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Cars line up at the Canadian border at left, beside the empty Nexus lane at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie Ontario. (2007). (J.P. MOCZULSKI for The Globe and Mail)
Cars line up at the Canadian border at left, beside the empty Nexus lane at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie Ontario. (2007). (J.P. MOCZULSKI for The Globe and Mail)

Ask Joanne

Life in the fast lane: Should I get a NEXUS card? Add to ...

I’ve been travelling a lot lately. Is the NEXUS card worth it for driving between the United States and Canada? – Jane in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Many of us have sat, in the bumper-to-bumper exhaust haze at a backed-up border crossing, watching other vehicles zip through the NEXUS lane.

However, for $50, relief could be yours. Any citizen or permanent resident of Canada or the United States can apply for a NEXUS pass. The process takes about six weeks and, if you’re approved (after risk assessment and interviews by border protection officials of both countries), the pass is valid for five years.

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The benefit of membership is expedited customs and immigration processing at designated border crossings. NEXUS lanes are available at 19 land ports of entry. There are self-serve kiosks at nine international airports in Canada, and the pass covers 430 marine points of entry.

The NEXUS program is designed for low-risk travellers, and allows border officers to concentrate their efforts on unknown or higher-risk travellers and goods. Approximately 75 per cent of the 929,000 NEXUS members are Canadian. Membership is up from 601,000 at this time last year – thanks to the binational Beyond the Border Action Plan announced in 2011.

The NEXUS card contains a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip. “If you’re travelling by land, that information is transmitted into the primary inspection booth where the border services officer is in Canada, or in the United States with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer,” says Cathy DeCoste-Whitlock, manager, Trusted Travellers Program, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). “The picture of the individual – or individuals, because you all have to be members – in the car will show up on the screen and the officer would verify your identity as you pull up.”

At an airport kiosk, identity is confirmed through your eyes. “In the air mode it’s done with your iris biometric. We capture your eye’s iris, at the time of registration, and when you’re processed through the kiosk it would confirm your identity by using your iris, which is quite a unique identifier,” says Ms. DeCoste-Whitlock.

So, how long does a crossing with a NEXUS pass typically take? CBSA could offer no definitive stats, but assures that as long as there are no lineups, processing at an air kiosk takes a matter of minutes, and only a few seconds at a land border. However, the NEXUS land crossing operating hours vary from port to port.

“We do not offer 24/7 as yet, but some of the larger ports are open significant hours. For example, in Southern Ontario if you were going to see a Buffalo Sabres game and coming back through the port of Fort Erie, we usually keep the NEXUS lane open longer to accommodate those individuals. So that’s one of the special things we can do with the lane,” says Ms. DeCoste-Whitlock.

To benefit from using a dedicated NEXUS lane, all occupants of the vehicle – not just the driver – must be card-carrying members. This includes children under 18, who are eligible to be enrolled free of charge.

If you decide to take the plunge and apply for a pass, it is best to go straight to the source (cbsa-asfc.gc.ca). Despite promises of expedited service, third-party providers have no special pull or privileges. All applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

There is no cap on the number of crossings with a NEXUS pass. Because the program is bilateral, you get the benefit of travelling to either Canada or the United States. It really comes down to where you’re crossing, if the NEXUS lane hours suit your needs, and whether you believe the frequency of travel justifies the fee.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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