The Complete Guide to Crossing the Border in Your RV


We’ve crossed the border from the US to Canada and back several times in our RV and more times than I can count in our car. For whatever reason, I still get nervous every time I go through customs.

So, what can I bring with me when I cross the border? Both Canada and the US regulate what can and cannot cross the border. To keep your border crossing simple don’t bring any fruits, vegetables, guns, weapons, plants with soil, firewood, fireworks, and cannabis. Not all these items are prohibited but some require further screening and permissions.

I’m going to cover in this post, both sides of the border since if you are entering Canada then you will likely be returning to the US or vice versa.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because you took something across the border from the US into Canada DOES NOT mean you can bring it from Canada into the US. It seems weird but I know but each country has its own set of rules.

Passports

All adults need a passport to enter the US and Canada. Both nationalities are allowed to stay for up to 6 months as a tourist. But the border guards to have the right to reduce the allowable stay.

Children, on the other hand, may not need a passport. Minors under 15 traveling by land or sea will be allowed to enter either country as long as they have their birth certificate with them.

We have our passports ready to go when we pull up to the booth and have them open to the photo page. Remember to take off your sunglasses and you may even be asked to remove your glasses if you aren’t wearing them in your passport photo

What to Expect

So you have your passports in hand, your sunglasses off, now what? Well, you might have a bit of a wait ahead of you.

Wait Times

You may have a significant wait time depending on the border crossing you use. The major crossings can get backed up during rush hour, holiday weekends and the summer months.

It’s a good idea to add some buffer time to your travel times just in case the border is busy or they decide to search you. You can plan ahead though and use one of the estimated border wait time sites.

You can find the US to Canada wait time here on the Government of Canada website and Canada to US wait times here on the US Customs and Border Protection website. Bear in mind that the wait times are only updated once an hour so they may not be accurate.

Questions

Almost every time we’ve crossed the border we are asked the same basic series of questions.

  • Where are you going?
  • Where are you from?/Where’s home?
  • How long will you be staying? (going to the foreign country)
  • How long were you gone for? (returning to your home country)
  • Do you have an weapons/tobacco/alcohol/marijuana/currency over $10,000?

These are just some of the most common ones we are asked but we’ve also not been asked any before too, though we were in the car at the time, not our RV.

We do our best to always be polite and courteous to the officers but also try not to volunteer too much information either. Be honest but don’t overshare.

Children

I already mention your kids don’t necessarily need a passport to cross the border in your RV but it is a good idea to have them. Another good idea is to have a notarized letter of consent if both parents aren’t present.

If you are traveling with your grandkids then I think it would be a very good idea to have a letter of consent available. Also, a good call if you are a single parent, you wouldn’t want something like this to spoil your travels.

I so far haven’t been asked for this the few time I’ve crossed the border with my baby. She’s under one and we don’t have the same last name. We’ve actually been asked surprisingly few questions about the baby when we cross the border.

Pets

I’ve crossed the border numerous times with our cat Monty both by air and by RV. Most times you just need to declare that you have your pet with you and that’s all.

Both countries require cats and dogs to have a valid rabbis vaccination before crossing the border. You’ll want to carry with you your pets vaccination certificate just in case they ask for it.

I think I’ve only had Monty’s requested once when we flew from Georgia to Ontario but the agent thought we were coming from Georgia the country not Georgia the US state.

If you are traveling with an animal other than a cat or dog you’ll need to investigate a little further on what is required. For entering Canada go here on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website. For entering the US go here on the CDC website.

A note about pet food, if you like to store your pet’s food in containers other than the bag it came in, keep the bag. You may need to prove where the pet food was made and what the ingredients are.

I personally have never had a problem but I have heard of people having their pet food confiscated.

Plants

Since our RVs are our homes you might have a house plant or two. Unfortunately, you will not be able to bring them with you and it’s not because of the plant.

It’s because of the soil. Soil can harbor pest and bugs that you might not even know about.

While in theory, you can bring standard houseplants across the border you would have to clean the roots of any soil or growing medium prior to crossing the border. You may also be required to get a phytosanitary certificate to prove that the plant meets entry requirements.

It’ll be easiest if you can leave your beloved plants with a trusted friend while RVing in a “foreign” country. If you have your heart set on bringing Grandma’s fern with you, make sure you declare it at the border and see how the cards fall.

