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On Crossing Borders….

Feb 28

In In The Field at 4:40am

I have to imagine that one common thing we share as photogs is an innate fear of crossing borders with gear. It probably expresses itself differently for everyone. Maybe it’s tightness in the chest, or the icy tentacles of dread reaching down into your guts, making you seek out the first bathroom you see after your passport is stamped, or the forced smile and mildly overblown effusiveness of our greeting. “Hi officer, how are you today? Just look at my smiling, innocent face. I couldn’t possibly have a live animal in my suitcase, so no need to go looking!”

Most of the customs folks I’ve ever met are quite decent, and they do an important job. (I travel so much I know some of the crew at Kennedy Airport.) They certainly face off with a onslaught of exhausted travelers, trying to get somewhere, scurrying to make a connection, and are just one question shy of getting surly about the whole deal. It is, after all, a border, a crossing. Everybody on both sides most likely wishes it could be easier.

We do carnets, all the time, for our gear. It’s like a visa for your equipment, and most of the time, it’s a magic carpet. The officer checks a few things, random, signs off, and you’re on your way. But you have to be careful with those, too. I traveled by myself to Moscow once, with eleven cases of stuff, and I had one number—one number—wrong on my carnet, and it was all confiscated. Everything. I left the airport without a shred of gear. Took a couple days, and the efforts of my fixer, and some, uh, carefully administered dollars to retrieve it.

I shipped 47 cases of gear once to Chile, to photograph telescopes. That was comparatively easy, actually. I think they looked at this mountain of battered cases that surprisingly got burped out of the baggage belt and just gave up.

Once, I made my way from Rwanda once to Uganda, and went through three checkpoints, and at the last, the guards took all my stuff, including my clothes, and threw it out of the trunk onto the ground. I had hidden my medium format shot film inside the cavernous cavities of my 6×17 pano cameras, and the rest of my shot film was wrapped inside a plastic bag filled with really funky, unwashed clothing, so my film made it. That was thing about the film days. After shooting for a couple weeks on a job, that shot film became much more valuable to you than any lens or camera, and it was not easy to hide or store 60 or 70 rolls of medium format film. Here, take the gear! Just leave me my film.

On another occasion, again leaving Rwanda into the Congo, the border guard didn’t bother with my passport, and simply said, “Avez vous quelque chose pour moi?” Uh, why yes, young man, have you met Andrew Jackson?”

Traveling from Ingushetia to Grozny, my intrepid fixer, Igor, who happened to be the freelance correspondent for the Russian edition of Playboy, took a bunch of copies of the magazine and threw them on the visor of the rental car. When going through a checkpoint, the first thing the young Russian conscript would see would be a lovely lady, hi-beaming him through the windshield.

“Can I have magazine?”

“Sure, can we go?” Sure! And onward we’d roll.

I recently made another trip to Canada, which is a place I’ve done a lot of work, and love to go to. I’ve taught up there, shots jobs all over the country, and once did a huge commercial job for Fedex right on the border, north of Seattle. For whatever reason, though, no matter how much I’ve done the transit, the US-Canada border remains the most difficult, nerve-wracking crossing I have ever made. Now, it must sound ridiculous for an American to complain about anybody’s border formalities, as we have a reputation for being a mite prickly ourselves, but sometimes going into Canada can have its moments. (I wonder sometimes if it’s like we get tough on people for a while, so they correspondingly ratchet things up? Dunno.)

On my first transit in, I really should have had a work permit. I was doing not just lectures, but also seminars, and the officer explained that was “providing a service,” and thus required a work permit.

She was quite nice, and told me her range of options included sending me home. But, she opted to allow me to purchase a one-time work permit, right then and there. Took some time, as she made calls to check me out, during which time my cell phone was quarantined, but it got done, and I was thankful. Paid the fee, got the documents, and was on my way. Took a two and half hours, but I crossed the border.

I thought my troubles were behind me, but I did have to bounce from Vancouver to Washington DC for LIFE job, and then back to Van. She assured me I was good to go, as the dates on the work permit extended through my return trip.

Having been thus stamped and approved, on my return, I approached the customs podium with confidence. The officer noted my work docs and said those papers should answer all his questions.

