Posted by: Jeffsayyes | August 2, 2011

Tips How to Cross the Canadian / US Border – Declare or Be Scared.

When I crossed the Canadian border for the first time this month, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know the restrictions or what the limits were of what to bring in. I have to declare something, right? I want to declare that America is awesome! I brought Kentucky bourbon over the border and wasn’t sure if I should declare it (I didn’t), which then made me nervous at the border crossing. I thought for sure the guard was going to tell me to pull to the side, resulting in all belongings spread across the street – but luckily we made it across unscathed.

It would have been useful if I had some advice by someone with border crossing experience, so to help you if you are unsure of crossing – here are some words from someone who’s yelp reviews I am a big fan of and has lots of experience crossing the US/Canada border, John B.  Here are excerpts from our exchange:

The trick is to have the USDA list of approved stuff (bonus points for printing a recent copy) and to emphasize all the stuff you have that you checked the legality of (“I didn’t see anything specific about kohlrabi, so…“). And then you mention, “oh, by the way, I do have a few bottles of Molson Ex left, and a liter of Cointreau and a liter of Wild Turkey.” Also declare stuff like, “I have a screen projector that I borrowed from work that I still have in my car.

Some Canadian guy at the Cornwall crossing yelled at me because I didn’t mention I had my laptop. This CBP guy was either fishing or badly trained since the only items you’re supposed to have to declare besides ATF and produce are things you intend to dispose of in Canada or cash over $10,000. But it gave the valuable insight that most agents (besides this guy) are reasonable. If you can bore them with stuff under the guise of being very cooperative, they’ll most likely wave you through.

Also: cross at MEDIUM size crossings. Read: NOT interstate (too big) and not Fort Covington (too small). The international bridges are good, especially Ogdensburg.

They seem to be tracking visits on a computerized system, particularly with the new enhanced passports. It is very rare now that we get more than cursory questions. Another trick is to avoid peak hours. Though you’d think they’d be more eager to rush people through when they’re jammed, I think staffing is disproportionate. The only time our car has been inspected in the past 12 months was at the Plattsburgh crossing at 5 PM on a summer weekend afternoon.

Unfortunately, traveling with unrelated individuals makes it more likely you’ll be questioned. It is helpful to provide a detailed itinerary of your trip that gives the impression that you know more about Montreal (or Ottawa, or Kingston, etc) than the border agent. For instance, in the event I can’t recall a specific address, I lay on the details (“We’re going to go shopping at a hardware store just off 417 in Nepean. We’ll be seeing a movie, likely across the river in Gatineau at the English language cinema there, and then staying near Jules Morin Park for two nights“). Almost all of this can be entirely untrue, but making it sound like you have a practical, money-spending purpose in Canada will speed you through. The thing I would not fib about is where you intend to stay. It’s useful to look at Google Maps beforehand to know not just the street address but some local landmark nearby so you can sound offhanded about it.

Thanks John, Good stuff – I should have talked to you before I left. My trip back into the States was much easier, I even declared some hard cider. Expect a rundown post of where I navigated in Montreal, and tips for Montrealers in New York soon. Here’s a preview: Montreal is Awesome!

Before traveling abroad, check the websites below. This post is for entertainment purposes only – so don’t sue me if you get fined for smuggling your tylenol!

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, What You Must Declare
Go Northwest, Less off the cuff info on border crossing


  1. The only time I drove across the border, Canadian customs searched my car because I had trouble explaining couchsurfing to the guy. Luckily, they just did a once-over of the inside and the trunk and didn’t mess around with our bags. The ordeal finally ended when my friend gave the border agent the phone number of the couchsurfer we were staying with, and he called her. It really sucked.

    Had no trouble coming back into the US, though. I find that US customs is a lot more lenient with people with US passports, if only because your “purpose of visit” is pretty obvious (“I’m going home”). If you wanna see some real half-assed customs officers, go to Italy – I didn’t even realize I had gone through customs until I walked out into the main concourse in the airport. The guy looked at my passport, looked at me, stamped it, and gave it back, all without saying a word.

  2. lol amazing graffitti

  3. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the guide in it or something. I believe that you can do with a few percent to power the message home a bit, however instead of that, this is excellent blog. A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

  4. I am 68 years old. I decided as a bucket list I would travel to the eastern half of the united states.I decided to trust my G.P.S.I set it for Banger Maine. Little did I know that it would lead to the Canadian border. I was carrying 2 weapons .One in my baggage one under my drivers seat. I had no intention in going across the Canadian border. I came to a town called International G.P.S said turn left on Highway11. There was a toll booth,it said bridge toll 6 dollars .I thought cool a new experience.Halfway across the bridge I realized that I was leaving the U.S. What a mistake. I was arrested spent 10 hours in solitary and required to give the Canadian gonverment 2 thousand dollars and U.S legal guns a total of 34 hundred dollars.The whole time I tried to explain that it was all a mistake .I did not mean to come into there country.I simply wanted to go back to my own country. They would not not listen .They just wanted me to give them my guns and money.In my oppinion the Canadian gonvernment is nothing more then con artists preying on American citizens.

    • Mr Reynolds, I have a friend going thru the same experience. She was kept in jail for 6 hours and released. But, she now faces canadian charges. Can she just pay a fine and surrender her gun and be done with it.

      Thank you

  5. will i get searched if it is my first time to cross the boarder

  6. I live in a border city. I have a good friend over in Canada who I go see much, much less since 9/11. I have rarely had trouble with Canadian customs in 30-odd years of border crossing; I think I’ve been pulled in for secondary maybe three or four times, and then it was very minor.

    However, US CBP has gotten to almost STASI-like levels. Coming back into MY OWN COUNTRY, with a valid passport, no police record, Air Force veteran who had Top Secret security clearance, I got a “random” pull-in a couple of years ago. They took my passport and held me incommunicado for almost two hours, and made a big deal over a small bottle of model airplane paint (water-based) that I bought at my friend’s hobby shop. They typed in things about me on a computer terminal that I was not allowed to see.

    While I was there, also being held was a young French-Canadian family from Quebec. Their English was not very good, but the father was trying to speak for all of them. The CBP agent didn’t like it and said “I ASKED THEM. IF I WANTED YOU TO ANSWER FOR THEM I’D SAY SO. NOW SHUT-UP.” The mother could speak only broken English, and the two young children not at all. This agent had them all in tears when the people dissecting me told me I could (finally) go.

    I don’t mind I’m scared of going to Canada now…not because of the Canadians, but because of the STASI on MY OWN BORDER trying to make me feel like a criminal when I haven’t done anything.

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