Guide to Cross Border Shopping for Canadians

Guide to Cross Border Shopping for Canadians

We know how important it is to shop local, but many Canadians live near the United States border and shop frequently to save money.

With 50 million Canadians crossing into the U.S. annually the rules and what you are allowed to bring are important to know. Make sure to always save your receipts as the border guard may request this and aids in the duty process.

How much can I legally bring back from the United States to Canada?

Less than 24 Hours – $0

There is no duty free allowance for absences of less than than 24 hours.

24 Hour Exemption – $200 Canadian

If you are absent from Canada for more than 24 hours, you may claim up to $200 CAD worth of goods duty free as your personal exemption and all goods must be with you when you arrive. If the goods you bring in are worth more than $200 CAD in total, you cannot claim this exemption and you will have to pay duties and taxes on all goods you bring in to Canada. You can NOT include tobacco or alcoholic under this exemption.

48 Hour Exemption – $800 Canadian

If you are absent from Canada for more than 48 hours, you may claim up to $800 CAD worth of goods duty free, and must have the goods with you when you arrive at the border. You may include some tobacco and alcohol products under this exemption, and should review the section below called “Alcohol and Tobacco” for more details.

7 Day Exemption – $800 Canadian

If you are absent from Canada for more than 7 days, you may claim up to $800 CAD worth of goods duty free. You may include some tobacco and alcohol products under this exemption, and should review the section below called “Alcohol and Tobacco” for more details. With the exception of tobacco and alcohol products, you do not need to have the goods with you when you arrive at the border. To calculate the number of days you have been absent, do not include the date you left Canada but include the date you returned. Dates matter, not times. For example, you are considered to have been absent for seven days if you left Friday the 7th and returned Friday the 14th.

Which grocery and food products can you Bring Back to Canada?

You can import certain meat, dairy, vegetable and other food products from certain states in the United States.

The following products are allowed from the United States (Proof of origin may be required).

Product Limit/Price
Dairy products $20/person
Temperate fruits (e.g. those grown in Canada): Restricted
House Plants: Most mainland U.S. States
Meat (fresh/frozen/chilled): 20 kg/person
Meat Products (jerky, sausages, deli meats,
patties, etc.)
20 kg/person
Animal fat or suet 20 kg/person
Cheese (Except if packed in whey) Yes. 20 kg/person to a maximum of $20
Baby Formula Yes. Must be commercially packaged.
Seeds Small – 500g/person, Large – 5 kg
Fresh fruits (Tropical) Yes. 250 kg/person
Fruits & Vegetables (frozen, canned or dried) Yes. 20 kg/person
Herbs, spices, tea, coffee, condiments Yes.
Bakery goods, candies, etc Yes, except those containing meat
Fish and Seafood Yes, except, no puffer fish & Chinese mitten crab

Before entering Canada with these products, contact BIS at one of the telephone numbers listed in this section, or refer to the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) on the CFIA Web site at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/, to ensure that you may bring these items into Canada.

There are set limits on the quantity and/or dollar value of certain food products you can bring into Canada duty-free or that you can include in your personal exemption. If you exceed your personal exemption limits, you will have to pay duty based on a rate ranging from 150% to 300% of the value of the goods.

Border Wait Times

Here is a link to the Canadian Government website for the estimated wait times for reaching the primary inspection booth, the first point of contact with CBSA when crossing the Canada/U.S. land border.

How much alcohol can I bring back?

Alcoholic beverages are products that exceed 0.5% alcohol by volume. You are allowed to import only one of the following amounts of alcohol and alcoholic beverages free of duty and taxes, as part of your personal exemption:

Product Limit/Price
Wine Up to 1.5 litres or Up to 53 fluid ounces or Two 750 ml bottles of wine
Beer Up to 8.5 litres or up to 287 fluid ounces or approximately 24, 355 ml cans or bottles of beer or ale.
Alcoholic Beverages Up to 1.14 litres or up to 40 fluid ounces or one large standard bottle of liquor

You must be of legal age in the province of importation. While you are permitted to import alcoholic beverages in excess of the amounts listed above, we remind all travellers that they will be responsible for paying duty and taxes on the additional alcoholic beverages they are importing.

Why you should withdraw U.S. cash in Canada.

You can get better exchange rates if you withdraw money from your bank on the Canadian side before heading down. Typically debit and credit card issuers charge a foreign exchange fee per transaction which for some cards is 2.5%. If you frequently travel to the States you can hold onto U.S. cash in a U.S. account for a later date.

How much money do Canadians spend in the US?

In 2010, the City of Bellingham’s finance director, John Carter, conducted a survey, and estimated that Canadian shoppers account for 10-20 per cent of all retail sales in Bellingham. That’s at least $140 to $235 million Canadian dollars flowing to Bellingham ever year for general merchandising, such as big box retailers, and restaurant food and drinks, says Carter. And this figure excludes groceries, a major purchase for people regularly shopping down south.

Major malls near border cities:

  • New York’s Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls (Niagara Falls, NY)
  • Destiny USA (Syracuse, NY) 
  • Walden Galleria Mall (Niagara Falls, NY)
  • Boulevard Mall
  • Seattle Premium Outlets (Tullalip, Washington)
  • Bellis Fair (Bellingham, Washington)

Essential websites for Border Shopping:

Steven Zussino

Steven Zussino is the co-founder of Grocery Alerts Canada. He loves to help Canadians save money on groceries. He also runs the blog, CanadianTravelHacking.com.

AMEX SCOTIA

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