Foods you can bring into the USA

Before you cross the border take a quick look in your RV’s fridge and pantry so you have an idea of what supplies you have. DON’T GO GROCERY SHOPPING TILL YOU CROSS THE BORDER. We made this mistake once and lost half our produce haul!

Once you are at the border you should always declare to the agent what foods you have in your RV. If you want to be thorough then having a list of items to provide the agent might speed the process up or it could slow it down. Depends on the agent.

I will repeat ALWAYS DECLARE ANY FOOD. I know one couple that was threatened with a fine for not declaring two kiwis they forgot they had in their cooler. They were California kiwis…

Most likely you will be asked to go for a secondary inspection. This happened to us once and the border guards were very friendly. We went inside and they had a look around the RV and took any food that wasn’t permitted.

Below I have listed food that SHOULD be allowed across the border. If you have something that isn’t listed below and can’t eat it before the border, keep it for now and declare it, worst case scenario the border agent will throw it out for you.

Pantry Goods

  • condiments
  • vinegar
  • oils
  • packaged spices
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • coffee
  • tea
  • formula
  • baked goods
  • olives
  • most canned goods
  • chocolate
  • candy
  • nuts – maybe not uncooked
  • pasta
  • rice – if it’s been purchased in Canada it should be fine
  • grains

Animal Products

  • pork – proof of Canadian origin required
  • poultry – proof of Canadian origin required
  • fish
  • seafood
  • cheese
  • wild game meat – if you hunted it yourself in Canada and provide proof such as hunting license or tag (see more information on US CBP)
  • bovine meat and meat products – personal use amount only

Fruit and Vegetable

I wish I could give you a full list of fruits and vegetables that you are allowed to take across the border but in my hours of scouring the US Custom and Border Protection site I could not find a straight forward list.

In theory “Canadian grown fruits and vegetables grown during the typical Canadian growing season, May-October, are generally admissible if they are labeled identifying them as products of Canada.” That is a quote directly from the CBP site.

For example, if you buy peaches in Canada during Canadian peach season and can prove they are of Canadian origins then you MIGHT be allowed to bring them across the border.

We personally have had citrus (Florida oranges), avocados, peppers and tomatoes confiscated at the border. So even if the product originated in the US once it enters Canada it cannot come back.

There is a Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements (FAVIR) database available, which can be found here at the US Department of Agriculture. But it’s very confusing if you want to figure out what you can and cannot bring with you.

Now the list of allowable food items can change at any times and is very dependent on disease outbreaks. For a while, beef was not allowed from Canada into the US due to mad cow but I couldn’t find information to support this still being true.

Fruit and vegetables are also subject to change depending on pest and disease outbreaks. One RVer had their apples confiscated due to a moth outbreak even though the last time they were permitted.

The other issue is technically you need to have proof of country of origin, unmarked items may be seized. So how do you prove the country of origin? I supposed the sticker on your fruit and vegetables may be enough but I guess that prevents you from getting the good stuff from the local fruit stand.

I found this guide to be the most helpful on the US Customs and Border Protection site.

Foods you can bring into Canada

Again I will repeat, ALWAYS DECLARE ANY FOOD. If you want to keep it simple then try to have as little food as possible in your RV.

WAIT TILL YOU CROSS THE BORDER TO GROCERY SHOP. Unfortunately, you may be paying a higher price for food in Canada versus the US. That being said many Canadian’s do cross border shop for their groceries.

According to the Inspections Canada website, see it here, the allowances for what you can bring into Canada are fairly lenient. Again keep in mind the products allowed into Canada are constantly changing and can also depend on the border agent you are dealing with.

Below I have listed food that SHOULD be allowed across the border. If you have something that isn’t allowed then worst case scenario, AS LONG AS YOU DECLARED IT, it’ll be confiscated. For most items, you are allowed up to 20 kg (44 lbs) per person, which is a lot!

