There are lots of rules concerning what you can bring across the U.S. / Canadian border and they change constantly. We try to give you some idea of what is restricted or prohibited but if you have further questions you should call either the Canadian Border Information Service (CBIS) or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. For questions about entering or reentering the U.S. you can call the U.S. Customs Office at the border crossing you will be using. We have a specific page for all of the U.S. ports and they include the port phone number.
Entering the United States
The U.S. CBP enforces hundreds of laws for other government agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each of these agencies have rules that prevent the import of items they deem unsafe. CBP officers have responsibility for enforcing those prohibitions at the border.
There are a couple of different classifications
- Prohibited means the item is forbidden by law to enter the United States. Examples of prohibited items are dangerous toys, cars that don’t protect their occupants in a crash, bush meat, or illegal substances like absinthe and Rohypnol.
- Restricted means that special licenses or permits are required from a federal agency before the item is allowed to enter the United States. Examples of restricted items include firearms, certain fruits and vegetables, animal products, animal by products, and some animals.
The regulations change from time-to-time because they are based on current perceived threats to U.S. Fines for bringing a prohibited or restricted item across the border range form $100 to $50,000.
You should check the current list of prohibited items at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website but here is a general list of the more common restricted or prohibited items:
- As a general rule, prepared foods for personal consumption or for family/friend gatherings is allowed. However, all fruits, vegetables, plants and plant material of any type must be declared and inspected. There are a lot of regulations in this area and admissibility will also depend on where you are going after you arrive in the United States. The fine for failing to declare agricultural items at U.S. ports of entry is $300 for first time offenders. You may check the general admissibility of various plants by consulting APHIS’s FAVIR database.
- Cooked eggs and foods such as breakfast tacos, egg plates and hard boiled eggs are prohibited.
- The regulations governing meat and meat products are stringent. You may not import fresh, dried or canned meats or meat products or foods that have been prepared with meat.
- Cultural artifacts may require an export permit.
- Products containing dog or cat fur are strictly prohibited.
- Firearm importation is strictly regulated.
- Certain fish and wildlife, and products made from them, are subject to import and export restrictions, prohibitions, permits. Specific ports of entry have been designated to handle fish and wildlife entries so you should contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clear your entry. Some states have fish and wildlife laws and regulations that are stricter than federal laws and the state law will have priority.
- Soil is prohibited entry unless accompanied by an import permit. All camping gear, recreational equipment and supplies must be clean and free of pests and soil.
- Firewood cannot be brought into the U.S. from Canada.
- CBP enforces laws relating to the protection of trademarks and copyrights. Counterfeit articles or those that infringe a federally registered trademark or copyright may be seized. However, there is an possible exception of one article provided that the article is for personal use and is not for sale. This exemption may be granted not more than once every 30 days.
You should take a look at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website to make sure you know what you cannot bring into the country from the U.S. below is a general list of prohibited items:
- Fresh fruit
- Firewood. Campers should buy firewood on site, burn firewood on site, and leave all unused firewood on site.
- Most types weapons such as tasers, brass knuckles, and pepper spray.
- Certain knives, even those used for hunting or fishing.
- Radar detectors
- Obscene material, hate propaganda and child pornography. They can inspect your laptops, cellphones and other computer equipment to see what you have on them.
- All camping gear, recreational equipment and supplies must be clean and free of pests and soil.
Restricted Items Requiring some sort of license or permit
- You must declare all firearms and weapons when you enter Canada. If not, they will be seized and you will likely be fined and could face criminal charges. A personal firearm that is OK in Texas is not allowed into Canada. You need documents to prove that you are entitled to possess a firearm in Canada and you must transport it safely. It is our understanding that if you declare a weapon before a search is made there won’t be any charges and that the weapon will be returned to you when you leave the country. Permits are also required for explosives, fireworks and certain types of ammunition. You should review Importing a Firearm or Weapon Into Canada for more information.
- Regulations on food and meat products change constantly. Many will be confiscated at the border. You can check the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Automated Import Reference System for more information or call the CBIS.
- Automobiles are subject to various rules so you should read Importing a Vehicle Into Canada
- A permit is required for some types of live bait.
- If you have an American operator’s license, you may use your aircraft, marine or amateur radio while visiting Canada without a Canadian license. All other types of radio transmitting stations may only be used if registered with Canada.
- We have a separate page with information on importing automobiles into both the U.S. and Canada.
- If there is no packaging label on food, or the border agent cannot read the label because it is not in English, the item will most likely be confiscated.
- “Kosher” products carry no special exception to any these rules.