Border-Coaching: How Lawyers Should Advise their Clients about Entering the Country

Our clients often ask us to “border coach” them prior to entry into the U.S. or Canada. This can be a difficult task for the most seasoned immigration attorney. There are simply so many unknown variables affecting how the border entry will go. Everything counts: What day you go, what time of day, what mood the officer will be in, and of course, what port of entry (border crossing) you will use. Sometimes, it seems that even the amount of airport or land traffic can affect a decision!

We try to coach our clients that this is definitely one place where “honesty is the best policy;” but at the same time, another slogan applies: “Less is more.” We feel that it is always advisable to tell a border officer exactly what you plan to do when you are going into the country, whether the USA or Canada. Whatever happens after (you meet someone, you get married), that’s okay. You can, and are in fact, allowed to change your plans. Life is that way; things change. So if you have a new girlfriend in Canada that you plan to visit for a week, but that you are so in love with that you would like to propose to her, you may not want to share your most intimate intentions with the officer at the border. Just go in, visit her, propose, but then come back in a week. Less is more.

Some more difficult situations arise. Take the following true example: A client from the USA has a long term girlfriend in Canada and travels back and forth to visit her. They do not want to marry, but the client would like to eventually live in Canada with her long-term. So he comes into Canada, stays a few months, then leaves for a week or two, and re-enters. Each time, he tells the border officer that he is “visiting friends” for a few weeks (when in fact he stays for months). In fact, he has no home of his own in the USA and basically lives with her in Canada.

Some lawyers might feel okay with this approach by the client, which is technically legal, since the client can stay in Canada as a visitor for up to 6 months. I feel that this is “getting around” the truth, because the client is telling the officer that he is going for a shorter period of a few weeks, when in fact, he knows that he is going to stay longer, perhaps even stretch it to 5 months and 29 days. It is a matter of time before an officer at the border will note that the client is merely doing through “the back door” what he should be doing through “the front door.” He is trying to live permanently in Canada by securing consecutive, indefinite, temporary entries.

In short, if you truly plan to go for a short period of time, that’s okay, you should say so. But if you do plan on staying longer and you are going to lie, then you have a problem. Material misrepresentation at a port of entry has serious consequences in both Canada and the USA. You can face a bar to re-entry into the country if you don’t play your cards right.

It is important for any immigration advisor to take into consideration their client’s long term well-being, not just the short term. So if a client calls to ask how they can get into the country “this next time” because they faced serious questioning last time they tried to come in, the lawyer’s job, in my view, is to consider not just this next visit, but the long term goals of the client. Focusing only on the next visit, which may very well be the only thing the client wants, may be shortsighted; the visit after this one could lead to a bar.

For further questions on border-coaching and your right to enter Canada or the USA, please contact me at