Actually, just the opposite happened. The work permit was apparently confusing to him, it unleashed a barrage of queries, the first of which was, “Do I have a criminal record?”

Now, I’ve done some criminally stupid things on jobs, with a camera in my hands, but I’ve never been arrested. He seemed dubious, and asked again. “No,” I replied. He changed tactics, asking if I had ever been “in trouble in Canada.” I did teach a Kelby seminar in Vancouver one day with a case of food poisoning, but I didn’t think that was the vein of trouble he was potentially mining, so I again, replied in the negative.

He was pretty relentless, and brought my docs to two other officers to confer about them, and me, I imagine. I was feely poorly, as it was after midnight, and I was an unshaved, scruffy mess. I mean, I would not have let me into Canada simply based on aesthetic considerations.

He took a red magic marker and began to furiously scrawl on my immigration form. He was really bearing down, so much so I grew wide eyed and tried to look over his counter on tiptoes. I saw that my document had basically become a fourth grade art project, featuring large, looming letters, mixed in with perhaps an exclamation point or two. He handed it over to me and told me to move on, but said that “We’re going to continue to check you out.”

I replied, “No worries, officer,” in downright cheery fashion. I have found it does no good to get cranky in these scenarios. You are absolutely under the control of the customs officer at hand. You can neither go back, nor go forward, without their blessing. So, if you are encountering someone who is determined to “continue to check you out,” so be it. All you can do is be calm, and honest.

I approached the secondary checkpoint with a document that was now glowing. I might as well have dressed in a threadbare, tattered, stained smock, hung a “LEPER” sign around my neck and started chanting, “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead.” The officer at that point directed me to Area B. On my first entry a week previous, I got Area A, so I felt a little uneasy about this. Had I been downgraded? Or was Area B where the real serious miscreants end up? I envisioned myself perhaps being sentenced to forced labor at a Molson’s factory, or being locked in a room and forced to watch endless repeats of Team Canada’s victory over the US hockey team in Sochi. I was worried.

But then another customs officer approached me, and he was quite friendly. He looked at me and said, “You’re Joe McNally, right?” I said yes, though at that point I thought I was thinking of trying to pass myself off as Moose Peterson. He said, “I’ve got your books.” That gave me the sense my evening was about to get better, unless of course he hated TTL.

But we had a good chat, and he disappeared for a short bit and told me I was okay to go. Adventures at the border!

More tk…..



62 Responses to “On Crossing Borders….”

Muzna says:

on February 28, 2014 at 5:23 am

Loved this article…I’ve had to explain my gear at Abu Dhabi airport a couple of times and it wasn’t fun! But I’ve found that showing them a couple of my photo books is enough to make anyone lose the will to live and they couldn’t get rid of me fast enough!

Conrad Duroseau says:

on February 28, 2014 at 5:46 am

I had a good chuckle reading your “On Crossing Borders..” as I can wholeheartedly relate! Let me assure you that crossing in the other direction from Canada to the US brings as much trepidation for a Canadian photographer…

D. TUCKER says:

on February 28, 2014 at 5:48 am

I’ve ways enjoyed reading the way you write Joe!

The shot with the rainbow is amazing! Where exactly was that taken?

Dwayne Tucker

Richard Cave says:

on February 28, 2014 at 5:52 am

I have gone through so many borders now I see it as a rite of passage. Love it when they go through my camera gear. Because I know they have one guy on checks watching your body language, so if you are a smuggler they know which bits of stuff to look at. Thing is everything is fragile and expensive and its exhausting trying not to flinch when they take the end caps of you favourite 400 mm and put there powder coated nitrile fingers in there. I do get worried when they miss my Giotto blower as it is classic bomb shaped. Never ever smile its a waste of energy,

Mark Olwick says:

on February 28, 2014 at 6:17 am

At least they didn’t make you sit on the Group W bench.

