Border Patrol

Having now sold over $1,000 worth of crap using the amazingly effective app called Offer Up, I recently began emptying boxes in the garage. Taking stock of what goes in storage or gets shipped to Malaysia, I reminisced about a three-month period almost erased from memory as I discovered some old trinkets. After my first stint as an American expat in Canada, Diane and I made a failed attempt at living in San Diego. Perpetually famous as one of America’s dream retirement spots, it’s also the largest big city in the world located so close to a free border between two nations.

Diane protecting us from Mexican immigrants

Diane protecting us from Mexican immigrants

Recently I posted about changes in the Malaysian MM2H visa application process that involve stringent new income verification rules. Potentially affecting American citizens, we’ve been informed by Joy-Stay (our agent) of possible delays or even rejection should our application be “selected” for verification of the verification. Accordingly, we’ve contacted some of our readers living in Thailand asking for information on their current visas if “Plan B” becomes necessary. Reiterating Thailand’s ridiculous revolving door policy of never-ending “enter, exit, enter again”, some of you told us about a “retirement visa” but with an annual renewal requirement requiring our physical presence, that didn’t seem very convenient compared to ten years of unlimited entry.

Wondering why Thailand has so much to offer but has such a ridiculously tedious visa policy that constantly changes, I started thinking about immigration problems here in the United States. As many Americans know, immigration remains a hot political topic with valid arguments on both sides as far as I’m concerned. Wishing to stay politically neutral at least on this blog, I began reminiscing about those three unsuccessful months in San Diego and our own situation of residency status.

two nationsBoth Diane and I have already been through each other’s nations’ long winded set of rules and regulations of permanent residency. Deciding that I needed a change and taking advantage of a severe Canadian nursing shortage, we moved from San Francisco to Calgary, Alberta in 2000. Although less complicated than American forms, the Canadian immigration policy for being landed still involved a mound of paperwork and a 2,000 word essay explaining what benefits I could bring to the economy (Sadly, the answer was not much).

Unlike Americans, Canadian government officials are often influenced rather easily into speeding the process if you know the secret. Annually in July, Calgary plays host to The Calgary Stampede, known as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Essentially shutting down for business, workers goof off for ten straight days although technically banks, government offices and just about everything else is open for business. Allowed to dress casually and encouraged to don Western apparel, office workers are feel a sense of complacency and practically no work gets done.

 The Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede

Taking full advantage, I popped into the downtown immigration office right in the middle of “Stampede Week” and found an empty office despite thousands of pending applications. Asked to give an extra copy of fingerprints for some reason, I arrived early and asked the immigration officer the status of my application. Possibly tipsy from a government sponsored pancake breakfast that probably included some shots of whiskey, the agent pulled my file, gave it a quick one look, took out an official stamp and said “Welcome to Canada”. Landed only five weeks after filing, I’ve been told I may have broken the record for the fastest landing in Canadian history.

On the flip side, Diane almost didn’t make it back into the USA when we moved back due to the ambiguous and very stupid language written into a “TN NAFTA” visa. Issued to professionals of Canada and Mexico and created when Clinton signed the controversial North American Free Trade Act into law, it allows a six month entry, renewable indefinitely, with permission to work but only under a pretext of “no intention to become a permanent resident”. Making the mistake of driving across a small border in Montana, the stern and grouchy US customs official gave us the third degree.

The dinky crossing into Montana from Coutts, Alberta. Don't cross here unless you really need to

The dinky crossing into Montana from Coutts, Alberta. Don’t cross here unless you really need to

Married to an American crossing the border as a “returning citizen” appeared to be “an intent to stay permanently” according to the agent. Thankfully, Diane had a potential employment offer letter from a company that rightfully should not have issued one since there was no commitment. Stating her employment contract was ending six months later apparently satisfied the legal requirement but we learned that entry into America is subject to the mood of whatever customs agent greets you.

tnAlmost haunting us again, they also hassled her on our return from the Expat Research Destination Vacation to Thailand. Learning the hard way that a work visa has nothing to do with “status” for entry to the USA, it took them three hours to find an agent that understood the rules. Fortunately, this was San Francisco International Airport and the agent was Asian, something we’ve always used to our advantage. Lesson: Do NOT leave the USA with a work visa unless you have permanent residency status or risk being sent back to your homeland instead of returning to work.

Sidenote: Naturalized earlier this year, DIane is now a proud American (hahahahaha Canadians know what I mean). Intending to make life easier and return to the USA easily in the event the overseas expat experiment fails, spouses of US citizens can jump the line by two years and apply after three years of maintaining permanent residency status.

Anyway , I digress. Returning to the San Diego story, I’ve always been intrigued by our “unprotected border” so we drove 30 minutes south one day to see what was actually there. Finding a lonely beach and some Mexicans talking to relatives on the other side of a rather shoddy fence, we couldn’t believe this is all that separates the two nations. Although patrolled by officers on horses and supposedly electrified in some way, we gazed at the Tijuana side of the beach and wondered how the same patch of beach meant two different worlds, depending on what side you’re born on.

I’ve not sure but I’m guessing you can’t just walk over from Thailand to Malaysia as easily as it seems you can between San Diego and Mexico or everyone would do it. Am I correct?

Soliciting advice from you, our readers, I’d like to use a contact from in a post for the first time. Given we’re still here in the USA for another few months, we’d like your opinions, comments, suggestions and input on anything about residency visas in any Southeast Asian country. Please let us know any little secrets like our Canadian example above or perhaps share a story that will help us avoid a major mistake. Thanks in advance to anyone that responds.

Coming this weekend:
The Galapagos Islands, part of our annual Expat Research Destination Vacation to Ecuador (even though you obviously can’t live there). 

3 thoughts on “Border Patrol

  1. Lani

    Jesus, I wish everyone would relax a bit. Sheesh. I can only imagine what you two have had to go through crossing the borders and we’re suppose to have good relations!

    Let me recommend two blogs that deal with retirement in Thailand (if I haven’t already):

    Lin and Vince are newly retired here and full of positive good stuff.

    And Hugh has been here forever:

    I believe both of them will be able to give you a more comprehensive picture of life over here. Good luck 🙂


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Lani
      Thanks for the suggestions; I will certainly check them out.

      Crossing into Canada is never a problem; they welcome you with open arms and always start a friendly conversation; On the total opposite side, crossing by land into the USA, especially at a small border, is always a tense production; they are taught to instill fear into everyone; it’s part of the USA’s desperate attempt to cling to their global superpower status and it’s beginning to show signs of fading. We just deal with it; the only time you have absolutely no rights as an American citizen is at the border where they can search, detain and interrogate you for no reason and you have no right to a lawyer. Just another reason I choose to leave

      Liked by 1 person


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