stated above, the Customs folk are looking for things that are off pattern. It's all they really have to go on, that and a gut instinct. I have friends both in the police dept and with border security, and believe me...the stories when it doesn't work out quite so nicely would curl your hair.

Sorry that your introduction to Toronto had to start with that, but take it with a grain of salt, and use it for a great dinner story when the conversation lags. And let's all be thankful that nothing happened, and that none of the bad guys were on that plane.

Toronto, Canada
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for Toronto
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7. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

Totally agreed, I always feel like I'm being "raked over the coals" when I encounter US or Canadian customs. Much different in Europe.

detroit
Destination Expert
for Niagara Falls
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19 reviews
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8. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

Yeah customs can be a hassle yet what can you do if your gonna to travel.

Its like driving, best just to forget the jerks you see on the road once you get out of the car. Its over with and you likely never see those people again. The quicker you can forget about the better, imo

I really don't care about their explanations, they must have had a funny feeling about you so they check you out more, happens all the time - too often, lol

Edited: 4:10 pm, August 28, 2012
Reykjavik, Iceland
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9. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

In hindsight my favorite quote from the official was that I looked suspicious because I wore a blazer jacket. Perhaps the color combination of a blue blazer, black shirt and tan pants was such an awful combination that he was forced to pull me in for questioning. Or (more likely) he just wanted to scream at someone wearing a blazer.

Just before I was let out a pair of young stern looking custom officials went through me hand luggage (which was half empty) and pulled out a book I had by pure coincidence bought a few weeks ago: "Stasiland, stories from behind the Berlin wall". :)

Thankfully they didn't arrest me for my choice in books and let "blazer guy" enter Canada.

Burlington, Canada
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10. Re: Warning to those travelling to Toronto

20 years ago I flew 1-way to Florida because I was going to drive back with my grandparents who had their car down there. I went through the exact same thing. I was 25 years old, had only a carry-on bag and a 1-way ticket in hand. This was long before 9-11 too. They kept me so long that I almost missed my flight. After much explaining they let me go. It happens sometimes you know? If you look suspicious they do what they're trained to do.

Perhaps next time tell customs that your wife works for the airline and you are flying dirt cheap so 3 days isn't a waste of money for you since your ticket was next to nothing anyhow. By the way, I find the US customs people far more intimidating than the Canadian ones.