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Returning From Canada
 

Note: This page summarizes the policies and procedures followed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at U.S. Ports of Entry which are applicable to most travelers returning from Canada. If your circumstances are unusual you may prefer the much more detailed review provided by the CBP at their Know Before You Go page.

Overview

The CBP officer may ask you about your citizenship, your trip, and about anything you are bringing back to the U.S. that you did not have with you when you left. Items acquired outside of the U.S. and brought back with you are subject to duty - similar to a tax, except that duty is collected only on imported goods. You must declare all dutiable goods, meaning you must tell the CBP officer of anything you are bringing into the country which you did not have with you when you left. Dutiable goods are those on which duty may have to be paid. You may be required to fill out a CBP Declaration form.

Be aware that under U.S. law, CBP inspectors are authorized to examine luggage, cargo, and travelers. Under the search authority granted to the CBP by the U.S. Congress, every passenger who crosses a U.S. border may be searched.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, your goods are eligible for free or reduced duty rates if they were grown, manufactured, or produced in Canada or Mexico, as defined by the Act. Check with CBP for details.

Passport Requirements

Travelers to and from Canada will be required to have a passport or other secure, accepted document to enter or re-enter the United States. This change took effect June 1, 2009, and is a change from previous travel requirements and will affect all United States citizens entering the United States from countries within the Western Hemisphere who do not currently possess valid passports. For more information, please visit the relevant section of this website.

What You Must Declare

You must declare the types of items described below, as well as the price you paid for them. The CBP recommends that you keep your receipts and that you try to pack these items separately or where they are all readily accessible.

  • Items you purchased and are carrying with you upon your return to the United States.
  • Items you received as gifts, such as wedding or birthday presents.
  • Items you inherited.
  • Items you bought in duty-free shops or on the ship or plane.
  • Repairs or alterations to any items you took abroad and then brought back.
  • Items you brought home for someone else.
  • Items you intend to sell or use in your business.

Register Items Before You Leave the United States

U.S. Customs and Border Protection may require you to pay duty on items you've carried out of the country and are bringing back in, such as a laptop computer, cameras, jewelry and firearms, unless you can prove that you had them with you when you left. Documents that fully describe the item -- for example, sales receipts, insurance policies, or jeweler's appraisals -- are acceptable forms of proof.

Alternatively, you may register your items with the CBP as you are leaving. Take the item(s) to the nearest CBP Office -- or to the international airport from which you are departing -- and request a Certificate of Registration, CBP Form 4457 (323KB PDF). CBP inspectors must see the item you are registering in order to certify the certificate of registration. Keep the certificate for future trips.

Duty-Free Exemptions

The duty-free exemption, also called the personal exemption, is the total value of merchandise you may bring back to the United States without having to pay duty. You may bring back more than your exemption, but you will have to pay duty on it. In most cases, the personal exemption is US$800.

The exemption is only US$200 if either of the following conditions apply:

  • You have been outside of the U.S. for less than 48 hours.
  • You have have used your personal exemption on a previous trip outside the U.S. within the previous 30 days.

Family members who live in the same house may combine their exemptions into what is called a Joint Declaration. Children and infants are allowed the same exemption as adults, except for alcoholic beverages.

Tobacco Products

Each returning U.S. resident is allowed to bring into the country not more than 200 previously exported cigarettes and 100 cigars. Previously exported tobacco products in excess of these amounts will be seized and destroyed.

However, if the resident declares 400 cigarettes, of which 200 are previously exported and 200 not previously exported; the resident would be permitted to import the 200 previously exported cigarettes tax free, under the exemption, and the resident would be charged duty and tax on the remaining 200 cigarettes not previously exported.

Tobacco products of Cuban origin, however, are prohibited unless you actually acquired them in Cuba and are returning indirectly from that country on licensed travel. You may not bring into the U.S. Cuban cigars purchased in Canada.

