Dec 072015

The Christmas to New Years holiday period does not create the massive border backups that you see with other holidays.  However, that does not mean you will never get caught in a 2 hour queue.

Perhaps because holiday events spread out across a longer period, it is tougher to predict exactly when the longest delays will occur.  Instead, you will need to pay more attention to winter road conditions and current traffic to try to avoid the biggest backups.  You should also review our page with Projected Canadian Wait Times which shows the Canadian Border Service Administration’s estimates of the busiest times at some of the bigger ports.

As a general rule, the winter months of December, January and February are the lowest volume travel times of the year.   During the Christmas / New Years holidays, lots of people are on vacation so commute traffic is much lighter than normal.

On the other hand, travel to visit family will be significant.  As a general rule, you should expect that traffic could be heaviest just before Christmas and on the weekend following it.

Your Traffic Avoidance Game Plan

  •  As a general rule, traffic is lighter in the mornings and tends to build throughout the day.  As always, your best chance to avoid long border wait times is to arrive at the border before 7 am or after 8 pm.
  • If possible, use a smaller alternative border crossing rather than the major ports.
  • Use NEXUS if everybody in the vehicle is a cardholder
  • Always check out the current border wait times for the port you plan to use before hitting the road.
  • Winter driving conditions can change rapidly so you will want to keep an eye on our road conditions page as you near trip time.

Special Customs Inspection Tips

Being prepared can make a big difference in how quickly you get through the border inspection.

  • Be prepared to detail any gifts you are bringing with you and, on your return, those you have have received.  You may have to pay duty on gifts if they exceed your personal exemption. Bring gift receipts with you.  Read through our pages on “Clearing Customs” and “How Much You Will Owe.”  We  also have a Duty Calculator for Canadian residents.
  • Do not wrap your gifts!  The border inspection officer can make you unwrap them for inspection.  One thing you can try is to leave one end open for inspection, but it is better to wrap gifts when you arrive at your destination.
  • Prohibited Items – make sure you read through our material on  prohibited items.  During the holiday season border inspectors seizes higher quantities of foreign fruits, vegetables, meats and animal/plant products.  Fresh fruits and vegetables grown outside of the U.S. or Canada are typically prohibited.  However, even some Canadian and U.S. grown fruits and vegetables may not be allowed.  For example, Mandarin or “Christmas” oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit and pomelo cannot be brought into the U.S.  Failure to declare prohibited agriculture products or food items can result in fines up to $1,000 so be careful.
  • As you approach the border, make sure you have a reasonably full tank of gas and that everybody has used a restroom recently in case you get stuck in a long backup.
  • Prepare for your border crossing by reviewing pages on the border crossing experience, and required documentation.
  • Christmas trees – any tree you bring across the border will be closely inspected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists at U.S. ports of entry.  You will be required to return the tree to Canada if they find harmful insects or pests.  You may also be required to get a certification from the grower that their trees conform with various rules before it is allowed across the border.  Your best bet is to call a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialist at the port you are planning to use before you head into Canada to make your purchase.  We have the telephone number for each U.S. port on the dedicated page for the border crossing.

Increased Police Arrests During the Christmas / New Years Holiday Season

It should come as no surprise that police activity is very heavy during the holiday season with special emphasis on drunk drivers.  This is true in both the U.S. and Canada – and at the border itself.  Do not arrive at the border intoxicated.  You may end up spending your holidays in jail.