Customs - Vancouver / US

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#1
Houston
939 Posts
Joined Aug 2011
We are US citizens flying from Houston, TX to Vancouver via a plane change in Denver.

How will customs work? When we leave Houston, they will know our final destination is Vancouver - but when do we actually go through customs, etc?

Same thing on the retun - When do we go through customs? Hopefully not when we get off the plane from Vancouver in Denver and then need to catch a flight from there to Houston?

Thanks!
#2
Studio City, CA, USA
232 Posts
Joined May 2000
You will go through customs in Canada, for both arrival and departure.

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#3
Seattle WA
4,463 Posts
Joined Jan 2002
Specifically, you will go through Canadian immigration (humans) and customs (stuff) when you arrive at Vancouver. On leaving, you will "preclear" US immigration (humans) and customs (stuff) at Vancouver airport, in essence turning your US-bound flight into a domestic itinerary. You need to allow some extra time on YVR departure for these formalities.
#4
San Francisco
1,037 Posts
Joined Nov 2011
Depending on when you are arriving in Vancouver you should leave up to 3 hours for border crossing.

They are having difficulties with staffing and crowd managment currently and mid-day waits of over 2 hours, between the hours of 11 and 2 or 3, are not uncommon. Saturday and Sunday are particularly impacted from what I was told.

If you can schedule your flight to arrive outside this time frame you would be wise to do so. It was not fun : -(
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#5
284 Posts
Joined Feb 2005
Will that be true that you clear customs in Vancouver at department even if you are flying Vancouver to Toronto and then from Toronto into the US? Anyone know? I was hoping we'd go through customs in the US and could do the EZ check if it's available in Vancouver.
#6
San Francisco
1,037 Posts
Joined Nov 2011
Where ever you land first is where you clear. We flew from San Francisco to Vancouver and cleared into Vancouver. On the return trip we cleared US customs back in SF.

The Boston Family landed in Toronto on the way to Vancouver and cleared there, not Vancouver. On the way home they flew via Seattle and cleared there and then flew onto Boston.
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#7
Houston
939 Posts
Joined Aug 2011
Our flight back home leaves Vancouver at 2:20PM so should have plenty of time.

I thought I remembered from previous trips to Calgary that we did customs prior to leaving Calgary, but wasn't sure.

All of the responses except Sara's indicate that customs stuff will happen prior to leaving Vancouver. We only have 1 hour 20 minutes to change planes in Denver. Easy if we don't have to collect our luggage and deal w/ customs.
#8
Vancouver BC
7,241 Posts
Joined Feb 2008
Going back to the OP's question;
IAH-DEN-YVR, you will clear Canadian Immigration and Customs at YVR, although there will be a passport check at DEN when you board (it may also be at IAH when you check in), in order to confirm you have the correct paperwork to enter Canada (which in fact is mostly to confirm you'll have the correct paperwork to return the USA -- Canada won't let you in if you don't have a USA passport which is required to return to the USA). Luggage will be checked through all the way from IAH.

YVR-DEN-IAH; you will [pre] clear USA Immigration and Customs prior to entering the transborder wing [E gates area] of YVR. You will arrive in DEN as if you were a domestic arrival; and your luggage will be checked through.


However, this comment contains some things which need clarification.
Originally posted by sarafinadh
Where ever you land first is where you clear. We flew from San Francisco to Vancouver and cleared into Vancouver. On the return trip we cleared US customs back in SF.

The Boston Family landed in Toronto on the way to Vancouver and cleared there, not Vancouver. On the way home they flew via Seattle and cleared there and then flew onto Boston.
Flying BOS-YYZ-YVR of course they would clear on entering the country and before flying a domestic flight; on which there would be no controls when you get off the flight.

Flying YVR-SEA-BOS, they would have pre-cleared USA Immigration/Customs in Vancouver prior to entering the transborder wing's E gates, and then departed out of the E94-96 section of the airportand arrived as a normal USA domestic passenger in SEA (at the N gates for the AC/QK flights and the B2 gate complex for the AS/QX flights).

It's extremely (<1%) unusual for a Vancouver-SFO flight to clear customs at SFO; are you really sure that's what happened-- although the USA does still have the right for a cursory inspection, and still requires pre-cleared flights to fly into an AOE [Airport of Entry] in the USA.
Was it a special charter flight?

Almost all US bound flights clear USA Immigration and Customs prior to entering the transborder [E gates] part of YVR. When you land you are essentially treated as a domestic arrival

Exceptions to this are:
5th freedom flights; PR's YVR-LAS, CX's YVR-JFK
Late departures; UA's redeye flight YVR-ORD

To see if you'll pre-clear in YVR, look up your flight on http://YVR.CA/ if your flight leaves from an E gate, you will have pre-cleared USA Immigration/Customs in Vancouver; and should arrive in the US as if you were a domestic arrival.

