Although the Covid travel restrictions will lighten Thanksgiving traffic a bit, there are predictions that it will rise back to almost 95% of pre-pandemic levels. As a result, be prepared for much heavier traffic at the U.S. / Canadian border for the 10 days beginning Friday before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and running all the way through to the following Monday. When you combine Thanksgiving with the shopping frenzy of Black Friday you get one of the heaviest border crossing weeks of the entire year.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the single heaviest U.S. travel day of the year as families head out to visit relatives and college students come home for the long weekend. Add in the 7 million Canadians expected to cross the border to shop in the U.S. and you get a huge traffic spike at the U.S. / Canadian border.
Make sure you are prepared for your border crossing by reviewing ezbordercrossing.com pages on the border crossing experience, prohibited items, and required documentation. You should always check our page for the specific port you are going to use to see if there are any traffic alerts or updates on wait times.
One other tip – before you hit a 2 hour line at the border make sure you have a reasonably full tank of gas and have used the restroom recently.
Peak Wait Times For Thanksgiving / Black Friday
- Generally speaking, you will find that traffic during normally mild periods resembles peak commute hour traffic. Waits of 2 hours or more at major crossings will occur at many points throughout the week.
- The heaviest traffic on will be on Wednesday before the holiday, and again on Sunday. A fairly sizable percentage wait out the traffic and return on Monday.
- Peaks entering the U.S. will tend to be in the late morning through early afternoon.
- Peaks entering Canada will tend towards the afternoon through the evening.
- The longest waits to get back into Canada on Black Friday will be between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m.
- Not every port is overloaded. Smaller ports that are not on the way to shopping centers may be just fine for most of the period.
- Many U.S. stores are starting their Black Friday sales well before Friday so shoppers will be jamming stores and border crossings for much of the holiday period.
Your Traffic Avoidance Game Plan
- Your best chance to avoid traffic is to arrive at the border before 7 am or after 8 pm. Simply put, leave early or late. As a general rule, traffic is lighter in the mornings and tends to build throughout the day.
- If possible, use a smaller alternative border crossing rather than the major ports. Of course, smaller ports may have fewer lanes and officers so you will have to weigh your choices.
- Be aware that traffic is especially heavy when it mixes with normal commuter traffic.
- Some ports will open extra lanes at earlier times than usual. You should be prepared to move into lanes that might not normally be open.
- Think about making an overnight stay to avoid fighting peak periods.
- Use NEXUS if everybody in the vehicle is a cardholder
- Always check out the current border wait times for the port you intend to use before hitting the road.
- You will want to keep an eye on our road conditions page as you near trip time to make sure you know what you will face on the roads.
- Be careful. The number of auto crashes spikes the Wednesday evening before the holiday, as well as during the “return home” period of Sunday evening.
- Work at most construction sites will stop for the holiday but drivers should watch for shifted lanes, detours, and reduced-speed zones.
- To avoid potential delays at the border, any foreign travelers requiring a visa waiver entry document should obtain this essential document as much as one week in advance for faster and more convenient processing.
Inspection Tips for Shoppers
- Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year so Customs officers will be focusing on your purchases. This is not a good time to think about hiding what you bought or playing games on how much you spent. Being prepared can make a big difference in how much quality time you get to spend with law enforcement. Read through our pages on “Clearing Customs” and “How Much You Will Owe. We also have a Duty Calculator for Canadian residents.
- Be prepared to detail all of your cross border purchases. Have your receipts ready and know what the limits are on your personal exemptions. Review our pages on “Clearing Customs” and “How Much You Will Owe.”
- Do not wrap your gifts. The border inspection officer may make you unwrap them for inspection.
- Both Canada and the U.S. regulate poultry products so review our page on prohibited items before purchasing something you want to bring across the border. If you plan to bring raw poultry, poultry products as well as other birds or bird products sold commercially that are not fully cooked into either country they may be confiscated. Rules on what you can bring across the border can change when avian virus is present in either the US or Canada. Shoppers who buy poultry or eggs in the U.S. should make sure the packaging indicates the product comes from a state other than an Avian Influenza-affected state. If the state of origin is unclear, the product may be prohibited from entry. Be sure to visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for any notifications on prohibited items from the US or specific states.
- Bringing a second turkey back into Canada from the U.S. will trigger high duties that will more than double the cost of the turkey.
If there is any good news to traveling at this time of the year it is that Canadian officers are sometimes told to waive through travelers who owe duties on goods purchased in the U.S. This occurs from time to time when traffic is backing up badly at the port. Obviously there is no guarantee this will happen and you are still required to declare all your purchases even if they then let you pass without paying duties.
Traffic Information for Specific Ports
Although traffic patterns change somewhat from year to year, the following is general information about specific ports you can use these to make your plans.
The Washington State Department of Transportation has a webpage with some information on peak travel times over the Thanksgiving holidays.
The Peace Arch port will be the busiest border crossing between Washington and British Columbia. Consider using Pacific Highway (Blaine / Surrey truck crossing) or Lynden / Aldergroveor Sumas / Abbotsford-Huntingdon.
Although this is not an overly crowded port traffic will be up a bit as a fair number of Canadians come to Whitefish and Kalispell for holiday shopping.
Over the Black Friday weekend this port will handle almost double the normal weekend traffic. The return to Canada is especially bad on both Saturday and Sunday evening although Saturday tends to have the heaviest traffic. Try to cross as early in the day as possible. Port authorities typically open up all lanes so the port can operate at full capacity.
Almost 3,000 Canadians enter the U.S. at this port on Black Friday so traffic will be heavy coming into the states.
Generally speaking, your best bet is to use the Whirlpool Bridge if all passengers have a NEXUS card. Second choice is usually the Rainbow bridge.
- Waits of up to 1 ½ hours are pretty typical at peak periods.
- When things get busy U.S. CBP may shift up to three of the commercial lanes to process cars.
Usually not much delay but all passengers must have a NEXUS card.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving is usually the Peace Bridge’s highest daily traffic count for November.
The number of car inspection lanes typically remains the same but border services may direct people to a secondary building for duty collection.
The hours of operation for the NEXUS lane has traditionally been extended by 3 hours to 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. Michigan-bound traffic tends to be heaviest on Sunday as Americans return home from holiday trips
Thanksgiving Weekend Ferry Service
The Thanksgiving / Black Friday weekend is the second busiest of the year for ferry services so you should definitely consider making advance reservations. Waits can be as long as 2 hours at peak times and foot passengers should be at the terminal about 40 minutes ahead of departure. In Washington state, the longest lines to be for westbound riders tends to be on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving during the afternoon and evening. It gets very crowded again in both directions on the morning of Black Friday.