Alexis says:

on February 28, 2014 at 6:47 am

this is crazy! Thanks for sharing. I couldn’t imagine the stress and nerves of having to worry about film back in the day. I LOVE shooting 8×10 to this day… but just thinking of shooting and traveling it sends shivers down my spine. I’d be terrified it would get ruined or not make it.
I guess it’s one less thing to worry about when traveling.

carl grooms says:

on February 28, 2014 at 6:56 am

Joe- I love your writing style and have learned a lot from you too. thank you.

my daughter married a Canadian. i am only an amateur photographer but have a bit of gear. we drove up to visit last summer and spent an hour at the border explaining why i needed all that stuff if i wasn’t doing a job there without a work permit. my wife reminded me she told me not to bring all that stuff. nobody was happy. but eventually i was allowed to pass. how does one prove they are not working, just very interested in photography?

Ronald Pollard says:

on February 28, 2014 at 7:05 am

Thank you for posting this very real situation. I have a done a bit of traveling and have experienced various levels of checkpoint treatment also. The emotions and thoughts you shared make sense and the instruction you have given on handling it in that situation is appreciated…Thanks for being real Joe!

Letitia says:

on February 28, 2014 at 8:30 am

While I was reading this great post, I had a sinking feeling that you were saving Canada for last. I don’t know what’s our deal but hopefully it doesn’t stop you from coming back to our wonderful country. You’ve got lots of Canadian fans, me included! :)

Gary Dumbauld says:

on February 28, 2014 at 8:46 am

Great story! Going into Canada once, my traveling buddy showed the customs folks his prescription medicine for his asthma, the Rx written by his father who was an MD. No problems. Coming back into the U.S. with the same bottle of pills, our van was taken apart, including taking the tires off the wheels, all our luggage inspected (including funky dirty clothes) and his prescription was confiscated. Maybe it had something to do with our long hair, bellbottom jeans, tie-dyed shirts, and that the year was 1969? Fun times.

Ben Weddle says:

on February 28, 2014 at 8:59 am

Canada is indeed the worst! Going into Vancouver, they put me in one room, my assistant in another, and grilled us for over an hour, checking between offices to see if our stories matched. Only after assuring my inquisitor that I really had never had a DUI, were we free to go. It seems Canada, with its history of bawdy behavior fueled by booze, doesn’t want anyone of such ilk, visiting their country.

Michael Kormos says:

on February 28, 2014 at 9:12 am

Joe, your blog is hands down amongst the most fun-to-read! I’ve got it bookmarked across all of my web-capable devices. Aside from teaching photography, do you plan to offer workshops in creative writing, for – you’ve guessed it – photographers? Your writing has that honest, experience-backed touch that is SO hard to find these days. Always a fun read. Keep it up Joe!

dr frank says:

on February 28, 2014 at 9:31 am

Great article
The last part was the best – my guess he enjoys TTL :D

Mike K. says:

on February 28, 2014 at 9:40 am

Hi Joe…I live not far from the border in BC…It can be interesting to say the least. It would be nice if the customs officer’s that don’t understand the paper work. Had someone to call right away to stop the problem and holding you up. But I guess they get paid by the hr. so our loss. Was at your show two years ago. will be again when VPW has you back.

Dwane Morvik says:

on February 28, 2014 at 9:47 am

Well they (CBSA) can’t be letting any old NG photographer across the border whenever they want, but glad you made it across so I could attend the One Light Two Light seminar you did in Calgary last year!

Buz Bragdon says:

on February 28, 2014 at 9:53 am

Laughing my head off as I read this one.

Lewisw says:

on February 28, 2014 at 10:11 am

You have a way with words, Joe. Busted a rib laughing. Next time tell them you are a National Treasure.

Steve Boyko says:

on February 28, 2014 at 10:29 am

Back in the late 1970s we lived in the USSR in Moscow, and frequently traveled to Finland by train for shopping… not much available in Moscow at the time. One time my family was traveling with another family when we stopped at the border for the usual check. After we passed into Finland, the other family’s father told my dad that they took his Playboys, cut all the photos out, and returned the remnants.

J. Tyler Klassen says:

on February 28, 2014 at 10:51 am

Really enjoy your stories. Years ago, as I was flying out of Israel I was in line with a fashion photographer, his entourage and a mountain of large equipment cases. He was a complaining, loudly about what an inconvenience to was to him. I made sure I was in a different line from him as we approached the customs/security people. I heard him ask, loudly, if this was going to take long. After I cleared the screening I turned to see the foam padding being removed from his cases and EVERY piece of his equipment spread all over the floor at his feet. The most important thing we all can carry through security check points? A helpful attitude and a typed list of every piece of equipment with serial numbers. As you say, make sure the numbers are correct.