Also, I wonder about your note about customs delays at Vancouver. Normally the worst delays are at the [departing] USA pre-clearance. What time of day and day of week did you arrive that it was more than an hour? It's never ever been more than 20 minutes for me (on the Canadian side), and never more than about 90 minutes on the USA pre-clearance side.
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#9
San Francisco
1,037 Posts
Joined Nov 2011
Originally posted by scottbee
However, this comment contains some things which need clarification.


Flying BOS-YYZ-YVR of course they would clear on entering the country and before flying a domestic flight; on which there would be no controls when you get off the flight.

Flying YVR-SEA-BOS, they would have pre-cleared USA Immigration/Customs in Vancouver prior to entering the transborder wing's E gates, and then departed out of the E94-96 section of the airport and arrived as a normal USA domestic passenger in SEA (at the N gates for the AC/QK flights and the B2 gate complex for the AS/QX flights).

It's extremely (<1%) unusual for a Vancouver-SFO flight to clear customs at SFO; are you really sure that's what happened?

Also, I wonder about your note about customs delays at Vancouver. Normally the worst delays are at the [departing] USA pre-clearance. What time of day and day of week did you arrive that it was more than an hour? It's never ever been more than 20 minutes for me (on the Canadian side), and never more than about 90 minutes on the USA pre-clearance side.
Humm... Ok, Thinking thru the return flights to the US...

The Boston folks did clear in thru Seattle, but that might be because there was some security issue and they were supposed to fly to Toronto and then to Boston and didn't. They were rerouted to SeaTac. That might be why they did US customs in Seattle, instead of Toronto? It hadn't occurred to me that the rerouting would have triggered an unusual customs process for them.

Thinking on our flight home, I can't swear we did do customs in San Francisco. I was totally beat that day and may just be remembering a 'generic' version of flying in from out of country and clearing in SFO.

As for the Customs delay into Vancouver? I and about 6000 other passengers can attest to a wait that took over 2 hours and 45 minutes that Saturday. We flew in around 11 and didn't get out of the airport until 2.

I spoke with Airport employees who were there directing traffic who told me that the wait, during that time frame, between late morning and early afternoon was a real bottle neck and that the absurd line was not an unusual event. The customs official who cleared us in confirmed that this was the case and that the reason only 10 of the 20 stations were open was because the rush only covered half the shift and they didn't want to add staff for full shifts.

I launched a pretty stiff letter when we got home and had 2 responses from Airport personnel. Wish I had saved the letter. In it she stated that she was actually glad to have my note because the "VP of something" at YVR had a meeting with his opposite number in the customs department two days from then and my letter, among others, was going as show and tell for how pissed people are and what bad flack they are getting for it. She was well aware of the problem.
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#10
97 Posts
Joined Aug 2003
Originally posted by conwakr
Will that be true that you clear customs in Vancouver at department even if you are flying Vancouver to Toronto and then from Toronto into the US? Anyone know? I was hoping we'd go through customs in the US and could do the EZ check if it's available in Vancouver.
You will be cleared US customs in Toronto as Vancouver to Toronto is considered Domestic flight.
#11
cruising.cockroach {at} gmail hotmail and yahoo
1,576 Posts
Joined May 2012
Originally posted by scottbee
It's extremely (<1%) unusual for a Vancouver-SFO flight to clear customs at SFO; are you really sure that's what happened-- although the USA does still have the right for a cursory inspection, and still requires pre-cleared flights to fly into an AOE [Airport of Entry] in the USA.
Was it a special charter flight?

Exceptions to this are:
5th freedom flights; PR's YVR-LAS, CX's YVR-JFK
Late departures; UA's redeye flight YVR-ORD
Could have been eons ago. CX added on YVR-SFO as a 5th freedom after starting HKG-YVR in the very early '80s, and QF certainly has flown that route (Australia-SFO-YVR) on a very limited seasonal basis in more recent history. Can't remember if PR operated that as a 5th freedom too (I know they did YVR-EWR > 15 years ago).
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#12
Indianapolis, IN
894 Posts
Joined Sep 2007
Originally posted by sarafinadh
Depending on when you are arriving in Vancouver you should leave up to 3 hours for border crossing.

They are having difficulties with staffing and crowd managment currently and mid-day waits of over 2 hours, between the hours of 11 and 2 or 3, are not uncommon. Saturday and Sunday are particularly impacted from what I was told.

If you can schedule your flight to arrive outside this time frame you would be wise to do so. It was not fun : -(
We are driving from Seattle to Vancouver, are they having the same wait times going into Canada as coming out of? We are going up on a Saturday afternoon.
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#13
cruising.cockroach {at} gmail hotmail and yahoo
1,576 Posts
Joined May 2012
Originally posted by smitty3000
We are driving from Seattle to Vancouver, are they having the same wait times going into Canada as coming out of? We are going up on a Saturday afternoon.
Waits either side depends on time of day and day of week.

