Border Interview Questions – How to deal with CBSA agent like a pro!

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What are the rules when entering Canada? It’s unclear, especially when you are coming as a visitor but have intentions of staying.

This guide will do a deep dive into this question, and by the end, we hope we’ve given you the tools and strategies to handle dealing with CBSA officers when you have what is called Dual Intent (more on this term later). First we’ll tell you how to prepare in general for your entry into Canada – how to dress, how much cash to bring etc. – in order not to raise suspicions. And that includes how to talk to a CBSA officer. Then we’ll get into the technical details of what is considered a lie and how to answer more focused questions if a CBSA officer decides to question you more thoroughly.

Let’s start with the basics

How to talk to a CBSA agent?

  • Don’t smile too much.
  • Don’t be friendly. I need to elaborate here. Con artists and thieves always look guilty because they try too hard. When they try to win you over too quickly, too fast. CBSA is used to this; at best, it is a turn-off, and at worst, you are raising their suspicions about yourself.
  • Keep your answer short. If possible, a yes or no is perfect for open-ended questions. If you need to explain something, the trick is to use the least number of words while still having full context with your answer.
  • No jokes! They tend to raise suspicions that you’re trying to hide something.

Common Sense (not always common)

  • Look clean and wear clothes that look good but are something you are comfortable wearing.
  • Don’t go overboard. No, 7 gold rings are a bad idea. Put your gold chain inside your shirt.
  • No sunglasses or hats.
  • No clothing with any type of message on them. I love Canada t-shirt will not help you but make you look like you are trying too hard.
  • No flip-flops, shorts, or bright colours (unless culturally appropriate).

The perfect declaration

  • Keep your money between CDN$1500 to $3000. This may hurt many readers, but again, coming in with $7000 or $9999 in cash is a bad idea. CBSA knows that when someone is even a few thousand dollars ways from the $10,000 limit, in most cases, the cash in their wallet will push them over the allowable threshold. On top of that, many travellers had a few currencies for which they may have underestimated their value. Just pay the transfer fee to the bank and send your money that way.
  • No meat! No vegetables, NO FOOD! For some reason, next to cash, CBSA officers are very suspicious of food taken into Canada.

Rules around luggage

The rule here is to look like everyone else. Travellers generally have carry-ons, bags, and usually 1-2 pieces of luggage. I know this is a problem for some readers. You need to work out another solution.

Rules for the pros

  • Keep your phone clean. Let’s expand this rule. If you are asked to go to secondary screening, they will have the right to ask you to open your phone so they can look at everything. They will look at:
  1. Your calendar – are you expected back in your home country, or do you have an entry that says, ‘get married in city hall’?
  2. Photos – Is it random stuff, like family, your cat, and food pics? Or does it have 100s of photos of you and your Canadian partner (in love)?

Important: you should, however, make sure your phone is not empty; remember you must look like a typical person. Again, don’t make stuff up, most people suck at lying, and you are up against an agent that looks for lies and anything else suspicious for a living.

How to pick the right CBSA agent?

Breathe, breathe and relax. Okay, now move forward. Stop smiling like you are 16 years old, going on your first date.

Let’s now see who you’re dealing with by profiling the agent you are walking up to. Now, you may not get a choice, but while waiting for your turn in that long line of travellers, see if you can pick an agent and stand in their line.

  • Most importantly: pick an agent that is NOT having a bad day. Look for an agent that is talking to other agents and maybe even joking around with colleagues.
  • All agents are trained to be monotone (without facial emotions). This is because, as humans, we don’t like silence when talking to others, and we feel the need for others to validate our existence. We make up for this by talking, and here is the trap we fall into.
  • Your job is to look carefully for hard lines in their face. It can come through if someone is having a bad day, even if they appear to be in a monotone state. Just do your best to read through the act.
  • Look for an agent that has a natural smile that periodically flashes on their face. Remember, you are not looking for a forced smile but a warm one. Tip: look how they acknowledge young children.
  • Stay away from the agent that looks like they are enjoying the power. This is hard to spot, so I will leave this with the older folks reading this article. My best advice is to follow your gut instinct.
  • Look for agents that look like their bodies are naturally relaxed.

