If you’re planning to cross the border, it’s important to take note that some goods are considered prohibited or restricted by the US and/or the Canadian government because they pose a threat to public health and safety. It is the duty of the customs officials on both sides of the border to prevent these unsafe items from entering the country.
The list of prohibited and restricted items will vary per country. It may also change over time depending on current perceived threats such as an outbreak of avian influenza or foot-and-mouth disease.
Restricted and Prohibited items when entering the US
|Prohibited Items||Restricted Items|
|Absinthe and illegal substances such as Rohypnol and Fen-Phen||Biological specimens such as fungi, mollusks, tissues of livestock, plants, viruses, and bacterial cultures for research, biological, or pharmaceutical use.|
|Dangerous toys. Cars that aren’t built to protect the occupants in a crash. Products that contain dog or cat fur. Soil. Drug paraphernalia||Cultural artifacts and property such as Any pre-Columbian monumental and architectural sculpture and murals from Central and South American countries will require export permits issued by the country where it came from.|
|Most meat products (dried, fresh, or canned) or anything containing meat products such as bouillon, soup mixes, etc. Bush meat from African wildlife||Defense articles or items that have a military application such as firearms, software, design plans, and technology.|
|Pet birds from countries/ regions affected with highly pathogenic Avian influenza subtype H5NI (temporary ban)||Certain plants, cuttings, seeds, and unprocessed plant products require import permits|
|Noodles or ramen that contain meat or eggs. Kinder Eggs||Threatened or endangered species of plants require export permits from the country they came from.|
|Curry leaves and Certain flowers from Argentina, Africa, Brazil, Italy, Malta, France, Mauritius, Portugal, and Uruguay|
|Certain dried spices such as lemon, lime, orange, and lemongrass. Coca, barberry, and loose citrus leaves||Soil is generally prohibited unless accompanied by an import permit|
|Unpasteurized cheeses that are no more than 60 years old and any product containing raw eggs or egg-based items from Mexico.||Hunting trophies|
|Any product made from sea turtles. Crocodile and caiman leather. Most types of coral (in jewelry or chunks) and ivory from Asian and African elephants.||Certain fish and wildlife will require permits|
Restricted and Prohibited items when entering Canada
|Prohibited Items||Restricted Items|
|Certain aquatic invasive species (AIS) like the zebra and quagga mussels, Chinese mitten crabs, and live Asian carp are not allowed entry into Canada.||Firewood cannot be imported without a permit. Firearms, weapons, explosives, fireworks, and ammunition all require a permit.|
|Milk (dried, frozen, reconstituted, or fresh) and milk products from countries. Jequirity beans and products that contain them. Puffer fish. Baked goods that contain meat of any kind. Fresh fruits and veggies that aren’t commercially packaged. Any items or products that have been contaminated with soil are typically prohibited||Cultural objects that have a historical significance to the country where they came from are required to have export permits before they are allowed entry into Canada.|
|Baby walkers, infant self-feeding devices. Lawn darts with elongated tips. Regulated consumer products that do not meet Canadian safety requirements such as cribs, toys, hockey helmets, car seats, and children’s sleepwear.||Used or second-hand mattresses require a certificate or documentation that the mattresses have been cleaned and fumigated.|
|Obscene materials, hate propaganda, and child pornography||Conifers and garden plants. Root vegetables.|
Things to declare in Customs
Before you can be allowed entry into the US or Canada, you will be required to declare the goods that you will be bringing into the country.
|Entering USA for non US Citizens||Entering Canada - non Canadian citizens||Canadaian Citizens Returning to Canada||U.S. Citizens Returning to USA|
|Gifts, business articles, or items that are not intended for personal use. All items that are carried for someone else.||Items that you intend for personal use such as clothes, sports equipment, personal computers, cameras, and camping equipment.||Any purchases from a duty-free shop (Canadian or foreign).||Items that you bought and/or carrying with you upon your return to the US, including gifts that you bought or received|
|Commercial merchandise including samples.||Items that you intend to gift to individuals residing in Canada. Items you bought in a duty-free shop. Items you intend to sell or use for business purposes||Any repairs or alterations that were made to your vehicle, vessel, or aircraft outside the country.||Items you purchased in a duty-free shop, on the ship, or on the plane. Any repairs or alterations made to items that you brought out of the country and then brought back, even if it was done free-of-charge|
|Food items (processed and unprocessed), animal products, or plant materials (agricultural items).||Medicine||Any modifications to an item outside of Canada that has increased its value or enhanced its condition.||Items that you will gift to friends at home. Items that you intend to sell or use for business purposes, even those that you originally brought with you abroad.|
|Medicine and any biological specimens||Any goods that will require you to pay duty on such as tobacco and alcohol||Any gifts, prizes, and awards that you received outside of Canada||Items that you purchased in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or in a Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act country and arranged to be shipped to you.|
|Firearms or other weapons. Food and animal products||Items that you inherited. All monetary instruments such as stocks, securities, money orders, cash, gold coins, traveler's checks, negotiable checks, and promissory notes.|
Currency / Cash
Travelers are able to carry any amount of money that they wish to when entering or leaving the US or Canada. However, if they are carrying more than $10,000 (or its equivalent in foreign currency), they will need to report it to the CBP and fill out the Currency Reporting Form (FinCen 105) or the CBSA. “Money” is defined as currency, US and foreign coins that are currently in circulation, and other monetary instruments such as stocks, traveler’s checks, money orders, bank drafts, bonds and everything in your money belt.
