Knowing and following the rules for NAFTA international commercial traffic can make trade flow smoother.

The rules for cross-border commercial traffic under the NAFTA agreement might seem complex at first glance. Despite such an appearance, they can, for the most part, be reduced to a handful of simple principles and regulations. It is imperative that companies that are moving NAFTA international commercial traffic understand existing rules adequately to ensure compliance and continued, incident-free shipping. Failure to do so may result in noncompliance under both the NAFTA treaty, and US law. The following text will group the rules that govern NAFTA international commerical traffic into easily understood families and categories for motor vehicles and operators who engage in cross-border shipping activities.

Intent and Parameters

The entire scope and intent of the regulations pertaining to NAFTA international commercial traffic are contained in one principle: All international travel entering or leaving the US for the purpose of cross-border commerce must be only for the delivery, or pick up, of cargo traveling in what is referred to in the guidelines as “the stream of international commerce.” Consequently, operators and their loads must only be entering or leaving the country.

Drivers are not allowed to pick up and deliver loads within the US. They may not top off the loads they brought into the country. Goods may only be brought from outside and left inside and/or picked up on the inside and delivered outside. Possible allowances within this framework include the following scenarios:

  • Drivers may cross the border to deliver a load to multiple destinations, and also pick up return loads from several locations.
  • Employees of shipping companies may drop off a trailer, and pick up another loaded trailer at the same location.
  • Drivers may even deliver their load, deadhead their trailer to another location within the US, and load that trailer at another US location before exiting the country.
  • Shippers are further permitted to relay along the way, but only for “necessary incidents” of international travel, and not deviate in any way from the a prescribed route or routes.

Necessary Documentation for NAFTA International Commercial Traffic

Commercial operators transporting freight to and from the US must also meet all the usual requirements for a B-1 visa, including:

  • Must be a resident of a country with no intention of abandoning.
  • Must establish that there are no domestic issues preventing the operator from immigrating.
  • Must intend to depart the country after completing the authorized time frame.
  • Must have adequate financial wherewithal to successfully complete the business that brought the operator across the border.

After meeting these prerequisites, drivers must also submit additional documentation to obtain the visa (Mexican citizens may also present a Form DSP-150 Border Crossing Card in lieu of a B-1 visa). Canadian drivers must provide:

  • A Canadian passport
  • AND an enhanced driver’s license or ID card
  • OR an enrollment card from a DHS trusted traveler program such as NEXUS, or SENTRI

Mexican drivers must provide:

  • A Mexican passport
  • AND a non-immigrant visa

DOT Driver Requirements

DOT governs the rules of commercial vehicle operators in the US and mandates the following rules for foreign operators transporting freight within the US regarding driving behavior and restrictions:

  • Drivers may drive 11 hours, following 10 hours off duty.
  • Drivers may not drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty, following 10 hours off duty.
  • Drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
  • Drivers may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.