Everything you need to know about Canadian customs

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Everyone entering Canada is required by law to submit to inspection by officers from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). CBSA officers will ask you questions, including questions about what you are bringing into Canada. Here’s everything you need to know about stuff you can (and can’t) bring through Canadian customs.

Whether you travel to Canada by air, land or sea there are certain items you can’t bring with you. There are also certain items that are allowed, but might have restrictions.

CBSA recommends that you prepare a list of all purchases made overseas ready beforehand, including receipts. You will be asked to prepare an accurate declaration of everything you are bringing with you, including its value in Canadian Dollars.

Having this list ready will facilitate a faster inspection by CBSA.

What is the CBSA?

The Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) is the Government of Canada agency responsible for facilitating the flow of travellers into and out of Canada.

CBSA enforces more than 90 acts and regulations to help protect the integrity of Canada’s custom, immigration and agricultural laws and regulations.

CBSA officers are trained professionals who carry out their responsibilities in a respectful and courteous manner. 

It might be a good idea to answer any questions in a brief and concise manner, and only speak when spoken to. CBSA aren’t known for their sense of humour, so be sure to follow instructions carefully.

The last thing you want is to be subjected to additional scrutiny by CBSA officers.

Canadian customs:Personal Exemptions

When you enter Canada, you might qualify for a personal exemption. A personal exemption allows you to bring items with a predetermined value into Canada without having to pay the usual duties and taxes.

Exceptions to this personal exceptions might apply to tobacco products.

Here’s everything you need to know about stuff you can (and can’t) bring with you when you go to Canada.

Remember, even if you bring in stuff that is allowed, you still have to declare it. That is what the Declaration Card is for.

What is a Declaration Card?

The Declaration Card is a document that tells CBSA personal information about you, where you’ve been and what you’re bringing into Canada.

Declaration Cards are given to travellers entering Canada by air, but are also given to people arriving by land.

It might be a good idea to bring a pen with you on your carry-on baggage so that you can complete the Declaration Card before arriving in Canada.

The Declaration Card has detailed instructions on how to complete it.

You can list up to four people living at the same address on one Declaration Card. After filling up the Declaration Card, detach the instructions and keep the Declaration Card together with your passport for easy access.

Don’t fold the Declaration Card.

What you can bring through Canadaian customs?

Alcoholic beverages– any beverages with more than 0.5% alcohol is considered an alcoholic beverage.

You can bring only one of the following amounts of alcohol before you are charged duty and taxes:

Wine – up to 1.5 litres

Alcoholic beverages – up to 1.14 litres

Beer or ale – up to 8.5 litres

You can definitely bring more than those amounts, but you’ll have to pay duty and taxes for anything going over the allowable limit.

Also, you will have to be of legal drinking age to be bringing in those alcoholic beverages into Canada. You can’t use your kids to increase the amount of liquor you bring into Canada, so don’t even try.

Tobacco products

If you are at least 18 years old, you can bring tobacco products with you to Canada.

The limits are as follows:

200 cigarettes
50 cigars
200 grams of manufactured tobacco
200 tobacco sticks

Note: You can bring a total limit of everything above. Any tobacco products going over the limit will be subject to not only duty and taxes, but also provincial and territorial fees.

Note: Unless your tobacco products are marked “DUTY PAID CANADA DROIT ACQUITTÉ”, you may have to pay special duty.

Personal Exemptions

Aside from restricted items, you can bring in any amount of goods, as long as you’re willing to pay duty and taxes (as well as any applicable provincial and territorial fees) for them.

Children are entitled to their own personal exemptions, but remember that items declared must be used by the child making the declaration. You can’t declare alcoholic beverages or tobacco products under your children’ personal exemptions.

You can’t combine personal exemptions, nor can you transfer them to someone else.

Basically, anything you declare under your personal exemption must be for personal use. This includes souvenirs, gifts and prizes.

Anything that might be for commercial use will be subject to duty and taxes.

