How some B.C. snowbirds are getting through the border this winter | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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How some B.C. snowbirds are getting through the border this winter

Image Credit: YOUTUBE
November 11, 2020 - 7:00 AM

With snow starting to fall, thousands of snowbirds in the Thompson and Okanagan are dreaming of hitting the road for their annual trip to the U.S. sunbelt.

But there is one problem.

Entering the U.S. by land is banned, except for essential travel, due to COVID-19. Truck drivers, however, provide an essential service and part of that service is taking Canadian vehicles to the U.S. to be reunited with their snowbird owners on their way to U.S. hot spots. 

It costs money and comes with the risk of having the vehicle turned back at the border.

“It doesn’t always pan out,” Canuck Towing owner Roy Cabrita told iNFOnews.ca. “If you’re not in the States when that vehicle goes across, that vehicle isn’t crossing.”

That was almost the case for Liz Tough of West Kelowna and Sue Chapin of Peachland who needed to get to Tough’s Toyota Tacoma across the border to join in the Rebelle Rally in the U.S. last month.

Liz Tough and Sue Chapin had to do what so many snowbirds and RVers are doing these days because of the COVID-19 ban on non-essential land travel to the U.S. - they had to get Tough's truck shipped across the border then fly down to pick it up before driving to the Rebelle Rally in Nevada.
Liz Tough and Sue Chapin had to do what so many snowbirds and RVers are doing these days because of the COVID-19 ban on non-essential land travel to the U.S. - they had to get Tough's truck shipped across the border then fly down to pick it up before driving to the Rebelle Rally in Nevada.
Image Credit: Cantoydivas.com

“(U.S. border guards) tried to deny their car,” Cabrito said. “We had to get proof that they were there, had ties to Canada and that they were coming back.”

The rally was a 2,000-kilometre back road race from Lake Tahoe in Nevada to the Imperial Desert in California. Part of their rally preparation was studying government websites and figuring out the rules on getting across the border.

Canadians can fly to the U.S. but non-essential travel across the border by land isn’t allowed yet.

Cabrito has been shipping recreation vehicles – from personal cars to big motorhomes – across the border for years, mainly for older snowbirds who didn’t want to drive to the U.S. each winter.

He doesn’t understand why they can now fly rather than drive across the border because of COVID-19 but he has commercially-licenced drivers who can legally make the crossing, whether it’s at the wheel of a transport truck carrying cars or driving the large motorhomes.

But he’s had about one-quarter of his drivers turned back at the border.

“I can’t cross the border until you’re physically there,” he said. The border guards check that the owner is in the U.S. and on one occasion the guard came back to say the owner was lying to them, was not in the U.S. and ordered the driver to turn around.

If they really want to be difficult, guards can declare the vehicle as non-essential and order its removal from the country, whether the owner is in the U.S. or not.

That means it’s $500 or $600 of wasted money for the owner who has to arrange for it to be picked up or dropped off at their home, then do without it for the rest of their stay.

“If I were a snowbird, I wouldn’t take a chance,” Cabrita said. “I would rent a car.”

While renting a car can be expensive, so can shipping it. It could cost around $2,500 to ship a car to Los Angeles for example.

He was very busy in the spring and early summer moving motorhomes and travel trailers but isn’t getting much call for that now.

Other transport companies are having the opposite experience.

U.S. Canada Auto Transport will be shipping hundreds of RVs to Seattle over the next few weeks as snowbirds fly over the border to pick up their rigs, a company customer service agent said.

The spokesman for T and P Trucking in Vancouver was too busy to return calls to iNFOnews.ca because of taking on so much RV transport across the border, a receptionist said.

There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out and it can take a few days to get the vehicle across the border.

For Tough and Chapin, it took about a week just to get Tough’s truck shipped to Washington State at a cost of about a $1,700 U.S.

Coming back, however, is a different story.

Since they were Canadians returning to Canada, they could cross by land.

“The customs officer we had upon entry was fantastic,” Chapin said. “He asked if we had quarantine plans in place. He handed us a sealed package with quarantine information, told us we needed to comply with the package and needed to be checked up on, as we were.”

They would like to return to the rally in the next year or two, hopefully without the added expense of extra plane tickets and shipping fees just to get across the border.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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