Carlos Calderon says:

on February 28, 2014 at 10:58 am

“Avez vous quelque chose pour moi? HAHAHAHA.
Epic subtleness…

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on February 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

You do have a bit of gear with you. Just the batteries could be used to power the Northern Lights for a while.

Wasn’t there a LIFE photographer who once got authorization to send his junk back from China? I think LIFE thought it was his stuff (nod to George Carlin) but it was actually the boat he had acquired while on the assignment. Try getting that through customs now.


Joe McNally says:

on February 28, 2014 at 11:26 am

Hey Bill….that was a Nat Geo writer. And he lived on that junk in the Washington Naval Yard for several years thereafter. :-)))

Tom says:

on February 28, 2014 at 11:35 am

Look out Saturday Night Live!!! Here comes Joe!

Ranan Samanya says:

on February 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm

LOL, that last thought about TTL was a LOL! But you are absolutely right. I work closely with CIQP – Custom, Immigration, Quarantine, Port authorities. And some people just can’t keep their voices down during screening, let alone keeping those f words at bay. And their passports will always got a nice big NTL (not to land) stamp – that is 5 years not to land in any port in the country. Love this story of yours.

Paul Papanek says:

on February 28, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I recently had a job in Peru. If you’re not a photojournalist, you can’t apply for a waiver from their incredibly draconian temporary importation laws. And since I was working directly for someone in the travel industry there, I could’t get that waiver. After a day of back and forth phone calls to the Peruvian Embassy in Washington, it was clear that I would have leave a cash (!) deposit of 14% of the value of my gear at customs upon entering the country (fully refundable upon exiting the country once all of my gear was accounted for). That’ll make you reconsider what you’re taking on a job real quick. So I repacked, re-wrote my gear list, went to the bank for some cash, and arrived in Lima ready to pay. On the plane, I filled out the customs form as best I could and when asked, presented it to the officer we were pointed to inside the airport. When I handed her the customs forms, her eyes got big as saucers. She quickly shoved the form back into my hand told me to fill out another one, instructing me not list any of my gear! I did as I was told, she stamped the forms, and sent us on way out of the airport. I guess she didn’t want to have to deal with the red tape!

Josh Jordan says:

on February 28, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I’ve traveled the world with cameras…generally without difficulty. However, try to bring and underwater housing and strobe setup through any non-diving destination check point and guess what…it turns into show and tell time having to drag everything out and put it together for the peace of mind if the customs agent at whatever little airport you happen to be at! Great post!

Pascal Sauvé says:

on February 28, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Dear Joe,

Of behalf of Canada, I apologize for your troubles at the border.

A Canadian.

JP says:

on February 28, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Considering the run around Canadians get from the USA, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the Canadian side occasionally hassles Americans. However, a couple suggestions to other photographers from one who lives near the Blaine Truck Crossing and AVOIDS Peace Arch at all costs.

1.) Always have your work permits in order. If you even try to cross (either direction) without the appropriate one, you’ll get flagged and always have trouble. If you’re going to do business in either country, state up front that it is for business purposes and that you have a verified time back out of the country. Otherwise US/Canada will assume you’re trying to steal jobs.

2.) If you ever get a speeding ticket in USA or Canada pay it immediately.

3.) Anybody that gets a DUI or found in possession of illegal substances (marijuana is still illegal in Canada) will be barred from entering for 10 years. The judges are cracking down on this right now and are looking to make examples of people because of the gang activity going on in Ontario and BC. Basically, if you do this, you’re screwed.

4.) Any criminal record in either country, you’re screwed.

5.) If the border guard has a super crisp uniform on, likely they are a newbie who has “something to prove”. They’re going to grill you harder. The last rotation occurred about a year ago and the newbies are just now starting to be less gruff.

6.) Any photographers not doing work in Canada should AVOID looking like they are going to do work. My American wife and I (Canadian) easily cross the border with one camera and a few lenses. We also always make sure to remove things from the car that we don’t need to take with us. Garbage, recycling, bottles, stuff stored in the card… all of that gets removed. On the border sensors (both directions), it looks more suspicious to the guards. If you don’t have things for them to look through, they have less of a reason to search your car.

