Canadian and Mexican truck drivers are authorized by Department of Homeland Security regulations to enter the U.S. as B-1 business visitors to transport goods into the United States from Canada or Mexico. Furthermore, goods loaded in the U.S. may be delivered by B-1 drivers from the U.S. to Mexico or Canada. These seemingly simple rules are nuanced in many ways.

Movement of Goods in International Commerce

To understand whether the intended activities of a Canadian or Mexican truck driver in the U.S. are permissible, it is best to focus on the movement of the goods being transported. At the most basic level, the goods being transported must be entering or leaving the U.S. However, a driver may transport goods into the U.S. from Canada or Mexico and deliver them to several different locations within the U.S. Similarly, goods may be picked up at any number of locations within the U.S. to be transported to Mexico or Canada. However, goods loaded in the U.S. may not be delivered to a final destination in the U.S.

The origin of the goods themselves does not affect whether they can be transported by a Canadian or Mexican driver into the U.S. Regardless of whether the goods are U.S. or foreign made, a Canadian or Mexican driver can transport and deliver them to a U.S. destination.

Cabotage is Not Permitted

Purely domestic deliveries, known as cabotage, are not permitted by Mexican or Canadian truck drivers present in the U.S. This means that picking up goods in the U.S. to be delivered to a separate location in the U.S. may not be performed by B-1 drivers. Such services are not considered to be a necessary incident of international commerce that would support the driver’s use of the B-1 business visitor visa category under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. 

However, in addition to delivery of goods across the international border, Canadian and Mexican truck drivers can perform certain other activities in the U.S. associated with international commerce. In limited circumstances, a driver may pull an empty trailer from one location in the U.S. to another (i.e., deadhead the trailer). The deadhead trailer must be either the one that entered with the driver or the one with which he is leaving.  

Certain activities in the U.S. that are not directly associated with international commerce may be performed by a Mexican or Canadian driver in the U.S. These are, however, very limited exceptions. For example, movement of a trailer from one location to another within the U.S. is not permitted for Canadian or Mexican drivers present in the U.S. in B-1 visitor status. A driver may shunt a trailer, that is move it within a yard, in two situations. First, a driver may relocate the trailer that accompanied him to the U.S. Second, a driver may shunt a trailer to move it out of the way if required to make a delivery of goods that traveled in international commerce from Canada or Mexico. Finally, if necessary to complete a delivery, a driver may load or unload goods that have traveled or will travel in international commerce.

Bobtail Tractors

Drivers may enter the U.S. with an empty tractor, known as a bobtail, to pick up a loaded trailer for delivery in Canada or Mexico. Furthermore, a driver can deliver a loaded trailer to one location in the U.S. then drive the bobtail tractor to a different U.S. location to pick up a loaded trailer for delivery in Mexico or Canada.

Entering with an empty tractor also is permitted to pick up a loaded trailer previously left at a Customs warehouse for inspection. The driver can then deliver the trailer to one or more final U.S. locations. A driver may also enter the U.S. with a bobtail tractor to replace a disabled tractor.

A company can bring Canadian or Mexican relay or back-up drivers to the U.S. as B-1 visitors when necessary to comply with U.S. regulations governing consecutive hours of drive time.  A relay driver can drive a segment that is entirely within a domestic route provided that it is incident to an international delivery. While it is not necessary for a relay driver to enter with the tractor, entry must take place within a reasonable amount of time before or after the vehicle’s arrival.

A driver delivering goods from Canada or Mexico to a location in the U.S. may switch trailers with another driver also transporting goods from one of those countries to a point in the U.S. Relocating a trailer from one U.S. point to another, however, is not permitted unless the driver entered with or will leave with the trailer.

Documentation Requirements

Citizens of Canada and Mexico have different documentation requirements for entry to the U.S. as a commercial truck driver. Citizens of both countries, however, are required to demonstrate that they qualify as business visitors with a permanent residence outside the U.S. and are intending to enter the U.S. for only a temporary period. One notable exception to the usual rules for B-1 nonimmigrants is that truck drivers may be hired and paid by a U.S. company to perform cross border deliveries while still qualifying for business visitor classification. Normally, a foreign business visitor is precluded from receiving remuneration from a U.S. source.

A citizen of Canada is required to present proof of Canadian citizenship such as a passport and documentation demonstrating the intended entry is for the purpose of the transportation and distribution of goods moving in international commerce.  In contrast, a citizen of Mexico, in addition to the documents required of Canadians, also must obtain a B-1 visa, a Border Crossing Card (BCC) or a combination BCC/B-1/B-2 visa. These documents must be obtained at a U.S. consulate prior to applying for admission to the U.S.

This article was prepared by Kenneth Harder,

Last modified: November 16, 2020