*Updated April 2015
Customs duty is a tariff or tax imposed on items purchased across an international border, as a way to maintain the flow of goods. Everyone arriving at a U.S. port of entry is subject to inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and must declare what they are bringing into the country.
If you are entering the U.S. via aircraft, you will be prompted to complete a U.S. Customs Declaration Form before you land and meet with U.S. Customs. However, if you are a Canadian travelling from a U.S. airport, you are not required to complete a US Customs Declaration Form. For example, if you are flying from the Buffalo Airport, you will clear U.S. Customs when you drive across the border, and NOT at the airport, which is one of the reasons flying from a U.S. border city is appealing.
If you are arriving into the U.S. by car, you can usually make an oral declaration unless you are asked to complete a form or show your goods to the border services officer for a more detailed inspection.
Note: Canadian citizens’ passports are NOT required to be valid for six months past their intended date of departure, only up until the date of departure. All Canadians are required to present a valid passport or NEXUS card when crossing the border or departing from a Canadian airport. Permanent Residents of Canada generally need a passport and visa to enter the United States, unless they are a citizen of the country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program.
The US Custom Declaration Form asks for basic information like your name, date of birth, address, passport number, etc. It also asks for information regarding items like fruits, animals, and soil that you may be transporting, as well as if you’re bringing $10,000 or more in U.S. dollars or commercial merchandise into the country.
Print the total value of goods that you and any family members you’re travelling with are bringing into the U.S that will remain there (including commercial merchandise). Visitors are normally entitled to an exemption of $100 for items like gifts that you’ll be leaving in the country. Sign and date the form and hand it to the officer in the U.S. Customs area of the airport before you continue with your vacation.
U.S. Immigration may ask questions about the purpose and nature of your travel into the USA. Listen carefully and answer them directly. U.S. Customs and Immigration officers can deny you entry for any reason, so it is recommended that you be cooperative with their requests and not joke about banned materials or criminal activities.
When you return to Canada, you’ll have to declare all goods you acquired while you were in the U.S. on a separate form, including purchases, gifts, and prizes as well as goods bought at a foreign duty-free shop.
There are no personal exemptions for shoppers who visit the U.S. for less than 24 hours. For those returning between 24 and 48 hours after departure, you can claim up to CAN$200 without paying duty and taxes. For 48 hours or more, CAN$800 can be claimed without duty. Read more on Canada duty free limits.