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Hello guys, I have a few questions. Bear with me while I first give a brief explanation of my situation:

For a while now it has been my dream to live full time in a van and travel the USA, wild camping and spending as much time out in nature as I can, enjoying the amazing scenery of national and state parks. However, I have recently come upon a major roadblock in my plans.

I am a UK citizen but I grew up in the USA and lived there for 15 years and became a permanent resident during that time. A few years ago I decided to study at university in the UK but planned to return back after I graduated. I have since graduated and began working. I've been planning and saving money for this lifestyle for 3+ years now with the full expectation that I would be able to return and stay in the USA permanently. Unfortunately, I have since lost my permanent residency status (aka Green Card) because of a rule that I was unaware of at the time which dictates that I must return to the USA a least once within every 365 days otherwise the Green Card is revoked. I can reapply for a new Green Card, but this process will take at least 8 years, possibly more. I really don’t want to wait 8+ years to live my dreams, especially now that I am so close to reaching my savings goal. I initially assumed the process would only take a couple years max given my history, but I only recently found out it will take much longer and be a difficult process. This has been a crushing blow to my plans and is a real shame because I can’t permanently return any time soon to the country I grew up in.

I have been wanting to live the full-time van lifestyle specifically in the USA, primarily because of the large amount of public land where boondocking is legal and feasible, and because of the beautiful and varied landscapes and climates America has to offer. Now as this isn’t going to be a realistic option for me any time soon, I am considering alternative options.

One option is I can intermittently travel between USA-Canada-Mexico & other Central American countries, staying for a couple of months in each. I can stay as a tourist in both Mexico and Canada for a maximum of 180 days and the USA for 90 days max.

I know this forum is primarily USA-centered, but I imagine a lot of you will have ventured into Canada and Mexico on your travels and may be able to give me some advice.


Now on to my questions:

  • Is there an equivalent to public BLM or National Forest land in Mexico and Canada, where free and legal boondocking is permitted for a given period of time like there is in the USA? This would be crucial for my lifestyle to work out.
  • From what I've heard, much of northern Mexico is Cartel territory. Is this just fear-mongering or is this true and is advisable to avoid many areas? How dangerous is it actually to be out there alone in a van? No doubt the tourist towns and resorts are completely safe, but if I venture out into the wilds is it a different story?
  • Now a question for anyone who isn’t a US citizen or resident but still lives the van life in North America: US Customs & Border Protection are notorious for being strict. When crossing the border, I have read that I will need to prove I have intention of returning to and have ties to my home country (UK). Examples would be proof of a mortgage, utility bills, full-time job, etc. But of course living a full-time van lifestyle, I won’t have any of these things. Also the fact that my home is on wheels may make the Border Protection officer even more suspicious of my intentions. I fear I wont be able to sufficiently prove that I don’t intend to illegally overstay and may be denied entry, and if the officer is in a bad mood I could potentially even be permanently barred from entering the USA. This applies to both USA and Canada, but I imagine Mexico and other Central American countries would be far more lax. Has anyone been in a similar situation, and are there any tips to proving I won’t overstay?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading.


TLDR; is boondocking feasible in Mexico and Canada like it is in the USA? Also, has anyone been in a similar situation to me with frequent border crossing and proving ties to home country?
I can't answer boondocking in Canada questions (somebody else no doubt will know), but I can tell you that Mexico does have hot spots where van camping is definitely not safe. As far as border crossings go, the situation right now is this: if you have a valid tourist visa and you do not overstay, you're fine. However, expect to be grilled and perhaps even taken apart minutely. A French citizen who accidentally wandered over the border while jogging in BC was jailed for 2 weeks because she didn't have ID on her https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-c...-1.4717060

If you plan to be traveling around North America and you're not a citizen, you definitely do need to establish your UK residency criteria so that you can prove you're not trying to "sneak back in," which is a huge focus of the Border Protection agencies just now. It's a particularly difficult time for crossing borders on this continent, unfortunately.

I hate to sound pessimistic, but as I spend 5 months every year living about 5 miles from Mexico, I get grilled all the time myself. I never go out without my US passport and driver's license. I hope you get it worked out!


