Crossing the Border

Travel between the United States and Canada is usually fairly straightforward, although there are various documentation requirements and a sometimes 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 at and click on non-Canadians.

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. 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.

Identification: 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 travelers should visit this website for 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, citizenship card, 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. 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.

Minors traveling without their parents or their guardians must travel with proof of citizenship. 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, providing the parents’ telephone number and identifying and authorizing the person waiting for them to take care of them while they are in Canada.

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.

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 and other food and non-food items.  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.

Pets: 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.

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.

Complete a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration form before you reach the border. To obtain this form, click this link; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or 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. Tasers/stun guns are also prohibited.

Visit the Canada Firearms Centre via this website 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.

Fireworks: Check this website for rules on fireworks.

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 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/EXPRESS), U.S. Passport Card, state or province-issued enhanced driver’s license when and where available. For more information please visit this website for additional details or go to this video presentation for requirements and 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. For more details, go to this 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 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 (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 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.

Travelers purchasing Alaska Native arts made with wildlife parts while in Alaska who drive back through Canada to the Lower 48 with these items, should check regulations beforehand. (Mammoth and mastodon ivory require no 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. View or download the guide. You may also request a copy by phoning 1-800-858-7621. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Import Export Office is located in Anchorage; 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.

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 must accompany dogs and cats. Pets must be in apparent good health. It is 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). These are no longer mandatory, but if there is any question regarding your pet’s health you may be denied entry if you do not have the certificate.

Invasive Species: Be aware that when crossing the border by ferry or automobile, you may unintentionally transport invasive weeds and other pests that can damage Alaska’s ecosystems. Learn about the risks that invasive species pose and simple steps you can take to avoid facilitating their spread. Alaska has a unique opportunity to prevent the introduction of species that have harmed natural resources elsewhere.

Resource managers in Alaska have identified spotted knapweed 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 United States 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. We encourage you to employ the following practices 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 resuming travel.

Report spotted knapweed and other high priority invasive weeds; click for a free pocket-sized weed guide

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