Traveling a United States citizen is a privilege that I didn't fully appreciate until the past few years when the tables we turned and suddenly "I" had to fill out applications and pay fees to enter other countries. For most of my life it was simply enough to show my US passport and other countries simply welcomed us in. While it was a bit more difficult between US and Europe, transiting between Canada, Mexico, and the United States was almost always seamless. Then, in the past 15-20 years or so, things have started to change.
I first started noticing these changes when traveling to Mexico by plane, where I was not only told that I had to fill out the FMM form but also that I would have to always have it with me and be able to display it to leave the country. That began in 2011 and then on future visits I started getting customs officials trying to tax and register my camera equipment that I carried on trips as a journalist.
Then, later during the pandemic, we had to fill out the ArriveCAN app and hope that all of your vaccine and covid test data as well as your quarantine plans were accepted before even getting on the plane headed north.
While that app is actually turning into a potentially easier border crossing experience by expanding it to include other CBSA Declaration features, it was just another reminder at how "non open" our world of International travel had become.
As I cruised more and got more familiar with different folks from different destinations around the world though, it became even more clear that this was part of a trend being led in large part by my own country.
Following the attacks on September 11, 2001 we have worked to make it possible to track visitors coming into the country through legal means, even as we continue to have an essentially open door policy on our southern border if you just push your way through.
While visas have been a standard requirement for entry to the United States from "unfriendly" countries for decades, we now even require our friends from countries like UK and the European Union to apply for admission to our country through something called the ESTA. Only visitors to Canada with a valid Canadian passport can still travel freely to visit us.
The ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is a visa waiver program that is presented as an alternative for people from "friendly countries" so they don't have to go through the full visa application process.
While the process is not expensive, there is a $21 USD application fee per person and some people find that the process can be confusing to do on their own.
There are services though and consultants that if you have questions like can I go to America with a criminal record from UK? can make the process easier though they usually charge a fee on top of what the United States charges to applicants on their website.
While I understand and appreciate the efforts being made to make our country a safer place, I sometimes miss the naive feeling that we all enjoyed before this series of events that shifted the global perspective on international travel.
I look forward to a time in the future where we can come back to a place that was more welcoming to visitors from around the world. How about you?