What to Declare When Re-entering Your Country of Origin
If you are a Canadian citizen returning to Canada, or a U.S. citizen returning to the United States, you must list out for the Customs officer everything you purchased outside of your home country. You must declare every single thing you purchased during your trip abroad. Another way of thinking of it is that you must declare anything you did not bring with you when you left the country. If you are flying, you will be given a form to fill out before you land on which you can list all of the items you picked up. Bringing something into the country that you purchased abroad is officially called “importing” even if the item is for your own use.
If you are not prepared for the Customs process, you can be in for a long delay entering the country. Knowing what you can and cannot bring back into the country makes the process go as smoothly as possible. You should be aware that there are significant fines if you try to sneak something across the border. Even if you are not fined, you may well be flagged for extra searches on any future border crossing.
The rules for the U.S. and Canada differ, but listed below are the things you should declare to the Customs official:
- Items you purchased in the other country. We have seen reports of travelers detained because their tires simply looked new. They then had to prove they had not purchased the product over the boarder. Even if you used the item up completely it is still technically subject to duty.
- Gifts you received, or are bringing for someone at home.
- Items you bought in duty-free shops.
- Repairs or alterations to any items you brought across the border and then brought back – even if the repairs / alterations were performed free of charge.
- Items you are bringing back for someone else.
- Items you intend to sell or use in your business, including business merchandise that you took out of the country and are now returning with.
- Items you inherited.
- You are allowed to bring as much cash across the border as you wish but you must declare any amount greater than $10,000. The border services seizes millions of dollars in cash every year.
You will be asked to provide the price you actually paid for each item, including taxes. You should always save your sales receipts (no matter what language or currency) in case you’re asked to produce them. You should pack the items you’re declaring separately, and have them easy to get to in case officials want to see them. If you don’t know the exact purchase price of an item, estimate its value. If you did not buy the item yourself—for example, if it is a gift—estimate it’s fair retail value in the country in which you received it.
You may be required to pay customs duty tax on any item you are “importing” so see our post on what you will pay. It is also critical to know what you are prohibited from bringing into the country as they will be taken from you at the border.
Canadian residents have the option of obtaining Traveler Declaration Cards (TDC) that can be presented any time you cross into Canada using a FAST lane. The card is filled out before arriving in Canada and then handed to the FAST lane border officer. If you exceed your personal exemption, the duties and tax owing will be charged to your credit card.
Both the United States Customs and Border Protection and the Canadian Border Services Agency have websites where you can read more information on what to declare.
Declarations When Entering the U.S. or Canada as a Foreign Citizen
If you are a US citizen entering Canada, or a Canadian citizen entering the United States, you will need to “declare” certain items at the border. The U.S. and Canadian Customs rules are somewhat different but generally speaking you will need to tell the Customs officer if you have any of the following items:
- Items you intend to sell or use in your business, or are to be used by another business in the country.
- Gifts for friends in the country.
- Items that you intend to sell or dispose of in the country.
- Items you bought in duty-free shops.
- You must declare all monetary instruments including traveler’s checks, money orders, gold coins, cash, checks, promissory notes, securities or stocks. There is no limit to the amount of cash, or cash like instruments, you may bring into the country but you MUST declare any amount in excess of $10,000 and file a Report of International Transportation of International Currency or Monetary Instruments.
If you declare goods when you arrive, and intend to take them back with you when you leave, you will not have to pay any duty or taxes although you may be asked to leave a security deposit.
What Happens if You Fail to Declare Something?
There are severe penalties if you fail to declare something you should have. If it was an accidental oversight, the Customs official may let you slide. If they think you intentionally lied, you can face significant penalties – far in excess of what the item cost – and may also be forced to give up the item. In addition, your membership in trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry can be terminated. These programs require you to be absolutely truthful and correct in your declarations, and even small violations will get your enrollment in these programs revoked
Rule of thumb: Take only the amount of medicine you will need for the trip – no more. There are many prohibitions on drug importation and severe penalties for trying to do so. This is true even if they were prescribed by a doctor. There is also no exceptions for non-traditional treatments for conditions such as cancer or AIDS. Here is what you should do:
- Make sure you declare all drugs.
- Carry them in their original containers.
- Carry only the quantity that a person with your condition would normally carry for their personal use.
- Carry a prescription or written statement from your physician that the substances are being used under a doctor’s supervision and that they are necessary for your physical well being while traveling.
For more information on Canadian regulations see the Health Canada’s Web site.
Shipping Purchased Items Home
If you decide to ship your items home rather than transport them personally, your shipper will calculate and charge you for duties, taxes, and probably a brokerage fee.
U.S. and Canadian Customs Contacts
The rules on importing items into either the U.S. or Canada are complex and sometimes difficult to interpret. See our page on Government Contacts if you need to contact an agency to get more detailed information for either the U.S. or Canada.