Tip #519: Traveling to a Neighboring Country

“There must be a happy medium somewhere between being totally informed and blissfully unaware.” Doug Larson

I made a number of earth shattering discoveries in my travels today. I had automatically assumed that traveling in Canada would be no different than traveling in the USA. Of course, I was wrong.

Canada is a different country. It is not an extension of the US. Say that with me: Canada is a different country.

Yes, I brought my passport. I also brought my phone and my GPS. You would think that I was well provisioned for my travels. You would be wrong.

Getting through customs was very quick. What was not quick was being sent to stand on line for an hour. Why? Because, when I told the customs officer that I was in Canada to conduct one day of training, unbeknownst to me, that raised a big red flag. What red flag, you might ask? The answer- whether or not I needed a work permit.

Even when I explained that I was working for an American, not a Canadian firm, and that I am an independent consultant, the immigration officer wanted to see a letter from my client indicating this. It never occurred to me that I should bring my contract or that I would need a letter. However, I did need a letter for each African country I visited. So, all things being equal, I probably should have anticipated the need.

Unfortunately, my American client contacts had said nothing about this, due to the fact that they apparently have no difficulty when they enter Canada for two days. I guess I must look questionable.

Well, they finally let me into the country, thank goodness! The next bump in the road occurred when I picked up my car at Enterprise. I plugged in my GPS, only to discover that it didn’t have any maps for Canada (just Costa Rica, for some strange reason). Again, if I had remembered that Canada was a different country, I might have looked for some. My only excuse is that this was the very first time I had to drive in another country…

A very kind and generous Enterprise agent found and programmed a Canadian GPS for me at no charge. Then he asked me if my auto insurance covered a rental car in Canada. Of course, I didn’t know the answer to that. To be safe, I agreed to take all of the coverage Enterprise provided. I wasn’t planning on having an accident, but I had been up since 3 a.m. and it was now 2 p.m. (I found out much later, via a Skype call, that my insurance does provide temporary coverage for a rental car in another country.)

After I got going on the highway, I discovered that: (1) distracted by the GPS and insurance issues, I hadn’t adjusted the rear or side view mirrors and couldn’t see a darn thing; and (2) the GPS told me distances in kilometers. I managed to adjust the mirrors in transit. Since the speedometer was also in kilometers, I just kept to the posted speed limits.

Then, when I arrived at the address for the training, I was startled to see that there were absolutely no cars in the huge parking lot and the building was locked. That was when I realized that I couldn’t use my phone to call my client contact.

Luckily, after I looked through the paper files I brought with me, I discovered that I had another address for my client. This address turned out to be the right one. If it hadn’t, I would have needed to find someplace with Wi-Fi so that I could make the call through Skype.

What did I learn from this experience?

When traveling to another country, whether it shares a border with the US or is across an ocean, I should always:

  1. Remember it is a different country!!
  2. Bring my passport.
  3. Make sure I have a letter from my client that explains my purpose in coming into the country.
  4. Check my insurance coverage for health, travel and auto (if I will be driving).
  5. If I will be driving, download maps for that country onto my GPS. (A better plan is to leave the driving to my client!)
  6. Plan how to communicate with my client while in the country (either with Skype on my phone or with another phone purchased in the country or provided by my client.)

I am back home, now, definitely wiser.

May your learning be sweet.


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