When preparing for a vacation, I always make a list. No, not a to-do list, but a to-buy list. These are things (usually) from my home country that I need to bring when I come back. Throughout the year, I make a mental note of the things that I miss that are not readily available here. These are stuff that I had growing up, like snacks or spices and ingredients that make our traditional food taste exactly like how mom used to make them. And every year, it has been a dilemma figuring out if these goods are safe to bring or if I should declare them to customs.
If this has been a problem for you too, here’s a list for you! These are the goods that you can and can’t bring to Canada based on the Canadian Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) guidelines:
Travelling from Canada
First things first! To start your vacation hassle-free, check if you have all the necessary documents to present for international travel. Whether you’re travelling by land, sea or air, you must have proper identification for yourself, your children and any dependents with you.
Do you have your passport? Check! Visa? Check! A consent letter if you are travelling with minors? No? Read the article Travelling abroad? You will need these documents to know what other things you might be missing.
Goods you can and can’t bring to Canada:
You can definitely bring any amount of money to Canada. But if you are bringing more than CAN$10,000, you have to declare it (also declare if you are leaving Canada and you are carrying more than CAN$10,000). It is the CBSA’s job to make sure that money going out or coming in to Canada did not come from money laundering activities or any crime, or that it will not be used to finance terrorists. So just be honest about how you have this money and why you are bringing this much.
To declare, fill out the form Cross-Border Currency or Monetary Instruments Report – Individual (E677). There are no penalties for bringing more than CAN$10,000. However, if you fail to declare and the CBSA discovers it, your money will be seized. You will be fined before you can retrieve your money (subject to the CBSA’s recommendation). You will also be flagged in the system and searched every time you travel and enter the country.
- Aside from cash, the CAN$10,000 includes stocks, bonds, bank drafts, cheques and traveller’s cheques.
- It also includes other denominations. So if you have money not in CAN$, convert using the prevailing rate. For example, if you are bringing in US$10,000, this will be approximately CAN$13,000 when converted. This means that you have to declare it.
- Be careful about accepting requests from friends or family to bring sealed parcels meant for other people. These may contain money or prohibited goods. If you agree to bring them with you, let the requester know that you must be allowed to check what is inside. You may need to declare it to customs. Otherwise, you have the right to refuse to bring them.
Other questions? Go to Travelling with CAN$10,000 or more.
Canadian residents, former residents and temporary residents are exempted from paying regular duty and taxes on certain goods like alcohol, tobacco or gifts brought into the country. Personal exemptions depend on the length of your absence from Canada. For example, if you have been away for 24 hours, you can claim goods worth up to CAN$200 (tobacco and alcohol products not included). You can claim up to CAN$800 if you have been away for more than 48 hours (tobacco and alcohol products included within prescribed limits).
If the total cost of the goods you brought exceeds the exemption, you only have to pay for duties and taxes on the amount exceeding the exemption. Always have your receipts ready if you wish to claim personal exemptions for goods bought or gifts. Read other conditions and provincial considerations here: Personal exemptions
Food, plant, animal and related products
Generally, commercially packaged food and produce are allowable, subject to certain amounts. For example, you can bring in baked goods and candies (not containing meat) as well as spices, tea, coffee and condiments (yay!). However, things like wooden souvenirs with untreated wood are restricted as these may harbour pests and diseases that may cause harm to Canada’s environment and livestock. Check the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) if you intend to bring fresh fruits and vegetables. They may be allowed but you’ll have to meet some import requirements. Watch the AIRS Tutorial to know how to use it.
Check this page to know exact restrictions for specific food, plant, animal and related products: Products allowed into Canada from the United States/Products allowed from countries other than the United States. If you are bringing goods that you intend to sell in Canada, read Guide to Importing Products Commercially.
What happens if you do not declare or if you make a false declaration (and are caught):
- CBSA will cease the goods. They can hold them permanently depending on the item/s.
- A penalty will be imposed (you have to pay this if CBSA decides that you can have the goods back).
- You will be flagged in the system and may undergo more detailed examination in your next trips.
- You may become ineligible for the NEXUS and CANPASS programs.
Prohibited consumer products
Canada imposes strict safety guidelines for consumer products such as baby walkers, toys, and car seats. If you are bringing in such products produced from other countries, they may not be allowed into Canada by law unless they meet Canadian regulatory requirements. To know which consumer products are prohibited for importation to Canada, go to this page: Bringing consumer products into Canada.
Did you know that you can’t bring a used mattress into Canada? Unless it is accompanied by a certificate proving that it has been cleaned and fumigated, second-hand mattresses are a no-no because they may harbor bed bugs. For a list of other items of materials that are prohibited, go to: Prohibited importations.
You may bring prescription drugs with you but there are restrictions on the quantities and types of health products that can be brought into the country. Some health products may be regulated differently here than in other countries. For example, a non-prescription drug in another country may require a prescription here. It is important that you keep your prescription drugs in their original container with identification label. If they don’t have a label, carry your doctor’s prescription with you. Read Import requirements for health products under the Food and Drugs Act and its Regulations on Health Canada’s website to know the specifics.
Dogs, cats and domestic pets must be inspected and have required papers depending on their age and purpose for import (refer to the poster below to see if you need a dog import permit). For example, if you are travelling with a dog, you will need a rabies vaccination certificate that must be issued and signed by a veterinarian. However, this is not required if the dog is younger than three months. You just need to show proof of age. Non-traditional pets, on the other hand (e.g. pigs or goats) are subject to testing and quarantine. Go to Importing or travelling with pets to know the exact requirements for your specific pet.
Remember that CBSA rules are subject to change at any time. These can vary depending on the item, place of origin and end use of goods. If you are bringing in items that you think can be subject to import requirements, check the Canada Border Security page or call the CBSA BIS line before your trip. If you are still not sure if the goods you brought with you are allowed, it will be safer to declare them to avoid fines and penalties.
Sources: Be sure . . . declare everything, Travel.gc.ca; and I declare: A guide for residents returning to Canada, CBSA. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
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