The Dire Wolfess
I can't speak to any of your questions about Mexico - haven't been there!  Well except for day trips across to Los Algondones for lunch.... Big Grin

As a Canadian I can provide some help in regards to border crossings and boondocking in Canada.

Border Crossings - yes, you will have to be able to provide US Customs with sufficient and adequate proof that you intend to return to Great Britain (in my case Canada).  Remember that worldwide, one must have a 'place of residency' for income tax purposes, insurance on your vehicle, banking, etc. There is no provision anywhere for 'I'm alive and well but have no fixed address'! Well except for the homeless but that's another story altogether of how they cope.

Keeping your banking in GB, proof of sufficient income or assets for the period you intend to be in any of the foreign countries and an air ticket home will usually suffice. A current rental agreement for a storage locker where you've placed all your valuables while you travel would likely be of some assistance. If you've family in GB, then your drivers' license and insurance/banking etc can all be addressed to the one place.

Because of your age be prepared to undergo more scrutiny than say I would as a retiree. The main intent of the inspecction is to make sure that you're not planning on overstaying your visitor visa allowance and essentially going AWOL and/or taking a job illegally in the US. Have a specific travel plan. Also be aware that you will have to return to GB to renew your visitors visa for the US, I understand it is extremely difficult to do from anywhere but your country of residency.

You're going to have to sort out where to buy and title/insure a vehicle. Will warn you that you want to get drivers' abstract and insurance history ahead of time or face a lot of delays getting insurance. Unless of course you're preparing to have your own GB vehicle shipped over for you.

I'm not sure if GB banks have the same set up but all of the major Cdn banks have US affiliates that used my Cdn credit rating to provide me with a US bank account and charge card. You will need the same kind of set up because opening a bank account as a tourist is nigh onto impossible these days.

Boondocking - in Canada any land that wasn't privately acquired is known as Crown Land. Very similiar to BLM and NF lands in the US with the exception that the Cdn Government downloaded responsibility for all the crown land to the provinces and territories.

I can't speak to all of the provinces but here goes for the ones' I'm familiar with!

In Ontario there is NO crown land in southern Ontario. It is only when you get to at least the area around Algonquin Park that there is any crown land at all. Camping is permitted for 14 days, no permit required, no permanent structures allowed. The hitch to this is that most of the crown land has been leased to forestry companies somewhere along the way. The logging companies are required to 'de-commission' the roads they build in to the forest so that they can cancel their liability insurance. OTOH the MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources- old name for provincial dept responsible for the land) built boat launch ramps in to a substantial number of lakes in northern Ontario. Some, particularly those close to urban areas have been downloaded to municipalities who promptly stopped allowing boondocking. There are still a great number available but they are in out of the way places and more difficult to locate unless you're a local. I can tell you when you're ready for it of a number of them in the Parry Sound district. Most all will be far enough out that you will not get cell service at all.

However, other than in the major metropolitan areas like around Toronto, you will be able to find truck stops and Wal-Marts/casinos/welcome centers etc where you can boondock while you travel.

I travelled slowly all the way from North Bay to the Manitoba border last year and had no problem finding free places to stay for the night. Some of them were down-right beautiful, particularly across the top of Lake Superior.

British Columbia - has a system of recreational sites, separate from provincial parks, that are either really inexpensive or free. No or limited facilities but much nicer campsites IMO than the provincial parks where you can see and hear your neighbours. BC Hydro also runs several free campgrounds in and around their power generating dams. You will have no problem finding free camping anywhere in BC except for limited boondocking in the greater Vancouver area. Even then I have managed to find 3 or 4 great locations which I rotate when I'm in the area.

After writing all this out and looking at all the problems you will be facing, you might want to think of an alternative.

As a British subject you might be well advised to check out the possibility of becoming a landed Canadian resident. Then you could work legally here and travel for up to 6 months in the US with much less hassle.
Since the general travel / visa question is not really a vandwelling one specifically

you will get much more detailed and many more answers on that topic

from also posting to forums / discussion sites

dedicated to British expats

and or travel to Canada / Mexico (separately)
I don't think there's any better place than here to get info on boondocking anywhere on the continent. Those of us on the road full-time do a whole lot of it generally!

