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What To Declare

Entering the U.S. or Canada as a foreign citizen

The U.S. and Canadian rules are somewhat different but generally speaking you will need to declare the following:

  • 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.
  • Medicines
  • There is no limit to the amount of cash, or cash like instruments, you may bring in our out of 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.

Re-entering your country of origin

Again, 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 your received, or are bringing for someone at home.
  • Items you bought in duty-free shops.
  • Medicines
  • 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. If you don’t know for sure, estimate. 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.

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.


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 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.

Final Note: Be aware that there are significant fines that can be levied if you try to sneak a item across the border. Even if you are not fined, your trip will be delayed if you are caught and you may well be flagged for extra searches on any future border crossing.