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!