A border agent has asked you some preliminary questions, asked for you phone, and now wants to take you aside for further questioning. What do you do?!
Well, this happens more than you might think, so remain as calm as you can, and be as cooperative as reasonably possible. It’s a scary experience, but the better you understand how to interact with the agent(s), the better equipped you’ll be to handle this situation successfully.
This is not the time for humour
No matter how nervous you feel, the border is not a fun place. Some people try to use humour as a defence mechanism, but that’s not the best approach here. You can be pleasant and polite, but should only speak when they’ve asked you a question.
Mind your own business
You might be tempted to distract yourself by taking a look around to see what else is going on between agents and other travellers. However, your concern is you at this moment.
You might think that telling a lie (especially a little white lie about that 1 text message in your phone) will save you time, money, headache, or hassles. But honesty is the best policy. Every time. No matter what the question or the consequence, be honest with your agent. They can be intimidating, but they are still human and will appreciate honesty. If they have to find out what you’re hiding from them, the consequences will be more severe.
Never get physical or aggressive
Border agents have Use of Force training, and the authority to use it. Do not try to intimidate them.
Answer everything they ask; don’t volunteer information they aren’t asking for
Often a person will think they are being social or helping out by saying more, but it usually adds confusion and can get you into more trouble.
If there is something you do not wish to disclose, answer or provide to the agent(s), ask “Am I obligated to answer? Disclose? Provide? Comply?” If they say yes, then do it and let them know politely that you are complying as required.
The agent is being very unreasonable
If there is a problem with the agent(s), do your best to keep track of the date, time, name(s) or badge numbers of these people, and understand that your concerns can be addressed at a later time and place.
My device was taken away
If your device is confiscated, politely ask for a receipt for the item. If the interaction ends after that, take the receipt and leave.
If things progress to a level of detention or arrest, you may ask to contact a lawyer, but otherwise, it will be best for everyone if you move on. Failing to do so can result in detention, charges being laid, arrest, being denied entry to the country, imprisonment, and possibly being flagged to prevent any future travel to the country.
If the device is returned to you right away, never assume that everything is over and done. While there are no reported occurrences of this happening in Canada or the USA, there have been other locations in which the agent has intentionally or unintentionally infected the device with a virus or malware for the purposes of tracking the device, monitoring communications or for spreading to other devices for these purposes. Therefore, it is always recommended that you have your device forensically inspected by a trusted third party if it has been in the hands of a stranger.
Alternatively, provided you have made a backup copy before you left home, you could “wipe” or erase your devices’ hard drive, reload everything on to it and clear any cache as well as the MBR (Master Boot Record) of the device. Afterward, reload the backup copy you made.