I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the chance to travel internationally a fair amount. I’ve been pulled aside a time or two, once even directed to a closet sized room by a gun toting Russian military officer, but nothing prepared me for Monday’s encounter.
I confidently approached the last stop at customs, you know the one that comes after you’ve had your form stamped and reconnected with your luggage, prepared to answer the final round of questions already trying to sort out in my mind whether I’d need to rent a car or catch a cab to my hotel.
“What’s your purpose here Mr Fletcher?” the officer asked, her accent thick and suspicious.
“I’m here for work. Just coming in from the UK”, I explained that I was here to do some software consulting with Compassion. “No” I said when asked if I was directly employed by them, “I work for Hitachi Consulting and we’ve been doing this work in Australia and the UK and now here.”
“Did Compassion buy the software from you? No? Did they purchase this consulting as a part of the licensing agreement? No? Do you have a signed contract on your person? No?”
“I see. I’ll have to ask you to step into this room to your right.”
Somewhat surprised I stepped into the small cement room, walls bare but for a poster that warned against trying to smuggle drugs, and was confronted by a second officer. This one in body armor, eying me suspiciously, “So what kind of work do you do?”
I must have looked somewhat bemused because that attitude coming back at me from the officer was not one of a guy having a pleasant chit chat. Especially as he began menacingly snapping at the cuffs of the blue latex gloves he was wearing.
I tried to explain once again that I was working with Compassion on a three country assessment of some software they were using, but he seemed to want to press me into saying I was a management consultant. I finally capitulated and said, “Yes, I’ll be working with management to sort out how to best use the software.”
With a brisk nod and final snap of his gloves he stepped into another, smaller room where I couldn’t quite overhear the conversation between four customers officers. The other three having stood silently by as I was interrogated by body armor man.
Finally they reached a decision. Body armor man came back and in a thick accent advised me:
“You see Mr. Fletcher we don’t allow just anyone to come up here and do work. You need to prove that you have some special education, a unique skill set, OR you must provide a signed contract. In lieu of having any of those you must be prepared to either obtain a work permit or be turned back from the border. As there are no further flights leaving here for the US today you’d be detained over night in jail.”
SO…to make a long story short…I paid the $150 for a work permit and as a result, between now and July 2nd, I am permitted to work here…in Canada.
What’s your customs story?