Travel: Living in small-town Canada (aka A funny survival guide for US expats, eh?)

Living in Canada (aka A funny survival guide for US expats, eh?)

Chapter 3 – Travel

Crossing the border from US to Canada used to be easy, just show your state issued ID card or driver’s license and away you go. Same was true for our neighbors to visit the states, you could come up and go down at a moments notice and all was peachy.

Enter 9/11 and the age of terrorism, and borders become tighter, security more paranoid, and airport insanity increases.

To travel into or out of Canada you need a passport and possibly additional documents, all depending what or who you are bringing, how long you’ll be staying and what you plan on doing.

If you have a background, however small that silly prank, DUI, or bar-room brawl may have been 20 years ago, they already know about it and you need to know what (if anything) is there too. Anything major on your record and you can’t come in until it’s cleared up (if it can be) or just forget about crossing the border here.

Surprising to some US folks, Cuba is a popular travel destination. Canadians party there all the time, the beaches, mojitos, music, and of course cigars are nice.

Anyway, once you get at the border to Canada by land, air, or sea, they’re going to ask you a few questions about your business or pleasure here. Pretty simple and straightforward, but can be just as intimidating as any CIA ot FBI interrogation might be– that’s the job of the border guards at either side, and how they catch bad people before they enter or exit either land, thank goodness.

On planes and air travel, Air Canada and Westjet are popular airlines, though many US airlines have destinations here as well. You will see more Canadian and Airbus jets, of course less Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, or Lockheed planes than the US, and more smaller aircraft about, depending where you go.

Like Amtrak in the US, there are trains in Canada. I get the distinct impression train service is more expansive here, though couldn’t say why or where.

Cruise lines operate from several ports on both Pacific and Atlantic shores.

On to driving..

The first thing you might notice is, unlike the US, Canada switched to the metric system. Road signs are in kilometers (not miles), so adjust accordingly if you drove from the states, and your car only has a MPH speedometer!

Canada has lots of colorful road signs. They have signs for all sorts of stuff like bumps in the road, changing road conditions, fasten seat belts, and all your usual signs, plus additional ones for helping trucks and motorcycle drivers we don’t have in the US.

On traffic lights, turn signal signs blink when green. There’s warning lights a bit ahead of stop lights to tell you they are about to change. Some stop lights have two red lights for emphasis sake. We have road hazards up here, like various kinds of snow related equipment and the occasional deer, elk, or moose.

The cops here like (Tim Hortons) coffee and donuts. For the most part, the highway patrols are kind and here to help us all be safe, and they have way less tolerance for speeding and DUI. The royal canadian mounted police, or RCMP, rule. You won’t find many on horseback, looking like Dudley-do-right in bright red uniforms and ranger hats, but RCMP’s have a wild array of super bright blue and red flashy lights just not seen in the US. There are everyday looking (unmarked) “stealth” vehicles, equipped with flashy lights inside the car, patroling the roads alongside the clearly marked ones.

You can generally go 10km over the speed limit on main roads and freeways without getting a ticket, but don’t press your luck in town. There are school zones and kids play-park zones where the speed may drop from 50kph to 30kph without too much warning, so if you aren’t paying attention, you can be nabbed easily by the RCMP just waiting to catch you.

They just instituted some distracted driving laws, so don’t hold a cellphone to your ear, text, or do things like apply makeup or read the paper while driving to work, some of the fines are fairly hefty at $700 if you get caught (depending where you are).

Auto insurance rates seem to be more expensive, but generally covers stuff like hail or the occasional self-induced fender-bender due to deer or sliding off the road into a ditch, either of which may be more commonplace in Canada than the US.

You will find people using their personal vehicles for occupations such as taxi service, postal delivery, and other government-related jobs, for example, one guy may be delivering parcels for UPS, FedEx, Puralator, and Canadian royal mail all at once- it’s not unusual.

Going to the department of motor vehicles here in Alberta is fairly straight forward. You are issued a plate (no front plate is required) and that plate travels with you; when you sell your car, you keep it for use on your next vehicle. When you are first issued a license to drive, you are a GDL status driver, or licensed yet not fully certified per se; once you’ve driven a while, you get the GDL designation removed and your status uprated to an “experienced” sort of designation- cool eh?

That’d be about all I have for now.

Please comment, agree, disagree, correct me, laugh, cry, whatever – comments are open!

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