And there are those of us (no matter our citizenship) who have the cross border experience that the OP is interested in.
(10-01-2018, 05:47 PM)Almost There Wrote: [ -> ]I don't think there's any better place than here to get info on boondocking anywhere on the continent.
Of course. I was specifically talking about the legal issues for a Brit wanting to long-term travel in all three countries.

Which would be the same if he were staying in five-star hotels or living on a yacht.
As another Canadian (from Ontario) I'll concur with what most of Almost There has kindly detailed. The one thing left out is that non-residents are subject to a fee for crown land camping. Since we still retain ties to the monarchy (though not sure why) this might not apply to British nationals, but may be worth looking into.

Crown Land camping permit, Ontario:
https://www.ontario.ca/page/camping-crow...#section-1

That said, you're unlikely to be asked by anyone for your permit. Most Crown land in northern Ontario is truly isolated without significant population nearby. Depending on the season, you may be stuck inside your vehicle due to the vast numbers of mosquitoes and black flies. No, I'm not exaggerating. I recall an experience trying to cook supper where the person I was with at the time was fanning me with an umbrella to keep the critters from landing on me while I tended to cooking the food. It was an early night into the tent.
Thanks everyone for all the replies!




Quote:“I can tell you that Mexico does have hot spots where van camping is definitely not safe.”

I’ve heard Baja California beaches are a fairly popular spot for US vehicle dwellers to go; anyone know if that peninsula is generally safe?



Quote:“If you plan to be traveling around North America and you're not a citizen, you definitely do need to establish your UK residency criteria so that you can prove you're not trying to "sneak back in," which is a huge focus of the Border Protection agencies just now. It's a particularly difficult time for crossing borders on this continent, unfortunately.”
Quote:“Keeping your banking in GB, proof of sufficient income or assets for the period you intend to be in any of the foreign countries and an air ticket home will usually suffice. A current rental agreement for a storage locker where you've placed all your valuables while you travel would likely be of some assistance. If you've family in GB, then your drivers' license and insurance/banking etc can all be addressed to the one place.”

I do have family here in the UK which I could use as a residential address, although I’m not an owner of the house. I will also retain a UK bank account. As I hope to do this for at least a few years, I probably won’t have a return air ticket back home or a detailed travel itinerary, hence the problem. I suppose I will need to think of some other detailed way of proving ties back to home.





Quote:“As a British subject you might be well advised to check out the possibility of becoming a landed Canadian resident. Then you could work legally here and travel for up to 6 months in the US with much less hassle.”

That is a really interesting idea that I hadn’t considered. From my initial research, it looks like applying for a Canadian residency would take a far more reasonable 6-18 months, versus the 8+ years for a USA residency. However, unless I was to eventually become a Canadian citizen, I would still only be eligible for 90 max days stay within the USA, not 180. I'm not so sure I’m hardy enough to survive the Canadian winters Big Grin , but it’s definitely something to think about.



Quote:“Remember that worldwide, one must have a 'place of residency' for income tax purposes, insurance on your vehicle, banking, etc. There is no provision anywhere for 'I'm alive and well but have no fixed address'!"

Can I ask, for you as a Canadian citizen do you use a mail forwarding address as your “home” address, and would this satisfy the US border offers (would they even be able to tell that it is not a residential address?)?



Quote:“Also be aware that you will have to return to GB to renew your visitors visa for the US, I understand it is extremely difficult to do from anywhere but your country of residency.”

The UK is one of the Visa-Waiver countries, so if I understand correctly, I don’t need to apply for a visa or renew it as long as I stay less than 90 days within the US (or 180 in Canada).



Quote:“You're going to have to sort out where to buy and title/insure a vehicle. Will warn you that you want to get drivers' abstract and insurance history ahead of time or face a lot of delays getting insurance.”

Yes, buying, registering and insuring a vehicle as a tourist will be a big problem that I’m not quite sure how to solve yet, but I assume it must be possible. This would be another reason why getting Canadian residency may be a good option. I definitely wouldn’t be shipping a vehicle over from Europe.




Quote:“The one thing left out is that non-residents are subject to a fee for crown land camping. “

Hmm, as a non-resident, $9.35 per person per night would add up pretty quickly. Is Crown Land the only type of public land on which camping is permitted, or are there other classifications which may be free of charge for everyone?