Important: Don’t stand on the side of the line, looking like you are analyzing a crime scene. Everything I mentioned above is supposed to be done quickly and without great effort. Just look and do the best you can, picking someone that looks like the best fit.

How to increase your odds

Nothing in these tips is a silver bullet (a perfect solution), BUT each one you can implement will increase your odds by a small percentage. The more you can tick off our tips and implement them, the more likely you’ll increase your odds dramatically. So, read the following closely:

  • Have a return ticket – You would be surprised how many people don’t do this. A one-way ticket to Canada will definitely raise eyebrows.

Tip: Choose an airline that gives you cancellation insurance.

  • Book your ticket for a flight entering Canada during a busy time:
  • Busy times of year – think of holidays or long weekends.
  • Busy time of the week – think of Friday or Saturday
  • Busy time of the day – think of 5-8 PM
  • Busy airports – think of Toronto Pearson

Entering by vehicle or car into Canada.

What is better, driving or flying into Canada?

Flying is the best choice by a big margin. CBSA agents at the border crossing produce a high volume of denied entry cases. In other words, you’re much more likely to be turned back at the border when attempting to drive into Canada.

Romantically involved with a Canadian citizen (or PR) – what the CBSA has to say.

This question comes up a lot, especially for people with a spouse that has status in Canada (Canadian citizen or PR card holder) and a foreign partner that does not.

People in this situation are looking to file an inland spousal sponsorship by travelling to Canada on a visitor visa and then applying once in the country. This is called Dual Intent (see below).

However, CBSA agents are trained to aggressively question and to basically give a hard time to anyone romantically involved with a Canadian citizen (or PR). In other words, their job – as they see it and as they are trained to perform it – is to force you to do an Outland Sponsorship application.

So, what are some of the red flags that CBSA officers are trained to look for when interviewing a visitor to Canada who appears to be in a relationship with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident?

Follow the chart below to see if you are going to have a problem:

  • The best profile:
  • Foreigners that hold a first-world passport (USA, Western Europe)
  • They’re over 35 years old.
  • They’re coming to Canada for a few weeks and have a return ticket.
  • They are middle or high-income earners with a steady job.
  • They have a solid post-secondary degree/diploma.
  • They are expected back in their home country after their trip because of work commitments and kids back home.
  • The worst profile:
  • Foreigners that hold a developing nation passport or countries that Canada is in dispute in (think of Iran)
  • They’re under 34 years of age.
  • They’re say they’re coming to Canada for a few months, and not just for a couple of weeks.
  • They work in a low-income job with a low chance of job prospects in Canada and/or only have a high school degree.

Is it a lie or not – The big question everyone what’s to know.

Let’s dive into some of the more technical aspects of being truthful when arriving in Canada.

So, you’re next in line to speak with the CBSA officer at Pearson International Airport. And you’re wondering what you could say, what you should say, and what you shouldn’t say. We’ve helped point out some useful tips on what to say above. Now it’s time to look at what Canadian immigration law considers a lie – or misrepresentation, as the official jargon puts it.

Misrepresentation is very broad in Canadian law. It is anything that could be deemed to interfere with a CBSA officer’s inquiry. It doesn’t even have to actually interfere, only potentially interfere with their work. The courts in Canada have given you, the traveller, very little wiggle room when answering a CBSA officer’s questions.

Not only that, if you are deemed to have misrepresented your intentions, you could theoretically be banned from applying to enter Canada for 5 years. To illustrate this point, here are a list of reasons why you could be considered inadmissible to Canada, according to the Canadian government:

There are a number of reasons you can be found inadmissible, denied a visa or refused entry to Canada such as:

  • security,
  • human or international rights violations,
  • criminality,
  • organized criminality,
  • health grounds,
  • financial reasons,
  • misrepresentation,
  • non-compliance with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA),
  • having an inadmissible family member.

As you can see, misrepresentation is on this list. So, if you are considered to have lied to a CBSA officer – engaged in misrepresentation in other words – then you could in some cases, be deemed inadmissible and banned for 5 years. Although this is harsh, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

Border interview question

Are you really misrepresenting the purpose of your visit to Canada?

The trick is: what is your intention and how sure are you of this intention?