  • Baked goods, candies, etc – up to 20 kgs per person, cannot contain meat
  • Dairy Products
  • Fish and Seafood – except pufferfish and Chinese mitten crab
  • Fruits and Vegetables
    • dried – up to 15 packages per person but less than 250 kg
    • frozen/canned
      • fruit – up to 15 packages/cans per person but less than 250 kg
      • vegetables – up to 20 kg per person
    • fresh – free from soil, pest, and other plant debris
      • up to 15 packages per person but less than 250 kg (excluding potatoes)
      • potatoes – one commercially packaged bag up to 4kg per person
  • Game meat/animal carcasses – require hunter’s permit and/or license, also subject to provincial restrictions
  • Spices, tea, coffee, condiments
  • Infant formula – commercially packaged, for personal use, max 20 kg per person
  • Meat, Poultry and related products (e.g. deli meats, sausages)
    • up to 20 kg per person
    • package must be labeled with the product type
    • may require proof of country of origin

If you want more detail information the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has own online database called the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS), see it here. But, it’s not the easiest thing to understand.

I couldn’t find eggs on the list of allowable items and looking at the AIRS it asks detailed questions down to the size of the egg and state the eggs come from. Turns out you are allowed up to 30 dozen eggs but after 2 dozen you may have to pay duty.

I have also heard from other RVs their eggs were confiscated at the border and were “scolded” by the border agent for having them. So it might just depend on how cranky the agent is feeling that day.

Alcohol

In the US the drinking age is 21 and in Canada, it’s 19 except for Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, where it is 18. This is important for younger travelers to remember but won’t be an issue for most RVers.

If you are entering the US from Canada I won’t bother about purchasing alcohol before you cross the border. Most alcohol is much cheaper in the US than in Canada and that can even include the duty-free.

If you do have your heart set on bringing something special back to the US with you then you are allowed to bring duty-free 1L of alcohol per person of legal age (i.e. 21). If you are above this amount then you will likely have to pay duty on it.

If you are entering Canada from the US, GO TO THE DUTY-FREE. Alcohol is much more expensive in Canada than it is in the US!

You are allowed to enter Canada duty-free with 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. This is per person of legal age in the province of entry. As a Canadian, you need to have been absent for more than 48 hours.

If you end up with more than you allowable limit then you will likely have to pay duty but it still may end up cheaper than the Canadian prices.

If you have partial bottles in your RVs liquor cabinet just remember to declare it to the border agent. They likely won’t care since its obviously for personal use but as always its better to declare than to not.

Weapons

If you want to make your life a little easier, don’t cross the border with guns, tasers, mace or even certain hunting knives. Don’t worry your fancy Japanese steel chief’s knife is safe.

Tasers and maces are illegal items to posses in Canada if you are a civilian, so don’t even try to cross the border with them.

You can cross the border with a gun, HOWEVER, there are certain permissions and permits required to do so. And your weapon needs to adhere to the countries laws.

Entering Canada with a Gun

Canada has three classes of guns, non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Non-restricted guns are long guns like hunting or sporting rifles, restricted are handguns or guns with shorter barrels and prohibited are automatic guns. The RCMP website breaks down all the classes of firearms in more detail here.

I’m going to assume you are only looking to bring some sort of hunting rifle or non-restricted gun with you in your RV when you go to Canada. It gets more complicated if you want to bring a restricted gun and you’ll need to contact the RCMP. It goes without saying you cannot enter Canada with a prohibited gun.

There are two options for bringing your non-restricted firearm into Canada. Option 1 is if this is a rare occasion and option 2 is good for 5 years but needs to be performed ahead of time. I’ll lay the information out for you below but you can see it on the RCMP site here.

Option 1: Fill out a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration (form RCMP 5589) form, ideally prior to arriving at the border so it’s ready to go but do not sign it. At the border declare your firearms to the agent, a customs officer will witness you signing the form and you pay a $25 fee.

This acts as a license for the next 60 days. Sounds easy in theory.

Option 2: Get a Canadian firearms license. You will have to have passed the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC) and then apply for a five-year Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL).

A background check will be required as well. And of course, once you have your license you still need to declare your weapon at the border.

Entering the US with a Gun

I’m going to assume any Americans who entered Canada with a gun will not have an issue returning to the US with those same firearms. For Canadian RVers entering the US with a firearm, I’m going to assume it is for hunting purposes.

If you are bringing a firearm into the US for hunting or other sporting purposes you need to get a permit from ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). You’ll have to fill out a form for “Application and Permit for Temporary Importation of Firearms and Ammunition by Nonimmigrant Aliens” and send it into ATF.

It may take as long as 2-3 months to process your application and will include a background check. But it will be valid for one year and once you have the permit you can cross the border numerous times.

