The low Canadian dollar and a robust US economy make this a perfect time for many Canadian companies to do business with our neighbors to the south. Fortunately, Canadian businesses have the world’s best access to the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). For a Canadian company wishing to do business in the US is it just as simple as crossing the border to meet with clients?
Understanding NAFTA can make going to Seattle, Chicago or New York easy for Canadian businesses. But without a little knowledge about NAFTA, that flight or drive to the border could turn into a frustrating encounter with US Homeland Security and a short trip. What are the key things you need to know as a business visitor to the States?
Business vs. Work
You are going to the US to do business NOT to work! You may be working for your Canadian company while in the US, but simple semantics say it’s best to stick to business visitor activities that fit under NAFTA’s rules. Using the word ‘work’ is not recommended for initial business trips and definitely should not be used without consulting an immigration lawyer; the North American Free Trade Agreement does not give Canadians the right to work in the United States.
Replace the word ‘work’ with business activity, business development, research, or sales work. You may need to be specific and having an invitation letter or email from a US company confirming your appointment is definitely recommended. Additionally, a letter from your company stating the purpose and the destination for your trip is worth having in hand.
Saving this information in your smartphone or laptop to show Homeland Security is not advisable as they would prefer to look at paper copies and may have the power to investigate anything on your laptop including your interesting browsing history. ;-)
This is directly out of NAFTA. You need to show:
(a) Proof of citizenship;
(b) documentation demonstrating that the business person will be so engaged and describing the purpose of entry; and
(c) evidence demonstrating that the proposed business activity is international in scope and that the business person is not seeking to enter the local labor market.
Interpreting this list should be a US Immigration lawyer but from this business person, I recommend bringing:
(a) Your passport;
(b) a letter stating which businesses and individuals at those businesses you will be visiting, the hotel you will be staying at, the duration of your trip, and RETURN trip details;
(c) business cards, brochures and promotional materials that show the work your company does internationally (and you might want to make sure it does not say or show you providing labour or hands-on service).
Final NAFTA Common Sense Tips
- If you are at all concerned about qualifying as a Business Visitor consult an immigration lawyer.
- Pack appropriately for the length of your business trip; over packing may imply a longer stay.
- Dress as a business traveler. You might be landing in California and heading straight to a surf break but keep your board shorts in your bag.
Smile and remember you will be closing lots of sales!