Crossing the Border
Travel between the United States and Canada is usually fairly straightforward, although there are various documentation requirements and a daunting number of regulations pertaining to 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 whether or not the traveler feels that he or she has complied with customs requirements. 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. Due to increased security, travelers are urged to check with customs offices or online sources for the most current restrictions and regulations prior to traveling. For Canada customs information, go to the Canada Border Services Agency website and click on non-Canadians or click on Contact Us. You may also contact Canada Border Services Agency, through the 24-hour BIS line at 1-800-461-9999 within Canada; (204) 983-3500 outside Canada.
For detailed U.S. customs information go to the Travel section of the U.S. Customs & Border Protection website. You may also contact your nearest U.S. customs office; toll-free 1-877-CBP-5511 or write U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20229.
Entry into Canada from the U.S.
If you are a U.S. citizen, you do not need a passport to enter Canada; however, to cross the border back into the U.S., a passport (or other approved WHTI-compliant document) WILL BE REQUIRED, so crossing into Canada without one of these is ill-advised. Entering Canada requires that you carry proof of your citizenship, such as a birth certificate, a certificate of citizenship or naturalization or a Certificate of Indian Status, as well as a photo ID. If you are a permanent resident of the United States (i.e., a foreigner), you must have your permanent resident card (i.e. green card).
All travellers should visit this website (click on “Know Before You Go”) for information on the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and requirements to enter or return to the United States.
Admissibility of all travelers seeking to enter Canada is considered on a case-by-case basis and based on the specific facts presented by the applicant at the time of entry. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPOA), a person may be deemed inadmissible for a number of reasons. A criminal conviction—including a conviction of Driving Under the Influence (DUI)—could make a person inadmissible to Canada. For that reason, be prepared to discuss your criminal history with a border services officer when arriving in Canada. If planning a trip to Canada, visitors are encouraged to visit the CBSA or Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) websites in order to ensure that they are admissible to Canada. People with criminal convictions can apply to be deemed rehabilitated or they may be eligible for a temporary resident permit. For more information on overcoming criminal inadmissibility please visit the CIC website.
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 Nonresident 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. Gifts up to $60 (CN) per gift, excluding alcohol and tobacco, permitted, duty free. Alcohol and tobacco are admitted if the visitor meets the age requirements of the province or territory where they are entering Canada. Visitors are permitted the following amounts without paying duty, on all of the following: 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or cigarillos, 200 tobacco sticks and 200 grams (7 oz.) of manufactured tobacco. Visitors are permitted the following amounts without paying duty on only 1 of the following: 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 provided that it is for personal use. You may bring additional quantities but you will have to pay full duty and taxes on the excess.
Canada has restrictions and limitations that apply to importing meat, eggs, dairy products, fresh fruit, vegetables, dog food (in quantity) and other food and non-food items. Details here; follow links specifically pertaining to the commodity for which you are importing.
Canada also follows CITES guidelines regarding the import/export of endangered species of wild fauna and flora including parts or products. Click for details on CITES restrictions and permits.
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 result in longer wait times at the border and inadmissibility of your pet.
Canada vigorously enforces its firearms importation laws. Border officials may, at their discretion, search any vehicle for undeclared firearms and seize any vehicle and firearm where such firearms are found.
Complete a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration form before you reach the border. To obtain this form phone 1-800-731-4000.
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 where the importation is allowed for special purposes, with a temporary registration (nonresident fee of $25).
Pepper spray is allowed if it is clearly labeled as an animal repellent, e.g. bear spray. “Mace” and similar products intended to incapacitate a person are prohibited.
Visit the Canada Firearms Centre online or phone 1-800-731-4000 for details and documents required to lawfully import and possess firearms in Canada, as well as the rules
for storing and transporting firearms. Visit the Canada Border Services Agency online for information on border controls or call the BIS line.
Entry into the U.S. from Canada
All U.S. residents and Canadian citizens, aged 16 and older, must present a valid, acceptable travel document that denotes both identity and citizenship when entering the United States by land or sea. U.S. and Canadian citizens under 16 must have a birth certificate issued by federal, state, provincial, county or municipal authority or alternative proof of citizenship when entering by land or sea. WHTI-compliant documents include U.S. or Canadian passports, Trusted Traveller Card (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST/EXPRES), U.S. Passport Card, state or province-issued enhanced driver’s license when and where available. Click here for more information.
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. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is accessible via Internet for citizens and eligible nationals of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to apply for advance authorization to travel to U.S. under VWP. Certain persons may require specific supporting documentation such as an employment petition, student authorization, or approval notice. Click for more details.
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.
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. 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. Differences are explained in “Know Before You Go”.
A valid rabies vaccination certificate must accompany dogs and both dogs and cats must be in apparent good health. It is quite possible that you will be asked for a Veterinary’s health certificate, proving a health inspection within the past 30 days (prior to your arrival at the border crossing). These are no longer mandatory but if there is any question regarding your pets health you may be denied entry if you do not have the certificate.