If you are carrying required medication upon arrival in the US, you will need to do the following things:
- report all the medications or drugs to the Customs officer
- ensure that all drugs and medicines are properly identified (still in their original containers)
- only possess a quantity that is normally carried by a person with your condition for personal use
- carry a prescription or written statement from your doctor that he or she has directed you to take them and that the medication is necessary to ensure your good health while you travel
Visitors and residents of Canada are allowed to bring prescription drugs and natural health products into the country if they meet the following requirements:
- the medication is for personal use or for the use of an individual that they are responsible for and are traveling with
- the quantity is for a single course of treatment or a 90-day supply based on the directions of use, whichever is less
- the medication is in hospital or pharmacy dispensed packaging; original retail packaging; or has the original label affixed to it which clearly states what it is and what is inside
When travelers opt to ship goods home instead of carrying it with them, they will need to make arrangements with a courier or postal company. These can be goods that you brought with you abroad or items that you purchased while outside the US or Canada.
If you’re shipping items back to the US, they will fall into one of three categories: US mail, express shipments, and freight.
US Mail Shipments
- All mail shipments coming from outside the US are first examined by the CBP.
- Packages that do not require duty are sent back to the US Postal Service for local delivery without additional costs or fees.
- The CBP will attach a form, the CBP Form 3419Alt, on packages that require payment of duty which will need to be paid upon delivery. There will be additional fees as well such as a $5 processing fee and a small handling fee from the post office.
Express and Freight Shipments
The courier company or customs broker will be the one taking care of clearing your items through CBP which is included in the fee that they charge. Freight shipments will need to be cleared within 15 days of their arrival. If not, you will be charged storage fees.
Shipping back to Canada
- the items must qualify for the 7-day personal exemption
- the package must not include any tobacco or alcohol products
- you need to declare to the customs officer that you are shipping goods into the country upon your arrival and request to fill out Form BSF192, Personal Exemption CBSA Declaration.
When the goods are delivered, either by a courier or postal company, you will be asked to pay the applicable duty and taxes. You can either pay the fees, accept the delivery, and request for a refund from the CBP, or refuse the delivery and clear the goods personally with the CBP.
Jewelry and Valuables
If you’re going to be traveling with jewelry and other valuables out of the country, it is important that you register these items with the border services in your country (US or Canada) before you leave. While it is not a legal requirement, it will enable you to prove that you already owned these items prior to your trip abroad. Without this proof, you may end up paying duties and taxes upon your return if the customs official believes that you purchased them abroad.
You can register your valuables with the CBP by physically taking them to the nearest CBP port of entry or the port where you will be departing from. The customs officer will then fill out a CBP Form 4457 Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad then stamp and sign it. You will need to present this form upon your return. You can use this form on multiple trips as long as you are bringing with you the same equipment.
Jewelry, on the other hand, cannot be registered on the CBP Form 4457 because it lacks a serial number. You can use a dated copy of the jewelry insurance policy, receipt, or jewelry appraisal to prove ownership.
You can also register your valuables in Canada through a similar process. The border services officer will list valuables that have serial numbers or unique markings in a Form BSF407, Identification of Articles for Temporary Exportation. Valuables without serial numbers will be given a sticker for identification at customs.
Jewelry also cannot be included in a Form BSF407. Instead, you need to get an appraisal report and photographs (signed and dated) of each piece of jewelry from a recognized Canadian insurance agent, jeweler, or gemologist. You will also need written certification that the jewelry in the photos and the ones described in the report are the same. Have a CBSA officer validate the report, photos, and certification statement before you leave Canada.