Your rights at the border vary depending on whether you are on Canadian or U.S territory. Also, there are procedural variations that depend on the means of transportation. In general, Canadian laws and border officers are less restrictive for Canadian citizens.
In all situations, regardless of your citizenship or way of travelling, you must present yourself to the border officer and communicate respectfully providing genuine responses to their questions.
Your Security and Privacy at Canadian Airports
The Canada Customs Act authorizes border services officers to search you and your belongings, including electronic devices as long as you are crossing the border or dwelling in designated “customs controlled areas.” Electronic devices are not searched routinely. They will be searched if there are grounds to believe that they contain evidence of unlawful activities.
Your records of entry and exit are kept on file with the Canadian authorities. It is important to note that the CBSA and U.S. DHS collaborate, exchanging data about frequent travellers and travellers at busy border crossings between the two countries. It’s also important to note that U.S. border officials have the authority to ask for your device password.
If you decide to travel with your passport as a regular traveller and not use one of the Trusted Traveller alternatives, such as CANPASS and NEXUS, you may not be required to submit biometric data which contains your irises photos for facial recognition purposes.
If you travel by air, the first thing you will have to do as you arrive at a Canadian airport is to pass through a security screening. The security screening includes the following procedures:
- Present your boarding pass and ID documents for a checkup
- Take your personal items, carry-on bags, and electronic devices (but not their content) to the X-ray machine
- Walk through a metal detector.
Border services officers may decide to use other portable screening mechanisms to inspect a certain area of your body or your belongings. Full-body scanners are used for further inspection of ceramic weapons, liquids, plastic explosives or other objects that can pass undetected through the standard equipment.
You can choose a physical “pat down” or a scanner inspection when the equipment is available.
A physical search may be necessary if the equipment indicates an alarm that must be further inspected. It is also used for travellers with a medical condition which may suffer from the screening equipment, for instance, a pacemaker.
Canadian border service authorities do not keep the images from the body scan on file. They are not associated with your boarding pass and passport details and are immediately deleted.
CBSA works on identifying travellers who may be of risk prior to their arrival in Canada. Data reviewed include the following:
- Date of birth
- Travel document data
- Travel itinerary
- Ticket payment information
- Frequent flyer information
- Baggage details
- Contact telephone numbers.
Traveller’s data is checked against alerts, watch lists and other screening information.
Border officers have the right to detain you if you are on U.S. territory, as well as to use all law enforcement rules applicable to border security clearance. Note that if you are on a Canadian pre-clearance territory getting ready to board an aircraft that will take you to the U.S., the U.S. CBP officers don’t have the same rights as on U.S. territory.
You must carry and present proper identity documents for yourself, as well as your children and dependants. Children under the age of 18 or 19 (depending on the province) are minors and must carry a Canadian passport when travelling abroad. Appropriate ID documents to be presented at the border for include:
- For adults:
- Canadian passport
- Canadian birth certificate
- Citizenship card
- Certificate of Indian Status
- For children:
- Letter of consent confirming that the child has permission to travel abroad alone or with only one parent
- Additional ID documents, such as a birth certificate or citizenship card
- Additional legal documents, including divorce certificates, custody court orders or a parent’s death certificate.
Note: For international air travel you can use one of the following three documents as a proof of Canadian citizenship:
- Valid Canadian passport
- Canadian temporary passport
- Canadian emergency travel document.
If you arrive by air, you will get a printed CBSA Declaration Card to complete it on the carrier before arrival in order to declare personal goods. Therefore, it’s convenient to have a pen in your bag with you.
If you arrive by land, you need to report to the primary inspection point where you will present ID and travel documents, and make a verbal customs declaration.
If you arrive by private boat, go to a designated reporting site and call the Telephone Reporting Center (TRC) at 1-888-226-7277 in order to be cleared by the CBSA. Commercial goods are subject to a different procedure which can be found in the Step-by-Step Guide to Importing Commercial Goods into Canada.
