From Washington to Minnesota, the US-Canada border is pretty much a straight line along the 49th parallel. The Oregon Treaty (also called the Treaty of Washington) was signed between the US and the UK on June 15, 1846, permanently establishing the border at this spot.
A curious quirk of geography was created by a bit of land sticking into the water that crossed the 49th parallel.
Stretching for about 2 miles south of the border, and 3 miles wide, Point Roberts has a population of around 1,300. There is a small airpark, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays San Juan Airlines flies Cessnas from Bellingham, but generally people enter “The Point” from other parts of Washington by making the 24 mile drive from the border at Blaine, through British Columbia, to the border at Point Roberts. There are no ferry services. It’s sometimes referred to as America’s most secure gated community, and it’s rumored that there are some members of the federal witness protection program relocated here!
Roosevelt Way, on the American side, runs parallel to the border, only a few feet south. At the westernmost point of Roosevelt Way lies “Monument Park.”
A large obelisk was erected in 1865 to mark and commemorate the treaty establishing the border. The border is mostly undefended.
On the eastern coast, beaches stretch out on both the Canadian and American sides. The beach on the American side is called “Maple Beach Park.”
As an American, I found Point Roberts an interesting place to visit, as it’s one of America’s few exclaves. Most of Point Robert’s international visitors, are, rather unsurprisingly, Canadians! There seem to be 2 big draws to Point Roberts for visitors from Canada.
The first is cheap gas!
Although Point Roberts is most definitely in the United States, many businesses cater to Canadians. Gas stations fall in that category – prices at all stations (they have a Shell, Chevron, Valero, Mobil, USA, and Can-Am) are displayed in liters rather than gallons, and many stations display prices in both US and Canadian dollars. On the day this photo was taken, prices in Vancouver for a liter of unleaded cost C$1.48 – if you’re thinking in gallons, that’s about C$1.10 cheaper per gallon.
The second is sending and receiving packages.
The small post office, with two counters and friendly postal clerks, seems to be busy all the time. I stopped to send something to my home to pay domestic mail prices (rather than international prices sending it from Canada), and the 4 people in front of me in line were all Canadians sending packages to the US. One was sending a package to her granddaughter in Texas, and the other 3 were eBay sellers, each sending 50-100 (thankfully prepaid) packages to their American customers.
In addition to the post office, there are a few package delivery points in the town. Canadians can order items from online sellers in the US (who frequently don’t ship to other countries, or charge outrageous prices for international shipping), and have it delivered to an American address for a small fee. (One of the services, In Out Parcel, charges $3.75 to receive a 20 lb package – and it can be picked up in their lockers 24/7.). If I lived anywhere near the border on the Canadian side, I’m sure I would take advantage of this service quite often!
After a couple of hours in the town, snapping pictures and enjoying the scenery, I returned to Vancouver. Downtown Vancouver is only 23 miles to the north. Clearing Canadian customs & imigration on the return took a 5 minute wait in line and a 30 second conversation at the window. I’ve heard that in the morning waits can be longer, but apart from rush hour it seems rather quick.
- You do need a passport, passport card, Nexus card, or “Enhanced Driver License” in order to cross the border in either direction. This is an international border, after all. Children under 16 only need a certified birth certificate. For more information, see the U.S. Customs and Border Protection or the Canadian Border Services Agency websites.
- The border crossing is open 24/7. Current crossing times can be found here for crossing into the US and here for crossing into Canada (Boundary Bay, the Canadian point of entry, is the last on the list).
- There are Nexus lanes both into the US and into Canada.
- Businesses (except the Post Office) generally accept Canadian dollars, but the exchange rate may not be to your advantage. Consider using US dollars (available from ATMs in Point Roberts) or credit cards if you’re coming from Canada.
- If you’re traveling from mainland Washington directly to Point Roberts, the Canadian Border Services may allow you to bring more than a normal duty free allowance through Canada, but this is at the discretion of the officer. (For example, some residents of The Point head over to Bellingham to visit Trader Joe’s and stock up on the “Two Buck Chuck” cheap wine. 2 bottles are allowed to cross the border into Canada duty free, but they may make exceptions for those heading directly to Point Roberts without stopping.)
- Few guns are allowed into Canada, and those allowed must be declared at border crossings.
- Cell phones in Point Roberts generally pick up signals from Canada, so if your plan doesn’t allow free roaming into Canada you may wish to switch your phone off or to airplane mode.
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