By: Penny Chau
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If you searched “” on internet, instead of the official “CBSA” site, you might end up in the Canadian Billiard& Snooker Association website. If one day you receive a phone call by an officer on behalf of CBSA, please don’t assume they’re calling for the Canadian Billiard & Snooker Association.

CBSA is actually a government agency by the name of Canada Border Services Agency or in français, Agence des  services frontaliers du Canada. We are the so-called “Customs and Immigration people” or any other derogatory term to your preference. At the border, we are those people who ask you questions such as “where did you go” and “why did you go there”. We’re those “grumpy” people who sit in booths and ask you all kinds of questions about your trip or purpose to Canada. We are also those people that may open your bags for further exams. We also issue work and study permits to foreign nationals that seek entry to Canada. Our mandate is to protect the country from national security threats, “bad” criminals and health issues. However, we are NOT the people that makes you put your bags into the x-ray machine before you board a plane. We are NOT those people who hold a metal detector that scans your body before you enter to the gates. Those are airport security.

Working at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is not all fun and games like playing a game of billiard or snooker. It requires lots of effort and discipline to ensure proper policy is held. Therefore, to sum up my whole work experience at this agency, I’ve included this survival guide to CBSA.

1. Attendance

The last thing you want any employers to remember you by is skipping work or coming to work late. More importantly, as an enforcement department, punctuality is almost a mandatory. Instead of arriving to work and stroll in right on the dot, officers are expected to be at their designated location by the start of the hour. In order to make that requirement, officers pick up their schedule at least 5 minutes prior to the start of the hour and settle into their designated position before the start of work. Therefore, don’t forget to set your alarm. Actually, two alarms would be sufficient.

At the current work schedule, each team works on a five days work and four days off schedule. Each shift is 10 hours long.

To ensure timely arrival at the Vancouver International Airport, one must arrive at the parking lot at least twenty-five minutes prior to start of work. This will give you enough time to take the skytrain from Templeton Station to the Vancouver International Airport station. Depending on the day of the week, sky trains may come at different intervals. In general, skytrain runs as early as 5 and as late as 12:57 at midnight. What about times which fall out of the skytrain schedule? No worry! Employee shuttle bus to the rescue. Shuttle bus runs at times in which skytrain are unavailable to guarantee all airport staff can get to the employee parking lot. These buses can come as frequent as 5 minutes in the morning! Unfortunately, when you want to get off work most at 2 am, the bus comes in less frequent interval.

Another thing that needs to be taken into account is lunch time or “meal time”. The daily schedule shows when officers are scheduled for “lunch”. Each meal time is thirty minutes in length. The importance is to go at the schedule time and be back on time to ensure the next person gets to go on lunch as well. Thus, learn to eat simple or eat quickly. Travel time to the lunch room is included into the 30 minutes.

2. Teamwork

No one wants to work with a selfish person. At the Vancouver International Airport, there are nine teams that work around a different schedule. Every day, there are five teams at work while four teams are on rest. The team you work on is the TEAM. You will see your fellow teammates 10 hours a day. It may even account more hours if the team does outing.

First piece of advice, do as you are told and don’t complain. Last thing you want is the reputation as the “student” with attitude issues and who does not work. Like any workplace, CBSA works on a hierarchy. I just want to emphasize how the hierarchy works. Students do as you’re told because 1 - you’re really at the bottom end of the hierarchy and 2 - you learn more  by doing more. Thus, keep your mouth shut and just work!

Smile. Be ready to be a source of entertainment. Like any workplace, there are times where everyone can relax and enjoy a coffee. Don’t be too serious when you’re on break. That makes you a party-pooper. With a job that is as high stress as a border officer; one needs to learn how to share a laugh (even if it’s not the funniest joke!)

Take initiative to plan outings. This can include something as simple as dinner after work. Taking initiative to plan outings show that you’re into the team and want to be around the team. I know, you may ask “is 10 hours not enough already?” No. It’s really not enough. Some people can be very different outside of work. You never know if you don’t take that initiative.

Do it for the team. This may mean you’re doing the most random things or as simple as packing bags. Some people really know how to pack their bags. It’s near impossible to repack it!

3. Wear your colors proudly.

If you have never seen a border officer at the Vancouver International Airport, allow me to describe how one looks like. Everyone has the normal navy blue uniform. It has the flash on each side of the arm. On top of the collar-shirt, each officer has their own custom-fitted protective vest. As well, officers have a duty belt that consists of tools such as a baton, “pepper spray” and notebooks. Imagine you’re wearing a protective vest on a hot summer day. It is hot and you will have a burning sensation. Therefore, keep your uniforms clean or else you will smell. As well, come up with funny explanations to travelers why you wear a vest. They love to ask that question!

In early July, the Queen revealed a new badge for the CBSA. We still wear the original patch on the uniform. I wonder when we will get a new uniform patch strutting on the new badge!

4. Know what you’re talking about.

Be studious and know your facts. The agency follows many mandates and regulations such as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Customs Act. It’s not a one day deal where you can learn everything. It takes effort and time. Take time outside of work to look over notes, and review what you did that day and how you can do it differently. Things will be a lot different if you really know what you’re doing.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, ASK! Don’t assume what you’re doing is correct. Mistakes can be costly in this agency. More importantly, you can be ruining someone’s life if you did things incorrectly. Be considerate and take your time to ask.

Finally, if you ever land this job, congratulations! It’s a great experience. Just make sure you follow this survival guide. Show up to work, be a team player, keep your uniform tidy, and know your stuff.

Posted on August 20, 2010