Identification of Personal Valuable Items
If you want to shorten and simplify the border crossing procedure, you can use the “free identification service for valuables” for the personal belongings you carry with you on your travels. You can use this service in all Canadian CBSA offices to certify that your personal belongings have been with you before you left Canada. To use this service, complete the following steps:
- Present your belongings to a border services officer.
- State that you got them in Canada or imported them earlier.
- Wait for the officer to write down your valuables and their serial numbers on the small card (Form BSF407, Identification of Articles for Temporary Exportation).
- Wait for stickers to be placed on your valuables in case they don’t include serial numbers.
Jewelry cannot be included in the Form BSF407, therefore, it is recommended you travel with as little jewelry as possible. To make things easier for you when you travel, obtain an appraisal report for your jewelry from an authorized Canadian agent.
There is no limit on the amount of money you carry on international travel but if the currency amount or the value of other financial surpasses CAN$10,000 you must declare these valuables in the Customs Declaration Card.
Expedited Service Kiosks
Canadian citizens have the right to expedite the border crossing procedure by using one of the two types of expedited service kiosks called Automated Border Clearance Kiosks or Primary Inspection Kiosks.
Automated Border Clearance (ABC) Kiosks
You are eligible to use the ABC kiosks is you are a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident, or a U.S. citizen and you have a valid Canadian passport or permanent resident card, or U.S. passport.
To use an ABC kiosk follow these steps:
- Fill out the Declaration Card you got on the aircraft.
- Follow the on-screen instructions on the ABC self-serve kiosk.
- Present to the border services officer the following items:
- Self-serve kiosk receipt
- Valid Canadian passport, permanent resident card or U.S. passport
- Purchase receipts.
Primary Inspection Kiosks
Primary Inspection Kiosks are available to all Canadians and foreign nationals, provided they are not minors and have a machine-readable travel document. If you share the same address with up to five persons, you can use the same kiosk to fill out the Customs Declaration Card. You need to:
- Scan your travel document
- Take your photo
- Answer the on-screen questions, and
- Take the kiosk receipt to the border services officer.
Locations of Primary Inspection Kiosks
The following international and city airports have primary inspection kiosks:
- Vancouver (YVR)
- Edmonton (YEG)
- Winnipeg Richardson (YWG)
- Terminal 3 of Toronto Pearson (YYZ)
- Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ)
- Ottawa (YOW)
- Montreal-Trudeau (YUL)
- Québec City Jean Lesage (YQB)
- Halifax Stanfield (YHZ)
Personal Customs Exemptions
You qualify for a personal exemption if you are a Canadian resident returning from a trip outside Canada, a former Canadian resident of Canada returning to live in the country; or a temporary Canadian resident returning from a trip outside Canada.
A. Canadian residents
- No exemptions for cross-border (less than 24-hour stay) shoppers.
- Exemptions for 24-48 hour stays include duty-free goods worth up to CAN$200, excluding alcohol and tobacco.
- Exemptions for 7 days or more stays include duty-free goods worth up to CAN$800, up to 1.5 litres of wine or 1.14 litres of alcoholic beverages or up to 8.5 litres of beer, 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 200 grams of manufactured tobacco and 200 tobacco sticks. You need to fill in the form BSF192, Personal Exemption CBSA Declaration, available at the point of entry to claim these goods.
B. Canadian visitors
- Gifts (no alcohol or tobacco) worth up to CAN$60 per item.
- 1.5 L of wine or 1.14 L of liquor or 24 x 355 ml cans or bottles (8.5 L) of beer or ale.
- 200 cigarettes, 200 tobacco sticks, 50 cigars or cigarillos and 200 grams of manufactured tobacco.
You can fill in the same Declaration card for up to five people who share an address. Each traveller holds a personal responsibility for declaring goods.
Paying Duty and Taxes
You can pay duties and taxes at most major Canadian airports while you are waiting for the baggage. If you travel by land approach a border services officer for advice on where to pay your taxes. Payment methods include:
- travellers’ cheque
- Personal cheque if you meet certain criteria and the amount is no higher than CAN$2,500,
- Credit or debit cards – Visa, American Express or MasterCard.