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US-Canadian border crossing by bus – Vancouver to Seattle

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Vancouver skyline

Vancouver skyline

After an enjoyable but overtired couple of days in Vancouver it was time to start moving south. The fourteen hour time difference between Vancouver and Beijing had caused some serious jet lag, which would take another week to full wear off.

There are a variety of ways to cross the border. We looked at renting a car, but the one-way fee was prohibitive; the train would have been easy enough, but the final station was nowhere near the hotel. There’s a boat that takes people along the coast, but a number of people suggested it wasn’t a very pleasant journey. Most people’s recommendation was for the cheapest option – taking a coach.

Quickshuttle bus

Quickshuttle bus waiting outside the Holiday Inn

We opted for a company called QuickShuttle, as it picked up next door to our hotel. Other options include Bolt Bus and the Amtrak Bus. Bolt Bus is a little cheaper, but in our case not as convenient. Amtrak was quite a bit more expensive. Doing it again, I’d suggest looking at the pick-up locations before booking the hotel…

The bus arrived on time and after a quick ticket and document check the driver stowed the bags whilst we climbed aboard.

The border is only 30 minutes from Downtown Vancouver, so everyone else took the opportunity to eat the smelliest breakfast possible. These ranged from 9am pizzas and curries, to a lady just munching an entire jar of dill pickles. Thankfully the coach has Wi-Fi on board to offer some distraction.

View across Vancouver harbour

View across Vancouver harbour – as soon as we left Vancouver the weather perked up considerably

Approaching the border, signs give an indication of the current waiting time for screening. For cars it’s pretty quick, but for packed buses it can take a couple of hours.

The driver helpfully distributes the required forms to complete in advance. Having purchased an ESTA I thought I was all set, but they don’t count for land crossings, so that was a waste of a few dollars. Instead I had to fill out the I94 form, which cost an extra $6.

At the border, buses have their own section. Everyone has to dismount and grab their luggage, then join the queue.  Being at the back of the bus, we were at the back of the queue.

The girl in front of us was so surprised to be let in she offered the border guard a high-five, which he grudgingly accepted. Nice way to play it cool.

The lack of people waiting behind us gave the staff the opportunity to have a long chat. He queried everything I might be doing in the US (not sure), whether I intended to work (sort of, but best to say no), and where I’d be travelling to after leaving the country (Cuba, but I said Mexico). With that I got my 90 days and a warning not to overstay, before advancing to the luggage screening.

The high-five girl was now standing next to a sign that read “No fruit or meat” debating with the guard whether grapes were in fact fruit. He understandably insisted that they were, so didn’t get a high-five.

And that was it. All back on the bus. The coach took another 2 hours to downtown Seattle, via a couple of remote drop-offs.

So much for all the horror stories I’ve read recently about difficult border crossings and awkward TSA officers. High-five!

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Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

15 comments

  • Pingback: Wendy & Sherry (@Kiboomu)

  • Pingback: Lisa Niver Rajna (@wesaidgotravel)

  • I once crossed the border from the US into Canada as a chaperone on a bus full of high school students. Most were international students, some with green cards, others with student visas. Only a couple of Americans – one was Juan Garcia and had no passport. (It was legal at the time to cross the border without one.) I was sure we would have problems getting him back into the US, but he was not the problem in the end. The immigration guy was very nice and said we could stay on the bus and he’d check the passports while the kids sat in their seats. He got barely halfway down the bus when some eejit made a joke about a fake green card . . . Of course, he then made us all get off the bus. He started all over again checking ID – and checked every single page of every passport. I think it took us a couple of hours to get out of there and on our way . . . On the way back the kids were impeccably behaved 😉

    Reply
    • That’s one way to make them behave! It’s definitely not the place for jokes – I’ve heard similar stories about people passing through UK Customs joking that they were carrying a bomb and being detained by the police for hours.

      Reply
  • Pingback: Linda McCormick (@EcoTraveller)

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    • If you do look at the trains be careful to check that you’re not actually booking a bus! The day we wanted to travel, 4 of the 6 Amtrak trains had been replaced by buses, yet still cost as much as the train.

      Reply
  • So i dont need Esta when i will cross the border by bus but I94 form? But then if I will travel between some states of USA by plane is I94 form enough or do i need Esta?

    Reply
  • Hi! I’m neither a U.S. nor a Canadian citizen but I have visas for both countries. I am planning to go to Seattle from Vancouver via Amtrak, and I was wondering if I still need the ESTA and 194. And if I do, how do I get them?
    Thank you!

    Reply
  • Great info! I’m looking at going to Seattle from Vancouver (British passport) and I’d heard that the bus doesn’t wait if you get held up at immigration which worried me. This has put my mind at ease! (Although I’m sure it’s all circumstantial)

    Reply

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