I always went to tell the US Embassy in Canada "shush" after they tweet about the Nexus program. It is fairly easy to apply to get a card that serves as the equivalent of a passport for traveling in between the US and Canada. The GOES card is more expensive and covers travel between the US and the rest of the world. The semi-hidden secret is that if you get a NEXUS card, you can use the GOES machines as well.
Why did I get the card? It speeds up travel on land and by air (not sure about by sea). There is often (not always) a separate lane at the border. The hard part is usually trying to maneuver around the cars stuck in the long regular lines to get to the short and snappy NEXUS line. For flying, it means bypassing a heap of lines and also helps get me TSA pre-screened--the faster lines with less stripping (keep the coat on, the laptop in the bag, etc).
This weekend, I did something I had never done before--rely solely on the NEXUS card. Why? Because when I went to get my passport, I mistakenly took my wife's instead. No problem, right? Because the NEXUS card is good enough? Legally? Yes. Procedurally? Almost.
As I traveled into the US, I had to go through airport security and Customs in Canada. The Canadian border folks didn't know if the card was good enough, so they had to ask the US Borders people. Who said: yep. So, that slowed things down a bit on a day where I already was randomly selected for a more intense search (the TSA pre-screen does not apply up here--although the NEXUS card does get one into the shorter line).
At the US Customs post in Ottawa, the official wanted my passport, and I explained. He said it was ok, but that the passport would have been handy to see if I had been, for instance, in West Africa lately. The GOES machine had questions about West Africa and Ebola, so that was new. Anyhow, he said he could check my travels electronically and did so. So, phew, right? Almost.
On the way back, the United gate attendant who seemed to be pre-agitated was puzzled by my NEXUS card and by another guy's. She had to get a superior to ask about it, and when the superior said, yep, it's ok, the gate attendant asked again about two more times. Apparently, yes was not the answer she wanted to get.
But it meant I could take the plane back to Ottawa and find myself at a new NEXUS machine. It worked fine, and then I just had to wait for my bag.... which apparently wanted to spend the night at Newark. I got it finally today.
Anyhow, the lesson, as always, is that the stereotype about absent-minded professors is dead on. That, and bureaucracies learn slowly. NEXUS cards have been around for several years (more than five)....