One the bands I’m in was supposed to play a show at a bar called the Railway Club in downtown Vancouver, B.C. The city’s only about 150 miles from Seattle, although it sometimes takes an hour to cross the border, making it a three-hour drive. Still, that’s about the same as Portland, Oregon, so it’s not unusual for Seattle bands to play up there.
Unfortunately, three of our members were stopped at the border and denied access because they didn’t have a work permit. The strange thing was, a year ago they played a show at a community center and had no problem getting in. But apparently this time the Border Patrol took issue with the word “club” and sent them to customs, where they were invited to pay $1,000 on the spot for an emergency work permit or turn around. We didn’t expect to make anywhere close to $1,000 so they turned around.
The club booker was no help at all–she explained they never would have applied for a permit for us anyway, since we were using the local band’s gear. She called the decision to tell the truth at the border “boneheaded.”
Lesson: if you’re traveling to Canada to play a show, lie at the border and say you’re jamming with some friends or playing a free gig at a community center. Better yet–arrange to use the other band’s gear and don’t bring your own, then don’t mention anything about it.
If you’re touring and doing a few shows, it’s probably worthwhile to get a work permit. But I’ve also heard horror stories about gear–for example, they can ask for receipts for all your equipment to prove you own it and it’s worth less thn $10,000, and you aren’t bringing it across the border to sell. Any of which might make it subject to customs.