7.) Some of the border officers (both directions) know more than others. Be patient, let them double check things and get your paperwork done properly. My wife’s car import was done wrong and she was asked to ID the officer who did it wrong. Be honest and courteous.

8.) Be honest. Border guards (both directions) can technically deny anyone for any reason they deem necessary if they think something seems wrong. It is a privilege to travel to the USA and/or Canada. They are the first line of defense and they deal with a lot of people every day. They don’t carry weapons, and yet they have to stop people who may be dangerous. They’re normal human beings like everyone else and they get scared too.

That being said… I love both countries and greatly enjoy taking photos in both countries. My current favorite places are NorCal, Hawaii, and Whistler/Squamish BC.

JP says:

on February 28, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Oh yeah, one other thing. Speeding tickets in Arizona are not just civil matters, they are considered to be criminal matters unless you fight it with a lawyer in Phoenix. This can really put a damper on careers and travel plans.

Or at least, that’s what a business associate of mine told me.

Rob Shapiro says:

on February 28, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Joe, I cannot help but to be drawn in particular to the photo shot most likely on the Rwanda/Uganda border. The child lit by the sun, the lush green with a village in the background. Storm clouds. Probably in a poverty-stricken area. And yet, the rainbow in the background, showing the hope there is.

Please let me know if you plan to be in the DC area anytime for a talk or workshop. Those I would not miss.

Thank you!

Dominique says:

on February 28, 2014 at 9:36 pm

I discover then going around the states with a quebec plate can also be painfull.

Thanks for keeping visiting us. I enjoyed the workshop you made in Montreal last year. ;-)

Jim Donahue says:

on February 28, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Having driven an 18 wheeler for 25 years, crossing into Canada was a stomach lurching experience, Those Truck inspectors can be mighty tough, but then to, when crossing into any state in the lower 48 can be just as heart jumping when you see that sign that says “Truck Scales” OPEN. Have a great trip.

Janine Fugere says:

on February 28, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Hey Joe, This post is among my favorite posts from you of all time, for some quirky reason or another! ;-)

I’m with Michael Kormos on the idea that you sincerely should consider offering a creative writing for photographers workshop…

Seriously, what a refreshing blend of being truly informative & hilariously funny. Made me laugh so hard I had tears in my eyes!

On the informative end, I’ll humbly admit, I had no idea something such as a carnet even existed and I can only try to fathom what it feels like to ship or travel with 47 cases of gear through customs.

I do know it must take tremendous composure because even just hand-carrying my own humble LowePro PhotoSport backpack with one camera body, two lenses, three speedlights and a wireless transmitter into Panama last summer was a really unnerving experience.

Every second I was watching the customs people open and examine every piece of my very small gear kit, with no level of care whatsoever, all I could do was agonize and hope that they wouldn’t break or confiscate anything. Meanwhile I could also only pray that my beloved Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with geared head, which I’d been forced to put in checked luggage, would not disappear before my three week photo expedition in Panama!

Multiplying the angst that my gear transport produced times 47 cases is almost unfathomable to me. And you do this for a living. Holy moly!!! Your humility and ability to find humor in the stressful is clearly what it takes to be able to do it and I’m inspired by you, as always.

Your tales of your “travels with gear” over the years was poignant and also made me laugh so hard at a time I honestly could use some comic relief.

One of your many delightfully inspired writing expositions…

Cheers from Colorado!

Colin says:

on February 28, 2014 at 10:54 pm

LOL! Good to know that the Canada US border is a mutual feeling. I’m a Canadian who lovse to ski at Mt Baker, and sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not. Was in attendance at your course on the day with food poisoning. Loved every minute of it. Thanks for all the tips Joe!!!

