How To

Ride Your Motorcycle to Canada!

I know it sounds a little intimidating, but you really can ride your motorcycle to another country. We in the US have only two real options (unless you’ve got a LOT of vacation time and want to ride all the way through Mexico first), and since I live just one state away from the border I go into Canada on my motorcycle with some frequency.

Canada Bound on S10
Canada Bound in Vermont

A weekend trip for a New Englander is a choice of Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They depend on your starting point, the length of your weekend, your group’s tolerance for long rides and your wants and needs for travel. Quebec is fascinating since most of the people there speak French. The Gaspé Peninsula should be on every motorcyclist’s bucket list. Also, Poutine. Nova Scotia is quite beautiful and very motorcycle friendly!

Road Closed Canada
Sometimes it helps to speak a little French when you’re in Quebec, but you can usually get the idea well enough.

A trip to the Canadian border will take you some or most of the day from the Boston area so it’s important to plan ahead. There are loads of fantastic campgrounds and bed & breakfasts in northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, so your trip doesn’t have to cost a fortune, or be a death march. You can zip up north Friday afternoon, stay the night and cross into Canada in the morning to ride for lunch.

It’s important to know a few things about riding across a border crossing, if you’ve never crossed one without involving an airport.

  1. You’ll wait in line: Unless you pick a tiny crossing (which I highly recommend) you’ll be stopped in traffic waiting for your turn with the officials. Take a look at a map, and you will see all the roads in New England that cross into Canada. The smaller the pass-through road, the better. You do not want to be stopped on your motorcycle on a four-lane highway waiting to cross the border with three thousand other vehicles, especially on a hot day. Choose a small road with a single-lane one-shack crossing and you are more likely to get a bored and friendly border official who will talk to you about your trip and give you road and lunch suggestions.
  2. You cannot bring any firearms with you. Canada has quite different gun laws than the US does. Your CCA has no reciprocity. If you try to hide your firearm from the border official, you may or may not get away with it. If you lie and they find out, or search you, you will be in a whole big heap of trouble. It will involve more border officials with their own guns, handcuffs, the term “smuggling,” someone else touching your motorcycle… It’s not worth it; leave your guns at home. Everyone in Canada is super nice, anyway.
  3. If you are in a group, you must meet the border guard one at a time. Everyone hangs back at the red light, and once clear waits for the rest of the group well up the road. You should all have the same idea about your trip, since if the border guard gets five different stories from five different people they are likely to become suspicious. It doesn’t take much.
Border Crossing US
You’ve got to wait to cross the border one at a time, both into and out of Canada.
  1. They might search you. There is no rhyme or reason to the people they decide to search, and they like it that way. Do not be in a hurry. Also, remember #2 on this list — don’t carry anything you don’t want them to find. This includes but is not limited to: firearms, ammunition, illegal drugs, legal drugs outside their original packaging, prescription drugs outside the bottle that has your name and your doctor’s name on it. Border officials are humorless.
  2. You don’t need a passport to enter Canada. But you do need a passport to reenter the United States! Bring your passport, because this is a large pickle and you do not want to be in it.
  3. They might not let you in. If you’ve ever been arrested (I know it’s tempting; I know it is. But do not, and really listen to me here, do not sing Alice’s Restaurant at the border officials. They’ve heard it, and they don’t find it funny anymore) they might not let you into the country at all. If you have been convicted of any of the following crimes (and take special note of the fifth one here, since the US does not weigh DUI as heavily as Canada does) you may not be let in. Poke around on the Government of Canada’s website for more information.
    • theft,
    • assault,
    • manslaughter,
    • dangerous driving,
    • driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and
    • possession of or trafficking in drugs or controlled substances.
  4. Everything is in KPH. Most motorcycles have KPH on the speedometer in tiny numbers; some have only MPH. Many GPS units will know that you’ve crossed into Canada and will translate the speed limits into MPH for you. My Yamaha lets me convert my entire dashboard into kilometers, which is super handy! Check your owner’s manual! Or, if you’re great at math on the fly, 1 mile is 1.6 kilometers. Quick, what’s 50 KPH in MPH? You really don’t want to have to come back to Canada for a court date for a speeding ticket.
  5. Your phone will not work. Unless you have an international plan, it’s best to turn your phone off at the border. Your cell carrier will charge you stupid amounts of money to connect to a Canadian network. It will warn you at the border, and it will tell you exactly how stupid those charges will be. This means no googling places to eat, or the weather, though, so again, plan ahead.
  6. You can only bring back a limited amount of stuff. If you’ve purchased various gifts or mementos they’re probably fine but it doesn’t hurt to mention them at the crossing. The US Customs and Border Patrol has a lot of info on this. Short form: two bottles of wine is fine. A case of wine will cost you in taxes.
  7. They have different holidays! Here’s a fun note. When you have a Monday off due to a federal US holiday, it’s likely Canadians don’t — so you won’t have to worry about the same traffic and crowds you would if you went somewhere in the US. Check your schedule and see if you can find an offset holiday.

Now you’re ready! Find a nice place to stay in northern New England and go have an adventure in Canada!

What did I miss? Where’s your favorite Canadian adventure?

Canada Deer
Canadian deer are quite a lot more energetic than the ones in the US, if the signs are anything to go by!

2 Comments

  1. Having ridden to Canada myself, I agree with everything you said. Pay special attention to the reasons the Canadians might turn you back, particularly a DUI conviction!

    My old GPS didn’t automatically switch to metric, so I switched it manually. Its built-in speedometer was much easier to read than the tiny digits on my American MPH speedometer. No need to guess my speed. Also, the now metric directions matched the road signs, making navigation easier.

    There’s been a lot of hype about the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, NS. It’s true. All of it. More on that later…

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