Travel between the United States and Canada is usually fairly straightforward. There are various documentation requirements and regulations that we highlight below. 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. Travelers are urged to check with customs offices or online sources for the most current restrictions and regulations on topics pertaining to them, prior to traveling. For Canada customs information, go to the Canada Border Services Agency website . You may also contact Canada Border Services Agency through the 24-hour Border Information Services line (BIS) 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; 1-877-CBP-5511. For border crossing wait times, check U.S. website or Canada’s website.
Border Crossing Stations and Wait Times
Where you cross the border between Canada and the U.S. depends on your itinerary. Many border stations operate 24/7, and the busier ports of entry often post wait times on reader boards along the highway approach and/or online at various websites. For The MILEPOST® access routes through Canada, border crossings are at Sumas, WA–Abbotsford/Huntingdon, BC, and Blaine, WA–Surrey, BC, wait times posted at http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/ATIS/index.htm and http://www.wsdot.com/traffic/border/default.aspx; Oroville, WA–Osoyoos, BC; Eastport, ID–Kingsgate, BC; and Sweetgrass, MT–Coutts, AB.
Entry into Canada from the U.S.
Identification: If you are a U.S. citizen crossing into Canada, a passport WILL BE REQUIRED to return back into the United States so please have a passport before you try to enter Canada. All travelers should review Know Before You Go, information on the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and requirements to enter or return to the United States.
Traveling with children: Children under the age of 18 are classified as minors and are subject to the entry requirements set out under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
If you are traveling with minors, you must carry proper identification for each child such as a birth certificate, passport, proof of citizenship, permanent resident card or Certificate of Indian Status. If you are not the parent or guardian of the children, you should also have written permission from the parent/guardian authorizing the trip. We strongly recommend that they have a letter from both parents (where applicable or whomever has guardianship of the child) detailing the length of stay, and identifying and authorizing who will take care of them while they are in Canada. The letter should include addresses and telephone numbers of where the parents or guardian can be reached.
Divorced or separated parents traveling with children should carry copies of the legal custody agreements for the children. If you are traveling with a group of vehicles, make sure you arrive at the border in the same vehicle as your children to avoid any confusion.
Admissibility: 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. If you have ever been arrested for a crime, we recommend that you review this section carefully.
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 any criminal history with a border services officer when arriving in Canada.
When 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.
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 $60CDN 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 1 of the following amounts without paying duty: 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 and other food and non-food items, follow links specifically pertaining to the item with which you are traveling.
Canada also follows CITES guidelines regarding the import/export of endangered species of wild fauna and flora including parts or products. For links to details on restrictions and permits, visit their website.
Pets: Dogs and cats from the U.S. that are at least 3 months old need a signed and dated certificate from a veterinarian verifying that they have a current vaccination against rabies. This certificate must clearly identify the animal in your possession. If your pet appears unwell, a veterinary health certificate prepared within the last 30 days may be requested at the border. For additional information on traveling with pets, click here.
Firearms: 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. Possession of an undeclared firearm may result in arrest or imprisonment. Go to this webpage for additional information to help you ascertain if your firearm would be permissible for transport and for the form that you can download, fill out, and be ready to present at the border, when you declare it. Phone 1-800-731-4000 with questions.
Firearms in Canada are classified as restricted, non–restricted or 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 to cross Canada and re-enter the United States or 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,” tasers and similar products intended to incapacitate a person are considered illegal weapons and are prohibited. Read additional information here.
For additional 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 Firearms Centre online at or phone 1-800-731-4000. See Canada Border Services Agency online for information on border controls.
Fireworks: An import permit issued by Natural Resources Canada is required. Additional information and forms are here.
Returning Canadian Residents: Personal exemptions from duty on imported goods is based on how long you have been absent: $200 worth of goods for 24+ hours; $800 of goods for 48+ hours; and $800 for 7 days or more (does not apply to tobacco products and alcoholic beverages).
Entry into the U.S. from Canada
Identification: All U.S. residents aged 16 and older, must present a valid, acceptable (WHTI-compliant) travel document that denotes both identity and citizenship when entering the United States by land or sea. WHTI-compliant documents include U.S. passports, Trusted Traveler Card (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST), U.S. Passport Card, Military ID (when traveling on orders), U.S. Merchant Mariner card (when on official business) state or province-issued Enhanced Driver’s License, American Indian Card or Enhanced Tribal Card when and where available. 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.
Canadian citizens over the age of 16 may present a valid Canadian Passport, a Trusted Traveler Card (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST), or Enhanced Drivers License for entry.
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. For more details, go to the website.
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 Canadian citizens.) 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 (apparel, jewelry, hunting, camping 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 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.
When purchasing Canadian or Alaska Native arts made with wildlife parts (e.g. bone, hide, fur, claws, feathers, etc.) ask about possible problems crossing the border, or check regulations beforehand. For example, mammoth and mastodon ivory do not require paperwork, but walrus ivory does. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Alaska State Council on the Arts have issued A Customs Guide to Alaska Native Arts specifically for items bought in Alaska that are being exported out of the U.S. You may download a copy or call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Import Export Office (Anchorage, AK); phone (907) 271-6198.
Other restricted or prohibited items may include: 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. Please check this list for additional information.
Personal exemptions for U.S. residents are dependent 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. Differences are explained in “Know Before You Go”.
Pets: A valid rabies vaccination certificate that clearly identifies the dog or cat you are traveling with must accompany the animal and be available for customs review. If your pet appears ill, a health certificate issued by your vet within 30 days of travel, may be requested for review by agent.
Invasive Species: When crossing the border by ferry or automobile, you may unintentionally transport invasive weeds and other pests that can damage Alaska’s ecosystems.
Spotted knapweed has been identified as a high priority species for prevention and eradication, due to its potential to severely harm moose, deer, caribou, elk and salmon. Introduced to North America a couple hundred years ago, spotted knapweed has severely infested the northwestern U.S. and southern British Columbia. Knapweeds replace native grass species, which can decrease forage for livestock and wildlife. It also increases soil erosion, which degrades fish habitat. Once established, controlling spotted knapweed is difficult and costly.
Small populations of spotted knapweed have been found in Alaska. To prevent the spread of spotted knapweed and other unwanted invasives: Wash vehicles thoroughly and often, especially before entering Alaska; pay special attention to areas where soil is likely to be trapped, such as on the insides of wheels and anywhere beneath the vehicle; clean ATVs, trailers, bicycles, boats, and footwear thoroughly after use and before you resume your travel.
Visit this link to email a request for the free pocket weed guide.