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Your Phone Does Not Belong to You at the U.S. Border

Crossing the Canada/U.S. border with your cell phone?

Thousands do every day.  We carry our electronic devices with us like we wear our clothing.

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But did you know that cellphones are now categorized as “goods” by the United States?  This means U.S. border guards have authority to confiscate & search through your cell phone.  And yes, this includes your pictures and private information.

In fact in 2017, border guards conducted 30,200 searches of traveler’s phones according to Global News.  This was a 60% increase from 2016.

How it Works
The policy, detailed in Border Search of Electronic Devices, was created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in an increased effort to target terrorism and child pornography.  While border agents are allowed to search your phone, they do have set of limits outlined in the directive.  For example, border guards are allowed to ask your phone’s pass-code to gain entry, but they are not allowed to download old files that are stored remotely (unless you are on the watch-list).

If there is an issue in accessing your phone’s contents, border guards are allowed to detain it for several days, but if this period extends past five days, then management must confirm this decision and the border guards must fill out specific paperwork.

Should you refuse to allow a border guard to view your phone and its contents, you will lose access to your device by having it permanently confiscated.

The Uncomfortable Phone Search
Of course, you wouldn’t have anything on your phone which is illegal or compromising, but it can still be uncomfortable to have your phone seized or searched.  One way to deal with this is to make a backup of your phone’s contents that remains at home when traveling.  You can then delete the information on your carried phone and restore it upon your return.

What Else Can Be Searched?
The policy extends to other electronic devices, such as laptops.

Crossing the Border
When it comes to crossing the border, U.S. border guards also have the right to ask you if you have ever had marijuana in your possession.  If you admit to experimenting with marijuana, you could be banned from entering the United States.  If you have a criminal record for marijuana possession, you will absolutely be banned from crossing the border — even if you obtained a Canadian Pardon.

If you are inadmissible to the United States, you’ll need a U.S. Entry Waiver.  This is a legal document issued by Customs & Border Control which grants you advance permission to enter the United States for a term of 1-5 years.


Pardon Applications of Canada is the nationwide A+ Accredited processing firm for Canadian Pardon and U.S. Waiver applications.  See if you Qualify for a Pardon or a U.S. Entry Waiver.  Call 866-362-1475 toll-free across Canada or visit contact page for more details.

Learn More About Pardon Applications of Canada

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