If I wanted to travel from Idaho to Canada and play music for a month, I could do so free of charge. If you live in Canada and want to cross the border to play in the United States, it’s much more complicated. Why is this? Well, the United States can be pretty hostile to foreign travelers, as most of us are aware. Additionally, navigating a new culture and place in a foreign country can be hard. In addition to your normal road trip preparations, there are a bunch of legal complications you need to account for. I want to talk about some of them here and hopefully your band won’t struggle as much while you try to play music and enjoy these troubled states.
Huffington Post Canada released an article about a year ago titled “The U.S. Border is Killing Canadian Bands,” and in it they revealed to the public that bands pay $2000-$5000 in border fees and union dues, or else they may be banned from the U.S. for up to half a decade. Obviously, this doesn’t just affect bands from Canada, but Mexico as well.
If you’re looking to tour the United States from out of the country, you will need an O-1 Visa, which is specifically for artists and entertainers. I recommend going through the checklist on Sky USA Law’s website for the O-1, and making sure you meet all necessary requirements. In short, be ready to explain who you are as an artist, what you’ve done, and what you’ll be doing. Their firm can also help you obtain the visa.
Cell Phone Usage
In 2017 we are all very accustomed to smartphone usage. While we might complain about the cost of data, using your phone out of the country is going to cost even more. So first things first, if you will be using your smartphone internationally, know how to reduce those costs. Adjust your phone’s settings and consider buying a sim card in your place of travel (it may be cheaper than your provider’s international plan). Monitoring your data usage for apps as well as your data roaming in general is a good idea.
Another option is getting a cheap band phone to use internationally that you all split the bill on. This is how a lot of bands used to operate before the days that everybody had a cell phone, but in this age it’s still a good tactic for saving money on cell phone charges.
If you’re really cheap, you can just reserve your phone for only places that have WiFi. But in this age that may be hard since so much of modern DIY touring revolves around contact with promoters via e-mail and social media. If you go this route, then I hope you brought a lot of books to read!
Get a GPS
Most of us use our smartphones when touring as means to a map. Now, any time you travel long distances you should take a physical map in case your digital devices decide to fail you. But let’s be realistic — maps are a pain to use in this day and age, and if you don’t have a smartphone or are working on an international plan, I’m not sure that using a physical map in another country is the most viable option. The convenience of digital maps will not escape us, so maybe it’s smart to get a GPS, or Global Positioning System for you nerds.
According to The Wirecutter, the budget-pick GPS in the United States is the TomTom Go 50 S, which is supposedly less than $100 on Amazon. However, for a little more they recommend the Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S, which “hits the sweet spot” between affordability and usability. So if you’re willing to spend a little more, it might be a better option.
Before you leave and you can still use the internet without being charged egregious amounts, look up the customs information for the United States and while you’re here make sure you have your passport with you wherever you go.
Travelling across borders with your own instruments is a pain but it can be done. There have been horror stories of course, as with travelling anywhere. Customs destroying instruments, expecting drugs and breaking equipment to see if you’re hiding them there — the kind of incidents you see on television shows.
It appears that to get across borders you need to have an inventory list of all of your instruments. Clearly mark them so it’s easy for the border control officials to count. In doing so, you’ll make the process of getting across much smoother.
Merchandise is a bit of a different story. If you’re making money in the United States, our government wants to know about it. They classify merchandise as either “Goods Valued at Less Than $2,500” and “Goods Valued at More than $2,500.” There is, of course, some information you’ll need to give the border patrol about your items, regardless of their worth, as well as some forms you will want to fill out to smooth the process. You will also need to ponder whether or not you should ship your merchandise across the border before going or take it with you — there are advantages to both. For more details on all of these things, visit internationalmusician.org’s resource on the subject.
So musicians from across our borders: what struggles have you had in touring the United States? I want to hear about them. Let me know on Twitter via @robolitious.