Andor says:

on March 1, 2014 at 1:23 am

It’s so funny to read that from all those border crossings the most pain was caused by US-Canada crossing :-)

Mike says:

on March 1, 2014 at 9:14 am

Next time you come to Toronto, just tell them you’re a friend of Mayor Ford.
You will be wisked through or told to go home right away, no waiting……

Phil says:

on March 1, 2014 at 9:55 am

Oh, great… and I’m off to Dubai next week. Now I’m going to have customs nightmares along with my going to workshops insecurities… :-)

Emilie says:

on March 1, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Good read! Thanks for sharing! Unfortunately not everyone is Joe McNally, so we can’t play the card of celebrity. ;)
I am French and live in Canada. I feel nervous every time I cross the border. They know how to be intimidating. But if you are honest and polite and nice, everything is ok.

Erik Seo says:

on March 2, 2014 at 12:36 am

Joe, I’ve had the toughest time with the Canda/USA border as well. I’m either up there shooting on spec, on my own dime, or shooting for an American client but still last spring, shooting on spec, they detained me for 4 hours, convinced I was working for a Canadian client, all while grilling me with questions that I had the same (and calmly answered) answers every time. All the while not letting me use the bathroom.

Been all over the world, and Canada is constantly the biggest pain in the ass.

Tom says:

on March 2, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I fear Joe will find BAA staff top the ‘difficult’ league ;-)

Ken Toney says:

on March 3, 2014 at 1:32 am

I lived in Chatham New Brunswick back in the middle 60’s (1960’s that is) and we got busted for bringing some fruit back. I thought we were going to get hard time, I can only imagine how bad it is now. :)

wilfried feder says:

on March 3, 2014 at 2:59 am

Joe !!! you just keep getting even better with your writing style. “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead.” HAAAAH. man i love you =).
i better get some books published, and send copies to customs…

Lyle says:

on March 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Your life is simple as relates to US Canada.
Trust me.
No, really – trust me ;)
Great stories btw, as always. Loving reading your blog.

Speed says:

on March 3, 2014 at 7:00 pm

When entering Canada from the US with equipment, we use a customs broker. He/she meets us at the airport and makes everything go smoothly. Not cheap but we’ve never been delayed at customs.

Jamie says:

on March 4, 2014 at 11:47 am

The other big consideration in regards to the US/Canada border is where you cross. Crossing at the Peace Arch (Main crossing for BC/Washington) or Ambassador Bridge (Main crossing for Ontario/Michigan) you are more likely to have issues. These are the busiest crossings and hassles happen both ways. It seems every time the US “steps up” their vigilance (to show force) the Canadian side does the same. It also seems that each side likes to stick it to the other. Not all the time mind you, but some do. So if you are an American coming to Canada, you get hassled. If you are a Canadian going to the US, you get hassled. That is probably only 5-10% of the time though. Our attitudes are partially to blame as well as typically of US/Canadians we take that border crossing for granted and feel “entitled” to cross over. Perhaps it is that in the past it was pretty simple and not much more than a speed bump to zip across. Only real advice, be prepared, stay calm, and don’t take it personally they are just doing their job to keep each country safe.

Dave P. says:

on March 4, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Another great read as usual Joe. Brought back memories of a border crossing 40+ years ago. I was on a Harley Sportster, long hair, rough clothes. Going into Canada was a breeze, coming back to US the folks decided I was moving chemicals I guess as they tore my bike apart. Tank off, bags off, wheels off, and then walked away. I had a small tool kit but nothing that I needed. I asked to borrow the tools to put it back and they said, “nope, that is your problem”. Finally found a trucker that loaned me what I needed.
Maybe it had something to do with my father crossing the border in the military 20 years earlier. He said he saw the signs that said “Drink Canada Dry” and he tried for two weeks but couldn’t do it. Said they make a lot of whiskey up there.

Nigel Davis says:

on March 4, 2014 at 5:57 pm

On your crossing borders story Joe. You really are a funny bloke and I guess your philosophical approach is well honed from years of dealing with humans, some not overly enthusiastic about being cooperative.
Good on ya mate!
Nigel Davis

Henry Gilbey says:

on March 5, 2014 at 4:53 am

Any photographer who travels knows all about this, just an outstanding post, thank you.

Checking though the mayhem that was (still is?) Libreville airport in Gabon a few years ago, a customs “official” went through my camera bag, then looked at me, put his hand out and said “Donnez moi quelque chose” – none of that asking you got!!

Flying into Angola just after the civil war ended, our 19 year old pilot had to pay customs people in northern Namibia just to get out of bed and come stamp our passports. Blank CDs and cans of Coke smoothed our passage through the Angolan customs.

