In the end (at least of the visa process), all that preparation was for the interview at the airport and US customs and border patrol. My experience with this was a bit of a gong show, though. Our lawyer, plus many online sources, stated that we need to arrive 3-4 hours ahead of our boarding time to allow for the interview time, line-ups and regular boarding time.
However, the reality is that you cannot go for your interview until you have your boarding pass, which most airlines don't give you until 1.5 hrs before boarding. And for an international flight, you definitely cannot print one online due to security measures. Additionally, there are limited hours for when the customs office is even open for inquiries and interviews!
So, if we had planned to fly out in the morning, we might have been completely screwed over. It was an extremely stressful time because no one seemed to know what was going on. Eventually, we had a Canadian airport employee get a US customs officer through the line just to ask when we could go for our interview. Short answer: after you go through security with your boarding pass, you explain to the customs officer you have a TN visa interview, then you will be ushered into another room to wait.
If we had to do it again, calling ahead of time to understand the procedure for our specific airport may have saved some grief. Though, while we were actually at the airport, many people didn't seem to understand the procedure for having someone go for a TN visa interview.
When we finally did get to the customs officer for the interview, my experience was fairly relaxed (to my utter relief). My husband and I were the only ones waiting to be interviewed, so once we were seated, the wait was very short.
You don't go to another room; you go to a window much like a DMV. The customs officer looked at my neat package, asked me a few questions—"What will you be doing? Where are you going? Is the compensation enough?" He flipped through the documents, looked up my career category to see if I fit the definition of "graphic designer," casually asked if I had family in the States, stamped a few things and then finally wrote on my passport, approving my entry to the US.
He also instructed me to visit a website to print out the digital version of Form i94 which is the official legal proof of my eligibility to work in the US, and it's used for filling out employment forms like the i9 and applying for an SSN.
This is important to note because, previously, they had to physically attach a white card onto your passport with some signatures. Now, with the new way (which started only as recently as April 30, 2013) the customs officer stamps your passport, writes what type of visa and for which employer and directs you to a website. When it was done, I had to pay the application fee ($50 USD cash) and went on my way.
My experience is not everyone's experience but I believe a few things really helped to make the process go smoothly: first, my application was thorough and I was prepared for any possible question. Next, my husband and I purposely chose a low-traffic time to fly out of our city… less people, less traffic, less upset officers, less stress for us. Finally, I am qualified to work in the US and had a legitimate job offer. So if anything "wrong" happened, Emily and I had a lawyer to help us out if there were any issues.
As a Canadian, moving to work in the US is a huge undertaking. But, with due diligence and planning for the "worst case scenario," we ended up the best-case scenario at the interview.
Check out part 3, where I explain the process of getting your banking set up in the States as a Canadian.
Legal Blah Blah
I hope it goes without saying, but please don't take anything I've posted here as anything other than my and Lea's own personal experiences. What worked for us is just that … what worked for us.
If you need expert advice, seek an expert.