Crossing the Border
Travel between the United States and Canada is fairly straightforward, although there are various documentation requirements and regulations pertaining to the importation of agricultural and/or wildlife products, commercial goods, alcohol, tobacco and firearms. All travelers and their vehicles may be searched at the discretion of the customs officials. When in doubt, declare it.
Following is a brief description of border crossing requirements for the U.S. and Canada. Regulations and procedures change frequently: Travelers are urged to check with customs offices for the most current restrictions and regulations prior to traveling. Visit the Canada Border Services Agency online for more information. Another helpful site is the Canada Welcomes You website maintained by a campground association that useful links to official sites and a goo FAQ page for U.S. travelers entering Canada. Access detailed information for both U.S. citizens and international visitors under the Travel menu on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
Entry into Canada from the U.S.
U.S. citizens may present one of the following to prove both identity and citizenship: U.S. Passport; U.S. Passport Card; or U.S. military identification with travel orders. Frequent land border crossers may use Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST) to expedite processing.
U.S. citizens who do not have one of the above documents must have BOTH a driver’s license or military identification card for identification purposes, AND a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization or citizenship, or similar document, to verify their citizenship. Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and voter registration cards alone are not acceptable.
If you are traveling with children under the age of 18, you will be expected to present a birth certificate. A parent traveling with his or her young child, without the other parent, should be able to present a notarized statement of custody, a copy of divorce/custody papers or written authorization from the other parent. Persons under 18 years of age who are not accompanied by an adult should bring a letter with them from a parent or guardian giving them permission to travel into Canada. Proof of sufficient funds to travel within and back out of Canada may be required.
Visiting motorists with previous Driving Under the Influence (DUI) convictions may be refused entry into Canada or may be required to apply for admittance permits and pay fees of up to $1,500. All national driver’s licenses are valid in Canada.
All provinces in Canada require visiting motorists to produce evidence of financial responsibility should they be involved in an accident. Financial responsibility limits vary by province. U.S. motorists are advised to obtain a Canadian Non-resident Inter-provincial Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Card. This card is available only in the U.S. through insurance companies or their agents. Check with your insurance company prior to entering Canada to find out what your current coverage includes.
What you can bring
Visitors may bring “personal baggage” into Canada free of duty. This includes clothing, camping and sports equipment, cameras, CD players and iPods, computers, vehicles, boats, etc. Alcohol and tobacco are admitted if the visitor meets the age requirements of the province or territory where they are entering Canada. You are allowed to bring the following amounts without paying duty: 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or cigarillos, 200 tobacco sticks and 200 grams (7 oz.) of manufactured tobacco; 1.5 litres of wine or 1.14 litres (40 oz.) of liquor, or 24 355-ml (12 oz.) cans or bottles (8.5 litres) of beer or ale.
Canada has restrictions and limitations that apply to importing meat, eggs, dairy products, fresh fruit, vegetables and other food and non-food items. Details on these items may be found through links from www.beaware.gc.ca/.
Canada also follows CITES guidelines regarding the import/export of endangered species of wild fauna and flora including parts or products. CITES restrictions and permits are detailed here.
Personal exemptions from duty on imported goods for returning Canada residents is based on how long you have been absent: $50 worth of goods for 24 hours (does not apply to tobacco products and alcoholic beverages); $400 of goods for 48 hours; and $750 for 7 days or more.
Dogs and cats from the U.S. that are at least 3 months old need signed and dated certificates from a veterinarian verifying that they have a current vaccination against rabies and also a health certificate, issued not more than 30 days prior to crossing the border, and stating that your pet is healthy. Both certificates must clearly identify the animal in your possession. While these certificates are not always reviewed, the lack of them may mean you cannot cross the border.
Canada vigorously enforces its firearms importation laws. Border officials may, at their discretion, search any vehicle for undeclared firearms and seize any vehicle where such firearms are found.
Firearms in Canada are classified as restricted, non–restricted and prohibited. ALL handguns are either restricted or prohibited. Visitors CANNOT import a prohibited firearm into Canada. They must be at least 18 to import other firearms. Restricted firearms are only allowed for approved purposes such as participation in target–shooting competitions.
Additionally, pepper spray is allowed only if it is clearly labelled as an animal repellent–for example, bear spray. “Mace” and similar products intended to incapacitate a person are prohibited.
Visit the Canada Firearms Centre online and go to Information for Visitors/Non-Residents and click on “I am a gun user visiting Canada” for details on classes of firearms and documentation required to lawfully import and possess firearms in Canada.
Entry into the U.S. from Canada
Canadian citizens may present either a Canadian Passport or Provincial issued Enhanced Driver’s Licence (when available) to prove both identity and citizenship. Frequent land border crossers may use Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST) to expedite processing.
Canadian citizens who do not have one of the above documents must have BOTH a driver’s license or military identification card for identification purposes, AND a birth certificate, Canadian Citizenship Card or Canadian certificate of citizenship.
A valid, unexpired passport and visa are required for all other foreign nationals. Nationals of countries participating in the Visa Waiver program may present unexpired machine-readable passports. Certain persons may require specific supporting documentation such as an employment petition, student authorization, or approval notice.
Foreign visitors entering the U.S. for the first time are required to pay a paper processing fee of $6 U.S. per person. (This fee does not apply to citizens of Canada.) This fee is payable in U.S. currency or U.S. travelers checks only. Have U.S. funds prior to arriving at the U.S. border.
What you can bring
Visitors to the U.S. may bring in duty-free all personal effects (wearing apparel, jewelry, hunting and fishing equipment, cameras, portable radios, etc.), household effects (furnishings, dishes, linens, books, etc.), and vehicles for personal use and not for resale.
Non-residents who are at least 21 years old may bring in, free of duty, up to 1 litre of alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, liquor) for personal use. Quantities above 1 litre are subject to duty and internal revenue tax. Tobacco products included in your personal exemption are 200 cigarettes (one carton) or 50 cigars or 2 kg. (4.4 lbs.) of smoking tobacco, or proportional amounts of each.
If you require medicine containing habit-forming drugs, carry only the quantity
normally needed and properly identified, and have a prescription or written statement from your personal physician that the medicine is necessary for your physical well-being.
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requires that travelers entering the United States from a foreign country declare all fruit, vegetables, plants and plant products, meat and meat products, animals, birds and eggs. This includes agricultural products of U.S. origin. Fruits, vegetables, meats, and birds taken out of the United States cannot always be reentered into the country. APHIS offers traveler tips for facilitating inspection at the international border.
Travellers purchasing Alaska Native arts made with wildlife while in Alaska who drive back through Canada to the Lower 48 with these items, should check for restrictions, permit and/or documentation requirements.
Other restricted or prohibited items may include: Cuban cigars, liquor-filled candy; firearms and ammunition; hazardous articles (fireworks, dangerous toys, toxic or poisonous substances); lottery tickets; exotic pets; pet birds; obscene articles and publications; switchblade knives; trademarked items; wildlife and endangered species, including any part or product.
Personal exemptions for U.S. residents depend on: how long you have been out of the country; if you have been out of the country more than once in a 30-day period; and the total value of the merchandise you are bringing back with you, as well as its country of origin. Personal exemptions are $200, $800, or $1,600. There are limits on the amount of alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products that may be included in a resident’s personal exemption. The differences are explained in the brochure, “Know Before You Go.”
A valid rabies vaccination certificate must accompany dogs as well as a health certificate, clearly identifying your animal as healthy, and issued no greater than 30 days prior to border crossing. Dogs and cats must be in apparent good health.