Alcoholic Beverages

One liter (33.8 fl. oz.) of alcoholic beverages may be included in your exemption if:

  • You are 21 years old.
  • It is for your own use or as a gift.
  • It does not violate the laws of the state in which you arrive.

Federal regulations allow you to bring back more than one liter of alcoholic beverage for personal use, but, as with extra tobacco, you will have to pay duty and Internal Revenue Service tax. If you want to bring back more than one liter of alcohol, please consult this guide from Customs and Border Protection.

Gifts

The value of gifts you receive may be included in your personal exemption. Gifts you sent to others while you were away do not need to be declared, since they will not accompany you upon your return.

If you are carrying gifts for others, the rules are more complex and you should refer to the link provided below for more detailed information.

Duty-Free Shops

Many travelers are confused by the term duty-free. Travelers often think that what they buy in duty-free shops outside the U.S. won't be dutiable when they return home and clear Customs. This is incorrect. Articles sold in a Canadian duty-free shop are only free of Canadian duty and taxes. If your purchases exceed your personal exemption, items you bought in a duty-free shop will almost certainly be subject to duty.

The other restrictions apply, as well. For example, you are still allowed to bring in only one liter of alcohol duty-free, regardless of whether it was purchased at a duty-free shop.

Articles sold in duty-free shops are meant to be taken out of the country where you purchased them. Therefore, if you buy liquor in a duty-free shop in New York before entering Canada and then bring it back into the United States, it may be subject to duty and Internal Revenue Service tax. Please refer to the Customs and Border Protection website for more detailed information on Duty-Free Shops.

Medicine

Narcotics and certain other drugs with a high potential for abuse may not be brought into the United States, and there are severe penalties for trying to bring them in. If you need medicines that contain potentially addictive drugs or narcotics (e.g., some cough medicines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antidepressants, or stimulants), do the following:

  • Declare all drugs, medicinals, and similar products to the appropriate CBP official.
  • Carry all drugs, medicinals, and similar products in their original containers.
  • Carry only the quantity of such substances that a person with that condition (e.g., chronic pain) would normally carry for his/her 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.

Note: Only medications that can be legally prescribed in the United States may be imported, and then only for personal use.

If you will be returning to the U.S. carrying any sort of medication, please use consult this Customs and Border Protection page for more detailed information.

Food Products

Citrus products of any origin are strictly prohibited. Most other products produced or grown in Canada are allowed, including vegetables, fruits (other than black currants) and meat and dressed poultry, providing they are accompanied by proof of origin or labeled as a product of Canada.

Money and other Monetary Instruments

You may bring into or take out of the country, including by mail, any amount of money; but if it is worth more than US$10,000, you will need to report it to the CPB. Ask the CBP officer for the Currency Reporting Form, FinCEN Form 105 (146KB PDF). The penalties for not complying can be quite severe.

Money means monetary instruments and includes U.S. or foreign coin currently in circulation, currency, traveler's checks in any form, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form.

Pets

If you plan to take your pet abroad or import one on your return, please get a copy of the CBP brochure Pets and Wildlife (46KB PDF). You should also check with state, county, and local authorities to learn if their restrictions and prohibitions on pets are stricter than federal requirements.

Importing animals is closely regulated for public health reasons and also for the well being of the animals. There are restrictions and prohibitions on bringing many species into the United States. For detailed information regarding the bringing of pets into the United States, please consult this CBP guide.

Other Regulations

The information above does not cover all situations. Please refer to this CBP Customs Service page for more details concerning, for example, firearms, mailing items home to the U.S., fish and wildlife, and numerous other topics.

DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program

The Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) provides a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties they experienced during their travel screening at airports or train stations or crossing U.S. borders, including:

  • Denied or delayed airline boarding;
  • Denied or delayed entry into and exit from the United States at a port of entry; or
  • Continuously referred to secondary screening.

To initiate an inquiry, please log onto DHS TRIP's interactive web site. You will be asked to describe your concerns and experience, provide contact information and be assigned a case number to help you monitor the progress of your inquiry.

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