But as Brit who sometimes gets to come to your wonderful country, little beats the sheer time it takes to get through customs at Miami airport – nearly read a whole book on my Kindle last time as the queue slowly shifted forwards.

Kryn says:

on March 5, 2014 at 10:31 am

Hey Joe,
That’s quite a story you have there!
I only have 2 stories of interest there:
one time I was going to Bohol on the Philippines for a week of diving (about a week or so before the earthquake there last year). You need to get out, pick up your luggage and check in again in Manilla as you are transferring to a local flight. Anyways, I checked in again and I had a camera backpack filled with underwater camera gear for hand luggage. It was actually the right size, just 15kg overweight for hand luggage . So I walk to the security point when two young ladies stop me and ask to measure teh weight of my bag. Obviously that was overweight. So they said “Oh, but sir! Thats REALLY to heavy, you need to check that in!” Upon which I just calmly said with a smile “‘fraid can’t do that. There’s sensitive camera gear in there and it cannot be checke din”, upon which they just let me pass.

Another time was a decade ago. I had ordered a whole set of Large Format camera gear from teh States, and had it send to Taiwan as I would be there for holiday. When I left there I had 35kg in my luggage plus 2 bags each 7 kg worth of hand luggage (alcohol actually, at the time you could still transport liquids there). Of course at the check in they told me I was overweight and ha dto take out some stuff from my bag. So I was like “and what do I do with that stuff?” upon which they gave me a couple of bags of the airliner itself, and let me carry 5 bags, each 7 kg as hand luggage on the plane. Those were the days…

Karen Holberton says:

on March 5, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Thank you for your consideration of border crossing guards. They have a tough job. My son is a border crossing guard at the border where you took the picture of the FedEx truck and I recognize the sign in the picture. I’m sure he would appreciate your understanding.

Dave Benson says:

on March 5, 2014 at 4:41 pm

on behalf of all Canadians… sorry… they have actually begun a reality TV Show called Border Security… maybe you will be a future episode… on behalf of all Canadians… sorry… when you have a moment…,perhaps check out David duChemin’s attempt to cross into USA about 2 years ago…

Steve McEnroe says:

on March 6, 2014 at 8:51 pm

How was it coming home from Canada. In my hunting and fishing ventures across the border, it has always been the U.S. border agents who are the real pains in the rear. The Canadians greet you friendly while your own country treats you like a criminal.

Steve McEnroe says:

on March 6, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Also, on trips to France, Italy and Turkey with my photo gear, I have never had problems, though I travel with only a couple of cameras and lenses, plus my laptop as a tourist.

ron says:

on March 7, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Joe- I love your this story and have learned a lot from you too. thank you.

Bojan says:

on March 10, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Hahahaha, “sentenced to forced labor at a Molson’s factory” . There is one just down the street from me. I’d come visit you. Awesome read Joe!

Kushal Das says:

on March 14, 2014 at 3:13 am

Getting into US is always a story for me. Still now in last 10 months I went in 3 times and mostly people gave strange looks if I was on street with a Camera. Only Charleston SC was very friendly to cameras.

In that same trip I had to explain the differences between my Android phone and the iPhone for 10 minutes to the officer in charge to cross the border.

Oliver says:

on March 16, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Traveling from Europe to the US, I got somewhat used to the US immigration and this never was a problem for me.

While staying in NY for a visit of Niagara Falls over the weekend, I planned on getting a look at the Falls from the Canadian side and then venture out for a very short trip to Toronto.

My experience with US immigration left me a bit unprepared for what was probably the most thorough immigration interview I ever had.

The immigration officer was a stunning blonde woman, and I guess she had to make a point that her gorgeous looks wouldn’t interfere with her professionalism… point taken. :-)

I agree with you: while being checked out on the border, be friendly and honest – a recipe for success.

Fabiano Silva says:

on March 25, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Some stories in the comments are funny, other very scary…

IBCBET says:

on March 28, 2014 at 3:32 am


SBOBET says:

on March 28, 2014 at 3:34 am


Shavonne says:

on April 2, 2014 at 1:13 pm

My gosh now I’m scared to travel with my gear…

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