If you bought anything from outside Canada, it’s a good idea to prepare a complete list and attach all available receipts. Convert its value into Canadian Dollars beforehand to make the inspection faster.

In case you have to pay duty and taxes for anything you bring into Canada, you can do so using cash, travellers’ cheque, Visa, American Express or MasterCard. Most CBSA offices can also accept debit card payments.

Canadian customs: Arriving in Canada with more than CAD$10,000

While there is no limit to the amount of money you can bring into Canada, you will have to declare anything over CAD$10,000.

Bringing in food, plant and animal products through Canadian customs

There are certain food, plant and animal products you can’t bring into Canada. What can be brought into Canada is regulated by the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS).

Baked goods and candies– must not contain meat, up to 20 kilograms per person.

Dairy products– Allowed: cheese (up to 20 kilograms per person). Not allowed: milk, milk products (including whey, cream, skim milk, butter oil, etc., whether dried, frozen, reconstituted or fresh).

Fish and seafood– you can bring in fish and seafood products, except for pufferfish and Chinese mitten crab. Import permits will not be required as long as you don’t go over the following limits: (10 dead uneviscerated finsfish, 4 crustaceans with head and shell on, 3 kilograms of molluscs).

Flowers– you can bring flowers, but they must be cut, cannot be for propagation.

Fruits and vegetables (dried)– you can bring dried fruits and vegetables, up to 20 kilograms per person.

Fruits and vegetables (frozen or canned)– you can bring frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, up to 20 kilograms per person.

Fruits and vegetables (fresh)– You might be able to bring fresh fruits and vegetables, but the importation of such is restricted or outright prohibited.

Herbs, spices, tea, coffee and condiments– importation of herbs, spices, tea, coffee and condiments are allowed.

Infant formula– you can bring infant formula as long as its commercially packaged, for personal use and sterile. You can bring a maximum of 20 kilograms of infant formula.

Leather goods and skins– you can bring fully tanned leather goods and skins into Canada.

Meat– you can bring in up to 20 kgs of commercialy prepared, fully-cooked, sterile meat that is safe at room temperature. Packages must be hermitically sealed and marked with the country of origin. You can’t bring in fresh, dried or cured meats, and products imported from countries identified as sources of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).

Sea shells and sand– you can bring in sea shells and small quantities of sand, but you have free of animal matter, soil and plant debris.

Wooden souvenirs– you can bring in wooden souvenirs, as long as its free of bark and insects.

Import documents for Canadian customs

You may need to secure import documents for certain meat and dairy products, nuts, plants, fruits and live animals.

Contact the Centre of Administration for Permissions for requirements.

Canadian customs: Restricted and prohibited items

Firearms and weapons– you have to declare any firearms and weapons to CBSA officer when entering Canada. Failure to do so will result in the seizure of your firearms and weapons, as well as criminal charges.

Food, plant and animal products– you have to declare all food, plant and animal products you bring with you to Canada.

Explosives, fireworks and ammunition– you need written authorization and import permits if you are bringing in explosives, fireworks and ammunition to Canada.

Vehicles– you need to submit requirements to be able to import a vehicle to Canada, under Memorandum D19-12-1.

Consumer products– you can’t bring in certain consumer products, including baby walkers, car seats, cribs, helmets, lighters and strollers. These items will only be allowed if they meet safety requirements in Canada.

Obscene material– you can’t bring in obscene material including hate propaganda and child pornography into Canada.

Prescription drugs– if you have to bring prescription drugs with you to Canada, check Health Canada’s Guidance Document on the Import Requirements for Health Products under the Food and Drugs Act and its Regulations. to see if it is restricted, if it’s allowed and how much of it you can bring with you.

Going through Canadian customs if you’re arriving by air

There are four basic steps you have to go through if you are arriving in Canada by air:

  1. Pre-Arrival – fill up your Declaration Card
  2. Arrival – go through the 1st CBSA checkpoint
  3. Baggage – go through your 2nd CBSA checkpoint
  4. Exit the CBSA inspection area

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