Canadian coins and American dollar bills
With the Canadian and US Dollar almost at parity and in today’s economy, deals south of the border are usually enticing. Before you head down, do a bit of research on where to find the best deal and how to make the trip easier.
Before you go
Before leaving, check and see what the current exchange rate is. This is important as a difference of a few cents can mean a higher credit card bill. Sites like XE and Yahoo! Finance have up to the minute rates between currencies. However, not all financial institutions are quick to update their rates, so there may be some differences between the card issuer and actual market data.
Prior to hopping in your car, clean it out. This doesn’t mean wash the windows or vacuum the carpets, but to remove anything unnecessary from your vehicle such as gym bags, extra clothing, bottles and garbage. This is a preemptive suggestion in the event you’re flagged for additional screening (see below) and a subsequent vehicle search so that it goes by much more quickly.
Peace Arch Crossing
At the border
Crossing the border can be a lengthy process. US law requires all visitors to carry a passport, enhanced driver’s license, NEXUS/SENTRI/FAST card or visa based on your country of origin. Delays are common at border crossings. Fortunately, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) post their wait times as do the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for Canadian ports of entry. These two sites are instrumental helping you find the closest crossing with the shortest wait.
At the crossing, border officials will ask you standard questions about your residency, purpose and length of trip, before letting you enter. Have your passport ready when you pull up to the officer. If multiple people are in the vehicle, have all passports ready for inspection. Be truthful when responding to the officer and declare all items you have acquired outside of the country.
Additionally, you may be selected for further questioning by officials. Follow their directions, answer truthfully, and remain calm. During this process, your vehicle may be searched. Any items that have not been declared may be taxed or confiscated.
Once in the United States
Once across the border, you may find some stores do not accept Canadian debit cards. American debit cards usually have a Master Card or Visa logo on them whereas the Canadian ones do not. It’s best to bring cash or credit, although stores or malls close to the border will take the loonie (some retailers may not have the current rates and might charge more). Should you run out of cash, American ATMs will allow you to withdraw money using a Canadian debit card, but like at home, fees will apply.
Coming back into Canada
When you’re finished shopping, keep all the receipts and a total amount of goods with you. Duties and taxes are based on how long you’ve been out of the country for and how much is being brought back with you. If you’re out of the country for less than 24 hours, there are no exemptions on duties or taxes for any items purchased (this includes alcohol and tobacco products). The CBSA lists what is admissible based on the duration of time spent out of the country. Don’t try to disguise purchases or hide them — they will be confiscated during a search.
If you follow these tips, you’ll have fun and pass through customs with little to no problem. Happy shopping!