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What Will it Cost?

 

It is not easy to estimate how much you will have to pay in duties and taxes. In general, the amount of duty is based on the type of item, it’s value, and it’s country of origin.  However, U.S. duties are governed by the 2,700+ page U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule and the Canadian Customs Tariff is equally cryptic.

You can use your credit card to pay duties at the borderAlthough you may be able to calculate the duty on standard items like alcohol or tobacco, many, many, products are subject to special rules of one type or another. For example, when entering Canada, some items are exempt from duties but may be subject to a Provincial sales tax (PST) or a Goods and Services Tax (GST). It is not easy to find all these rules and most are very hard to understand when you do. U.S. duties are 3% for the next $1,000 in value once you exceed your exemption. Combined taxes and duties for Canada vary greatly but will probably start at 7% and go up from there.

If you really need to know how much you will be charged we suggest you contact either the Canadian Border Information Service or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Information Service.  You should be ready to exactly describe the merchandise you are planning to import including: the country of origin of the merchandise and manufacturer, the composition of the merchandise, the intended use of the item, and pricing/payment information.  We also have a page with a Canadian Duty Calculator which will give you a good estimate of Canadian duties on many items.

Below we describe the allowances and personal exemptions allowed by each country. This is current as of 2012 but the rules change so confirm this information at the time of your travel if you are trying to be precise about landing within the exemption levels.

If you go over your personal exemption, or one of the thresholds, you will pay duty on the full amount, not just the excess. Customs agents are supposed to arrange things to your best advantage, by grouping higher duty items under your personal exemption and charging the excess on lower-duty ones.

Note: The dollars will be calculated by Customs officials in the currency of the country you are entering. You will need to convert the amount you paid for goods in one country into the currency of the country you are entering at the applicable rate of exchange.

Duties on Americans Entering Canada

U.S. citizens crossing the border into Canada to visit are allowed to bring the following item quantities into Canada duty free:

  • 1.5 liters of wine, or 1.14 liters (40 ounces) of liquor, or 24 cans or bottles of beer.
  • 1 carton (200 cigarettes), up to 50 cigars, and 200g of loose tobacco
  • Up to $60 in gifts per recipient. (excluding alcohol and tobacco)
  • You can bring a “reasonable amount of perfume.
  • There are no restrictions on cameras
  • You can bring a “reasonable amount” of film
  • You can bring gifts duty free so long as none exceed $60

You are not allowed to combine your personal exemptions with someone else or transfer them to another person.

Goods brought in for commercial use, or for another person, do not qualify under the personal exemption and are subject to full duties.

Duties on Americans Returning to the U.S.

The amount of your personal exemption is dependant on how long you were out of the country.

  • Less than 48 hours – $200.00 worth of goods, per person, is tax and duty free. This can include 150 ml (5 oz) of alcohol and 10 cigars (non Cuban). U.S. citizens may buy these amounts daily.
  • Over 48 hours – $800 worth of goods, per person are tax and duty free. Purchases may include 1 liter of liquor , 200 cigarettes (1 carton), and 100 cigars. U.S. citizens may buy these amounts once a month. Family members may combine their tax and duty allowances.

Duties will apply when you exceed these allowances. Typical charges are $2.00 – $3.00 per bottle of liquor, $1.30 per case of beer and $3.90 per carton of cigarettes. U.S. duty rates on purchases exceeding 1 liter of booze are assessed according to alcohol content.

Children are entitled to a personal exemption as long as the goods they are declaring are for the child’s use.

Duties on Canadians Entering the U.S.

A Canadian resident entering the U.S. may bring in items for personal use, including 1 liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes and $100 in gifts.

Duties will apply when you exceed these allowances. Typical charges are $2.00 – $3.00 per bottle of liquor, $1.30 per case of beer and $3.90 per carton of cigarettes. U.S. duty rates on purchases exceeding 1 liter of alcohol are assessed according to alcohol content.

Duties and Taxes on Canadians returning to Canada

The amount of your personal exemption is dependant on how long you were out of the country.  In 2012 Canada changed exemption limits to more closely match those of the U.S.

  • Less than 24 hours: No allowances or exemptions can be claimed. You will pay full duties for an over-and-back shopping trip.
  • Between 24 hours and 48 hours: You may bring in up to $200 worth of goods free of duty and taxes. However, there is no exemption for alcohol or tobacco.
  • Over 48 Hours: You may bring in up to $800 worth of goods which may cover a portion of your alcohol and tobacco expenditures. Exemption limits are:
    • Liquor: 1.14 L (40 oz.) of liquor; or 1.5 L of wine; or 24 times 355 ml (8.5 L) containers of beer.
    •  tobacco products may be imported free of duty and taxes (when stays are more than 48 hours): 200 cigarettes; 50 cigars or cigarillos; 200 tobacco sticks; and 200 g (7 oz.) of manufactured tobacco (a special duty fee might be applicable).
    • All liquor or tobacco items must be with you when you arrive at point of entry.

Duty free and tax free allowances/exemptions cannot be shared.

Children are entitled to a personal exemption as long as the goods they are declaring are for the child’s use.

You are not allowed to combine your personal exemptions with someone else or transfer them to another person.

IMPORTANT: When planning your trip and calculating your dates to take advantage of the different rules, do NOT include the date you left Canada but you CAN include the return date.

Generally, the goods you include in your personal exemption must be for your personal or household use. Goods brought in for commercial use, or for another person, do not qualify as a personal exemption and are subject to full duties.

Goods you include in your 24 or 48 hour exemption must be with you on your arrival in Canada. Goods you claim in your 7-day exemption may be shipped to your home except for tobacco and alcohol.

NAFTA Goods and the U.S. Canadian Border

The amount of a duty also depends on where the item was made – not just where they were purchased. Because of NAFTA and other trade agreements, if something was made in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, or Chile, the rate is likely to be lower than if it was produced elsewhere. For example, a T-shirt manufactured in Vietnam earns a 17 percent Canadian duty while you pay only GST and PST for one made in the U.S.
Your goods may qualify for the NAFTA rate if:

  • They are for your personal use
  • They are marked as made in a NAFTA country, or not marked or labeled to indicate they were made anywhere other than a NAFTA country.

If the goods are valued over $1,000 you may need a formal statement of NAFTA compliance.

Bringing Gifts across the U.S. Canadian Border

Gifts such as wedding or birthday presents, and gifts you have brought back for others must be declared and will generally be treated like any other item you purchased. Gifts intended for business, promotional or other commercial purposes may not be included in your duty-free exemption. In addition, you cannot claim alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, or business-related material as gifts.

Importing Autos Across the U.S. Canadian Border

We have a separate page for importing an auto but here are the basics. If you cross the border to purchase a car you need to go into the border station when you bring it back home.  You need to show your receipt for the purchase, fill out various forms, and pay duties or taxes.  If you lie about what you paid for the vehicle it can be seized – Canada seizes over 150 cars a year.   If that happens you will likely end up in court and have to pay a penalty of anywhere from 25 to 75 per cent of the undeclared value to have it released.

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