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Crossing the border

by Steve Pally

The Ten Most Asked Border Questions

Do I need a passport?
Generally, American and Canadian citizens may cross the border without visas or passports. However, it is always a good idea to carry identification with you, especially if you are a naturalized citizen. Citizens of other countries should have a passport or appropriate papers.

Note: Effective January 1, 2007 U.S. immigration requirements changed to require a passport when crossing into the U.S. from Canada or Mexico. This was subsequently changed to require a passport if arriving by boat or airplane and the deadline for passports if traveling by land was extended to January 1, 2008. Travelers are advised to check with the Department of Homeland Security for updates/changes to this policy.

Are my driver's license and car insurance good across the border?
Both countries accept a valid driver's license of the other country. Proof of insurance is required if there is an accident. US drivers are still required to have an insurance card that specifically states their insurance is valid in Canada, since US policies do not automatically apply outside the US. Most US insurers in fact do cover travel in Canada as part of their standard package and US insurers will provide a free Canadian Proof of Insurance card upon request. Laws vary from province to province and state to state. Make sure you have you vehicle registration with you. Use of seatbelts is mandatory in most provinces. Radar detectors are illegal in most provinces.

Can my pet cross the border?
Cats and dogs are welcome in both countries provided they are in good health and have a current rabies vaccination certificate, if they are over three months old. Other animals are subject to restriction. See Below.

Should I exchange my money for the other country's currency?
Yes, and you will get the best rate at a currency exchange or bank close to the border. Americans can expect to receive a bonus in Canadian dollars and should remember to use the bonus percent in figuring real cost.

Can I bring my gun across the border?
Handguns may not be brought into Canada. There are categories of other prohibited guns and restricted guns. Hunting rifles and shotguns are allowed with a required registration and a $50(C) fee, payable at the border. When entering Canada, declare all firearms at Customs. More Information Below.

Similar rules apply in the U.S., firearms for hunting and lawful sports are allowed. All other firearms and ammunition are subject to restrictions.

What does "Duty" mean?
Duty is a charge imposed on certain goods brought into a country to protect national industries. A certain amount of merchandise is allowed in duty free, depending on how long you have been out of the country. Contact Customs to find out duties on goods that are in excess of your duty free allowance.

Can liquor be brought across the border?
Yes, liquor may be brought into both countries. The regulations and amounts allowed without paying duty are listed. Liquor brought into the country you are visiting must be for personal use and not a gift.

What are the benefits of duty free shops?
By purchasing your allowance of duty free merchandise at a duty free shop you avoid paying ALL taxes and duties including normal excise tax and sales tax. The savings is usually 30-60% off the prices you would normally pay elsewhere. Liquor, cigarettes, perfumes and imported gifts are great values.

Can I purchase at a duty free store going in both directions?
Yes, you may purchase duty free items for use in the country you are visiting and you may purchase items to take home, if you meet the minimum stay requirement.

What will customs officials ask at the border?
When visiting the other country, you may be asked where you live, your citizenship, the purpose of your trip, and how long you intend to stay. You may be asked if you have any goods that will be left behind. There may be specific questions about alcohol, tobacco and firearms. If you have made a duty free purchase, just state how much you have brought.

When returning home, you may be asked what you have purchased. Oral declarations are the general rule, however, a written declaration may be required.

If you have specific questions please contact Customs and/or Immigration Officials:

U.S. Customs, Box 7407, Washington, D.C. 20044
U.S. Customs and Travel Information.

Revenue Canada (Customs-Excise), Public Relations Branch, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0L5
Contact information Government of Canada.
Pets and importing animals into Canada.
Importing a Firearm or Weapon Into Canada.


U.S. Residents
After a 48-hour absence, once every 30 days, your personal exemption is $400.00 U.S. which may include the following: 1 litre of alcohol and 200 (1 carton) of cigarettes or 100 cigars. U.S. Customs has increased the allowance for returning Americans for an absence of less than 48 hours. They may now purchase up to $200.00 U.S. per person of merchandise excluding liquor and tobacco. Following is the U.S. regulations that confirms the change: 19 USC 1321 (a) (2) (D). Admit accompanied articles which don't qualify for provisions of HTSUS 9804.00.30 or 9804.00.70 free of duty, fees and taxes.

Canadian Residents
Personal exemptions: After a 24 hour absence your personal exemption is $50 Cdn.
After an absence of 48 hours your personal exemption increases to $200 Cdn. and after 7 days it becomes $500 Cdn. You can include alcoholic beverages and tobacco products after a 48 hour absence.

The following conditions apply:
Tobacco products - anyone aged 18 or over can include up to 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or cigarillos, 200 tobacco sticks, and 200 grams of manufactured tobacco.
Alcoholic beverages - if you meet the age requirements set by the province or territory where you re-enter Canada, you can include up to 1.14 litres (40 imperial ounces) of wine or liquor, or 24x355 ml (12 fl. oz.) cans or bottles of beer or ale.
Every six months, with a minimum 72-hour stay, you may enter $100.00 U.S. of gift merchandise into the U.S.


U.S. Residents
For a visit of at least 24 hours, the following may be entered Duty Free:
40 ounces of alcohol or 24 bottles/cans of beer and 200 cigarettes (1 carton) and 50 cigars and 200 grams of pipe tobacco.
Gifts valued at $60.00 (Canadian) may be entered Duty Free, however, this may not include liquor or tobacco products.
Foodstuffs, up to a two-day's supply per person, may also accompany you upon your entry to Canada.

Canadian Residents
Any number of times a year, after a 48-hour absence, your exemption is $200.00 Canadian, which may include: 40 ounces of alcohol or 24 bottles/cans of beer and 200 cigarettes (1 carton) and 50 cigars and 200 grams of pipe tobacco.
After an absence of 7 days or more, your exemption is $500.00 (Canadian), which may also include the above-mentioned items.

The above information was accurate at the time of original writing. But immigration and customs laws change, and you should verify the latest information and requirements before you travel.