If you are hunting you will need a hunting license for that state. For any type of marksmanship or shooting competition its a good idea to bring proof of enrollment.

Once at the border the agent will review your paperwork, make sure the guns you are bringing matches the description

To prevent any issue on your return to Canada it might be a good idea to check in at Canadian Customs before you leave the country. This way you can get a certificate with the description and serial numbers of your firearm and hopefully won’t have any issues on reentry. You need to return with the same gun you left with.

Other Items

Fireworks

When entering Canada it best to leave your fireworks and sparklers in the US and just buy some once you cross the border. Fireworks fall into the same category as explosives so you need written authorization and import permits.

It’s best to leave them behind. If you do have them when you are at the border, just declare them and you will just have to surrender them to the agents.

Now, I looked high and low for information on bringing fireworks from Canada into the US and I found nothing. I guess this isn’t an issue but I would say just don’t do it. Use up the fireworks you have if you are on a return journey or wait till you get into the US to buy some. They are probably a lot cheaper in the US anyway.

Tobacco

In Canada, you need to be over 18 to buy and possess tobacco. For Canadians returning to Canada, you need to have been gone for more than 48 hours to qualify for the duty-free amounts. US RVers have the same exemption limits.

Tobacco products need to have been purchased from a duty-free shop in order to be duty-free. If tobacco products are not stamped with “duty paid Canada droit acquitté” then a special duty rate will apply.

The personal exemption limit for tobacco products are

  • Cigarettes 200 cigarettes
  • Cigars 50 cigars
  • Tobacco 200 grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco
  • Tobacco sticks 200 tobacco sticks

In the US, the federal smoking age is 18 but many states have raised it to be 21. According to the US Custom and Border Protection, individuals need to be 21 to bring tobacco products into the US.

In order to bring tobacco into the US duty-free a US Resident needs to have been gone for more than 48hrs. Canadians are subject to the same limits.

The personal exemption limit for tobacco products are

  • Cigarettes 200 cigarettes
  • Cigars 100 cigars

Firewood

You are not allowed to bring firewood across the border in either direction. In general, you should always refrain from transporting firewood.

It’s a very easy way for pests and critters to hitchhike with you to a new area and start wreaking havoc on a new ecosystem.

Cannabis

Though cannabis is now legal in Canada and legal in many American states you ARE NOT permitted to cross the border in either direction. Even if you are going from Washington state, where it is legal, to British Columbia, where it is also legal.

This is also true for medical marijuana. It is illegal to take cannabis or products that contain cannabis across Canadian borders.

Duties and Taxes

In general, you shouldn’t have to worry about paying any duties or taxes for a temporary stay. If you are just visiting then none of your gear is being imported into the US or Canada so providing an itemized list of things in your RV (aside from food) with values is not required. We have never been asked for anything like this when doing temporary stays.

It’s fairly safe to say anything that is not remaining in the other country will not be subject to any duty or tax. Meaning an American entering Canada in his RV will not have to pay duty on his personal belongings since they will not be remaining in Canada. Same goes for a Canadian entering the US in his RV.

Each country has a value of goods you are allowed to bring into the country duty-free, called your personal exemption limit. You’ll need to pay duty on any alcohol or tobacco above your allowed amount noted above

Duty-free for Canadians

  • Visiting the US you are allowed to bring $100USD worth of items such as gifts
  • Returning to Canada depends on your length of stay
    • less than 24 hrs – no exemption
    • more than 24 hrs – $200CAD worth of goods
    • more than 48 hrs – $800CAD worth of goods

Duty-free for Americans

  • Visiting Canada you are allowed to bring gifts worth $60CAD each (I interpret this as each gift can be $60)
  • Returning to the US from Canada
    • less than 48 hrs – $200USD personal exemption limit
    • more than 48hrs – $800USD personal exemption limit

Conclusion

Crossing the border may seem like a complicated process but it’s usually fairly straight forward. Being in an RV might make it a longer process if you need to be searched.

Just remember to keep it simple. Have your passports ready for the agent, answer any questions asked but without oversharing, be polite and declare any food, alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. Purposely not declaring something is much worse than having something confiscated.

Diane Dee

Diane is a lover of all things travel. She and her young family wanted to explore North America from the comfort of their own home so they bought an RV. After fully rehabbing a 1994 Safari Trek, they set out to explore both Canada and the USA.

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