For visitors to Canada who are thinking about using their trip to Canada to put together an Inland Sponsorship Application, the question boils down to:

How sure are you that you want to file an Inland Sponsorship application with your Canadian partner as the sponsor?

Think of it this way, you might be certain that you want to get married, but whether your sponsorship is inland or outland doesn’t really matter that much to you. So, you’re fine with getting married outside of Canada.

If you have a reasonable doubt about something as important as deciding to file for spousal sponsorship, is it misrepresentation to answer the CBSA officer’s questions by saying you’re only visiting for a few weeks and nothing more?

Remember, however, this isn’t exactly a “don’t ask/don’t tell” strategy we’re suggesting. It’s more a case of “don’t tell if they don’t ask” strategy. Keep your answers short and clear and honest and hope they don’t directly ask you if you have a partner living in Canada.

Given the explanations we’ve gone through in the past few paragraphs, you should consider it quite likely that not being completely truthful about any intentions to marry in Canada, or especially, to apply for inland sponsorship will be considered misrepresentations. So once again, if asked, be truthful.

Another solution, as we suggest above, is to use Yes/No answers as much as possible but to do so in a relaxed but businesslike way. When pressed, however, be truthful.

You’ll clearly see why this is so in our next section.

What rights do you have at the border (CBSA border servies officer)

Here’s what a Canadian government webpage says about a traveller’s Canadian Charter Rights at airports or border crossings:

Canadian courts have generally recognized that people have reduced expectations of privacy at border points. In this context, privacy and other Charter rights continue to apply but are limited by state imperatives of national sovereignty, immigration control, taxation and public safety and security.  

What they seem to be saying is that at an airport or border crossing, you don’t really have a full right to due process, the way you would once inside Canada. Keep this in mind.

What is Dual Intent and do CBSA Officials care about it?

Another point to consider is that Canada’s immigration laws do recognize what is called Dual Intent. This is where someone who has applied or who will (or who may) apply for permanent residence also applies for temporary entry as a visitor, student, or temporary worker.

In our case, someone who is thinking of applying for spousal sponsorship who also applies for a visa to visit Canada is clearly an example of dual intent and is considered legitimate. However, remember that you are expected to leave Canada at the end of your temporary visit. Here’s what the government says about dual intent:

“An officer should distinguish between a temporary residence applicant whose intention to fulfill their obligations as a temporary resident (namely, to leave at the end of their period of authorized stay as required by section R179) is bona fide and an applicant who has no intention of leaving Canada at the end of their authorized stay if their application for permanent residence is refused.”

If you’ve already applied for spousal sponsorship from outside, and your application for outland Sponsorship has received preliminary approval, you will be more likely to have your visitor visa approved. The whole game changes as a result, because it’s now less likely that your spousal sponsorship will be rejected. That means the CBSA officer feels they hopefully are off the hook over having let someone into the country who then might have to be deported. However, remember that this assumes you’ve already applied through an outland sponsorship before applying for your visitor visa.

Furthermore, once your sponsoring spouse receives their Acknowledgment of Receipt (AoR) Letter from IRCC, you can then apply for an open work permit as long as you still maintain legal temporary status in Canada. This can be a little tricky to pull off.

Let’s say you first apply for a visitor visa and are able to enter Canada successfully without raising suspicions of dual intent – or if you do express dual intent when asked, they decide to let you in anyway, which is a big if – you can then apply for Inland sponsorship. Next, if your Canadian (or PR) spouse gets their AoR letter before your visitor visa expires you can apply for an open work permit. However, your visitor visa has to remain valid until your open work permit is approved. If it expires before then, you’ll have to leave Canada and re-enter the country.

As is clear to see, you may run out of legal status at several points in this process, leaving you having to exit Canada.

Regardless, the good news is that if you receive your visitor’s visa, you’ve cleared an important hurdle seeing that the IRCC case officer reviewing your visa application has decided you won’t remain in Canada after your visa has expired.

However, when you actually arrive in Canada, you still have to convince the CBSA officer at the airport that you’ll be leaving the country at the end of your trip. Not only that, you also have to decide how to answer any questions by the officer that are aimed at finding out whether you have a partner in Canada and therefore whether you have dual intent.