For your trip, getting to the border very early afternoon is best. Mid-late afternoon/early evening can be (is) bad due to day shoppers heading home.
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#14
Vancouver BC
7,241 Posts
Joined Feb 2008
Originally posted by smitty3000
We are driving from Seattle to Vancouver, are they having the same wait times going into Canada as coming out of? We are going up on a Saturday afternoon.
Don't read too much into one person's unlucky events at a completely different crossing. These charts from the WA state Dept of Transportation give you most of the info you need to know. As a rule
  • North into Canada is [much] faster than south into the USA
  • The 543/15 crossing is faster than the I5/99
http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Congestion/b...avelDelays.htm
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#15
San Francisco
1,037 Posts
Joined Nov 2011
Originally posted by smitty3000
We are driving from Seattle to Vancouver, are they having the same wait times going into Canada as coming out of? We are going up on a Saturday afternoon.
The difficulties seem to be at the Vancouver airport during specific time frames.

We have crossed the border between Washington and Canada numerous times. The slowest ever was about an hour, when we were traveling with a nephew, about 8, and they were all freaky about him not being ours ; -)

Usually it is pretty swift.
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#16
Vancouver BC
103 Posts
Joined Aug 2011
A great place to check out the wait time and border lines when you are driving across is www.borderlineups.com, we always cross at the Pacific Hwy/SR 543, Truck Crossing ( everyone can use it, 24 hrs) cos it usually less busy than the main Peace Arch crossing that everyone and their dog uses... lol. Mid day is always best, avoid 6am to 10am and 4pm to 9pm if you can (waits are sometimes long due to day shoppers), but this web site has very up to date wait times for your info. Sea Tac is about a 3 hour drive to Vancouver, but always consider the smaller Bellingham Airport (BLI) it is only a 15 min drive south of the border. If you fly into Vancouver airport (YVR), you will go thru customs/immigration there right after you land , depending on how many flights come in at the same time will dictate your wait. When leaving YVR, if flying to any US city, you will go thru US Customs right after security. You will then be considered to be in the "United States" but your really just in a departure lounge at YVR.
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#17
Washington, DC area
491 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by scottbee

Also, I wonder about your note about customs delays at Vancouver. Normally the worst delays are at the [departing] USA pre-clearance. What time of day and day of week did you arrive that it was more than an hour? It's never ever been more than 20 minutes for me (on the Canadian side), and never more than about 90 minutes on the USA pre-clearance side.
You're lucky. My experience has been just the opposite. I was visiting Vancouver in late July and it took over 1 1/2 hours to clear passport control and customs. I travel internationally quite a bit, and this was the longest, slowest line I have ever been in, in any country.

Leaving Vancouver was just the opposite. It took about 5 minutes to get through passport control. I took a look at the line to enter Vancouver, and it was just as long as the line we had encountered on our arrival.
#18
Vancouver BC
7,241 Posts
Joined Feb 2008
Originally posted by grandma*knows*best
You're lucky. My experience has been just the opposite. I was visiting Vancouver in late July and it took over 1 1/2 hours to clear passport control and customs. I travel internationally quite a bit, and this was the longest, slowest line I have ever been in, in any country.

Leaving Vancouver was just the opposite. It took about 5 minutes to get through passport control. I took a look at the line to enter Vancouver, and it was just as long as the line we had encountered on our arrival.
I'm sorry to hear that. Longest I've ever waited coming into Canada at YVR was about 15 mins, and longest I've waited outbound was 75 mins (and I go through YVR a fair bit).

Only one country that I've ever visited has had 1+ hr border lineups, and that's the USA where I have lost count on the number of times it has exceeded 1 hr (by land, sea and air)
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#19
Seattle WA
4,463 Posts
Joined Jan 2002
Originally posted by scottbee
I'm sorry to hear that. Longest I've ever waited coming into Canada at YVR was about 15 mins, and longest I've waited outbound was 75 mins (and I go through YVR a fair bit).
It really depends on when you arrive at YVR. Sometimes it's just dead and you waltz through like there's no border at all. Other times, you get there just after a couple of 747s from Asia and one or two from Europe have landed, and it's really hellish, with hundreds of kids cranky after 10-hour flights, many, many people for whom English (never mind French) is not a familiar language causing big problems at the passport kiosks, people who aren't transiting using the (one if you're lucky) transit kiosk and gumming things up for those who are... yow.
#20
cruising.cockroach {at} gmail hotmail and yahoo
1,576 Posts
Joined May 2012
These days, I've been arriving in the early afternoon on one of the first flights from Europe. Immigration hall has been empty. Managed to avoid coming in immediately after the LH flight from FRA most times.
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Kasr Ibrim Abu Simbel-Aswan Feb. 2007

Way, way back....
P&O Cathay between Singapore and Hong Kong and back, March 1968 + August 1969
Koeln-Dusseldorfer Line Rotterdam - Bern
Thomson Ithaca Tanger to Brindisi April 1974
Chandris Bruge-Norway-Tilbury August 1974
Chandris Southampton - Canary Islands + Madeira - Southampton August 1976