Quote:“Depending on the season, you may be stuck inside your vehicle due to the vast numbers of mosquitoes and black flies. No, I'm not exaggerating. I recall an experience trying to cook supper where the person I was with at the time was fanning me with an umbrella to keep the critters from landing on me while I tended to cooking the food. It was an early night into the tent.”

I’ve spent time in the Scottish Highlands, and up there they have what we call midges, which sound quite similar. These tiny relentless beasts come in vast swarms and won’t rest until they ruin your week.
The mere thought of them alone is almost enough to make me reconsider Big Grin . During the summer are these flies prevalent pretty much everywhere in Canada or just near bodies of water?
If you think $10 a day is expensive for a place to overnight, I think you need to work and save hard for quite a while before embarking on this adventure.

Just basic Health Insurance with a high Deductible will likely cost you at least that much.

Besides a daily expenses budget, have an untouchable Emergency Reserve fund of IMO at least ten grand USD. Unless you've well-off family that'll bail you out of a major crisis get you home.

WRT a vehicle / mileage fund, here's my budgeting technique http://www.cheaprvliving.com/forums/show...#pid353330
(10-05-2018, 11:16 AM)Bonobo Wrote: [ -> ]I'm not so sure I’m hardy enough to survive the Canadian winters Big Grin , but it’s definitely something to think about.


Can I ask, for you as a Canadian citizen do you use a mail forwarding address as your “home” address, and would this satisfy the US border offers (would they even be able to tell that it is not a residential address?)?

The UK is one of the Visa-Waiver countries, so if I understand correctly, I don’t need to apply for a visa or renew it as long as I stay less than 90 days within the US (or 180 in Canada).

Yes, buying, registering and insuring a vehicle as a tourist will be a big problem that I’m not quite sure how to solve yet, but I assume it must be possible. This would be another reason why getting Canadian residency may be a good option. I definitely wouldn’t be shipping a vehicle over from Europe.

Hmm, as a non-resident, $9.35 per person per night would add up pretty quickly. Is Crown Land the only type of public land on which camping is permitted, or are there other classifications which may be free of charge for everyone?

The mere thought of them alone is almost enough to make me reconsider Big Grin . During the summer are these flies prevalent pretty much everywhere in Canada or just near bodies of water?

Deleted all the extra from your post above, here's the answers to what I left.

Not everywhere in Canada has hard winters. The lower mainland area and Vancouver Island have very  mild winters. Lots of RVrs full time and overwinter in those areas. They do mostly stay in RV parks mainly because in the larger metro areas boondocking becomes more difficult. Just one of the many reasons I moved to BC from Ontario.

No, I don't use a mail forwarding address, they're almost unheard of here in Canada. I use a sons' address for all the legal stuff. 90% of my mail comes to me online and I only occasionally have to ask him to scan and email me anything. Once you've established yourself here in Canada, finding someone to handle the mail and legal residency address is just a smallish problem. IIWM, I'd worry about that later. Heck you might even have to ask one of us to use our address... Big Grin 

Unless I'm sadly mistaken, once you've got Canadian landed immigrant status you'd be entitled to the free camping on crown land and the 90 day visitor to the US limitation would disappear because you would then be a Cdn resident even if you're travelling on a British passport. Don't know, worth checking out!

BC has the rec sites that I mentioned that doesn't discriminate between residents and non-residents when it comes to free. The only time I have to pay for one of their sites is in a few of the campgrounds that are closer to urban areas and even then as a senior I'm paying half the normal fee. Ontario doesn't have anything like that and I'm not sure what each of the other provinces have.

Different parts of Canada have different types of biting bugs. Northern Ontario has a brief black fly season followed by a mosquito season. I use Sawyers Permethrin treated clothing and Sawyers Pericardin spray for both. Parts of BC have a no-seeum season that can last from a few days to 6 weeks. I worked this summer in one of the 6 week areas and learned that covered skin is almost a remedy...sigh Rolleyes If you're travelling and the bugs are bad, you can choose to go somewhere else...that's why we have wheels. Big Grin

UK health care might have some limitations on what it will pay when you're over here so that should be checked out. I carry out of country coverage that pays what the province won't when I'm stateside. Last year it cost me about a $1.00 a day. No idea what coverage would cost from the UK.  Our US friends forget that both UK and Canada have universal health care!
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