Let’s first imagine that you are able to avoid any questions about dual intent. You can sometimes achieve this by focusing on your temporary visit:

  • Focus on your itinerary while visiting Canada. What you’ll be doing, where you’ll be doing it, and when you’ll be doing it while in the country.
  • Make sure you have a return ticket. (See above for advice on this)
  • Also make sure, if asked, to assure the officer that you have plenty of funds for your visit.
  • Give some good reasons why you must leave Canada at the end of your visit – work or business obligations back home or family matters back home, for example.
  • Focus on all your ties to your home country – close relatives, homes you own, social ties, etc.

However, if the CBSA officer asks you if you have dual intent, you may have to change your strategy.

Do you admit to dual intent and hope that your profile and length of stay in Canada (short), and the fact you have a return ticket within a few weeks, convinces the officer you’ll leave at the end of your trip? And it also helps if you have proof of houses or other properties as well as business interests in your home country.

Or do you not disclose the fact that you have dual intent?

You can try using simple Yes/No answers, but you may find yourself having to answer more specific questions from the CBSA officer, and that’s when being truthful is usually the best option. The last thing you need is to be banned from Canada for 5 years because of misrepresentation. Not a good way to plan a wedding or a sponsorship.

So, the best option, if asked whether you have dual intent, is to answer ‘Yes.’ Then you have to convince them that you can maintain dual intent. That is, convince them that you will leave Canada when your visitor visa expires, even though you’ll likely be applying for spousal sponsorship at some point in the near future.

What rights and powers does the CBSA border service agents have?

This is key to understanding why your rights at an airport or border crossing or not what they are inside Canada. Again, let’s look at a quote from a government webpage speaking to this matter:

“At border controls, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have widespread powers to stop and search people and examine their baggage and other possessions including devices such as laptops and smartphones. These activities are carried out under the authority of Canada’s Customs Act; a warrant is not required.

Individuals are also subject to these measures even if they are not planning to cross a border but are in so-called “customs controlled areas.” These are designated zones in a border crossing area or airport where domestic employees or travellers leaving Canada might mingle with arriving international travellers and goods that have not yet been cleared by the CBSA. Signs and notices are posted in these areas. Travellers and/or employees in or leaving these areas must identify themselves, answer questions and present their goods for examination if asked to do so by a CBSA officer. They may also be subject to physical searches.”

Remember that old classic film Midnight Express? You get detained because of suspicious behavior because they think you’re a terrorist rather than just a fool who tried to smuggle hashish onto a flight out of Istanbul.

What you have to realize is that nowadays CBSA officers are constantly on the search for really bad people: terrorists, drug smugglers, people carrying pornographic materials, hate literature or other obscene material, or people involved in money laundering. They’re even looking for people smuggling endangered species or avoiding export and import controls on more standard goods.

The CBSA calls it roving, which means identifying individuals who might be involved in the above activities.

No, they’re not really looking for someone thinking of an Inland Sponsorship, but it illustrates the type of mind set a lot of CBSA officers have – a tendency to be suspicious and sometimes treat common travellers as guilty until proven innocent. As well, as pointed out above, at an airport or border crossing they do have powers to question, search, and even detain people.

Now, you’re as pure as the driven snow compared to the criminals they’re looking for, so the trick – as we explained above – is to be relaxed and friendly but not talkative. There’s no reason to look guilty if you’re just visiting Canada, especially if looking guilty practically invites aggressive questioning from CBSA officers. And you don’t want to get involved in a confrontation about your rights, seeing that your rights at an airport or border crossing are weaker than inside Canada.

You want to avoid all of that by focusing on your visit and by using the tips above to improve your odds of a smooth process in customs and immigration.

Now we know that if you have read this article from start to finish, this subject is important to you. If you feel confident moving forward, great! We are glad we can help share our 20 years of experience with you. If you have a minute of your time, leave us a review. These articles take weeks to research and write.

But if you are still worried about and need support, we recommend you get one of our licensed representatives to look after you.

Here is what we can do for you:

  • Answer questions
  • Find the best plan moving forward.
  • Advise you of what has worked with other clients with similar situations.
  • Take over your Spousal Sponsorship Application or visitor visa (additional fees will apply).

Nothing is more powerful than knowing someone is working for you and can step in and save the day.

To start, click here.

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