Northwest Travel Planning

Canadian and U.S. Border

Disclaimer: This information is provided as a service to our visitors and no guarantee is made as to its completeness or correctness. All information should be independently verified with the relevant authorities.

The Pacific Northwest (as defined by Go Northwest!) has the distinction of encompassing two countries. The Pacific Northwest region includes Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming in the USA and the province of British Columbia in Canada.

Visitors to the Pacific Northwest might encounter the laws and practices of both the USA and Canada, as when the USA city of Seattle, and the Canadian city of Vancouver are on the same itinerary. You will want to be prepared when crossing the international border.

The following information is presented to assist you in your travels.  For additional information, please visit either of the following web sites:

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)

U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP)

Visitors to the United States from other countries also may want to visit our US-VISIT page and acquaint themselves with policies and procedures recently introduced by the US Department of Homeland Security for entering and visiting the United States. These policies deal with enrollment requirements, how the program works, current ports of entry and privacy information. US-VISIT currently applies to all visitors (with limited exemptions) holding non-immigrant visas, regardless of country of origin. US-VISIT does not apply to U.S. citizens.

Crossing the Canadian / United States of America border

Rules governing the entry of foreigners are subject to change and you should check with the relevant authorities close to the time you will be making a crossing. Generally crossing this border is straight-forward and will include going through immigration customs both ways. The biggest hassle is usually the length of the queues, so consider avoiding peak times such as public holidays and the start and end of the working day.

Ensure you have the necessary papers

Proper identification papers such as a passport, enhanced drivers license and/or birth certificate are required. Visit the US Customs and Border protection Agency web site for more information about identification requirements. You also may be asked to show a return air ticket or proof of sufficient funds. Know the rules and make sure your appearance is not cause for suspicion (probably not a good day to be wearing your "legalize marijuana" t-shirt!). Customs inspectors do have the power to ruin a vacation. If you come under strong scrutiny for any reason, answer questions directly and politely. Tempting though it may be, wise-cracking and rudeness will only be to your own detriment.

When crossing the border on public transportation such as ferries, trains and buses, you will if necessary, be reunited with your luggage in order to take it across yourself. Transport companies take the inspection time into account in their schedules, and while mass transit is usually treated efficiently, the companies have no power over delays. Vehicles may be searched at the discretion of the customs officials, whether or not the traveler feels that he or she has complied with customs requirements.

Standard questions you might be asked by a border guard include: "Where are you from?", "Where are you going?", "How long will you be in Canada?" (sound like you know for how long, even if your plans are flexible, and ensure the intended length of your stay is within the legal limit), "What is the purpose of your trip?", and "Are you bringing anything with you that you intend to leave behind?"

Driving across the border

Border officials are on the lookout for stolen cars, or people attempting to avoid paying duties on bought cars. So you will want to be carrying documentation to show you are not perpetrating such scenarios.

Driving a rental car across the US-Canadian border is usually not a problem, so long as you have made this arrangement with the car rental company. Make sure you have a copy of the rental agreement with you, and that is states you have permission to take the vehicle across the border.

If you are driving a private car which isn't registered in the name of someone going on the trip, bring written proof that you have the permission of the owner to take the car into the other country.

Close to the time you intend to cross, it might be worth asking locals about the comparable prices of gas/petrol in each country (factoring in exchange rates), in order to make a budget-conscious decision as to which side to "fill up".

Going through U.S. Customs

Visitors who are at least 21 years of age may bring the following into the USA: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 2 kilograms (4.4 lbs.) of tobacco; 1 liter of alcohol; gifts to the value of $100. Different restrictions will apply to returning US residents and citizens.

Travel Information from U.S. Customs & Border Protection
More details are available in the "Travel" section of the official U.S. Customs web site. The "For U.S. Citizens" and the "Questions" links are a good place to start.

Immigration and Naturalization Service
The official INS web site has a page called "How do I" customer guides where you can find answers to particular questions you may have.

Canadian Citizens Traveling to the US

More information for Canadian citizens crossing into the USA can be found on the Crossing U.S. Borders page at the web site of the Homeland Security.

Going through Canadian Customs

Visitors may bring the following into Canada: 200 cigarettes (= 1 carton), 50 cigars, and 14 ounces of tobacco; up to 1.5 liters or 53 ounces of wine (= two 750 ml bottles of wine, up to 1.14 liters or 40 ounces of liquor (=1 large standard bottle of liquor) or 24 x 355-milliliter (12-ounce) bottles or cans of beer for personal consumption; gifts up to the value of C$60 per gift. To import tobacco products a person must be 18 years of age or over, and to import alcoholic beverages the importer must have reached the legal age established by authorities of the province. You can bring in a small amount of food for your own consumption. Different restrictions will apply to returning Canadian residents.

USA Citizens Traveling to Canada

Citizens of the United States do not need a passport or visa to enter Canada, unless they are arriving in Canada from somewhere other than the USA. They do need to have on them proof of citizenship plus photo identification, although this is not often asked for. Residents of Washington State can use an Enhanced Drivers License or EDL. More information for U.S. citizens crossing into Canada can be found on the Consular Information Sheet for Canada at the web site of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, of the U.S. Department of State.

Americans in particular will need to be aware that Canada has strict gun laws. Generally, all weapons without legitimate sporting or recreational use are prohibited, and guns used for hunting or competition may be brought in with a permit. (Contact below). Undeclared firearms will be confiscated, and criminal charges may be made.

For more information about going into Canada, phone the border-crossing post directly. For answers to Canadian customs enquiries, or to locate the nearest Canadian customs district office, call the following telephone numbers: From within Canada, call: (toll-free) 1-800-461-9999; TTY within Canada: 1-866-335-3237. From outside Canada, call: 204-983-3500; or, 506-636-5064 (long-distance charges apply).

The following links also will be helpful

Canada Customs and Revenue Agency
The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency site has information for Visitors to Canada, including the Tax Refund for Visitors to Canada pamphlet. Canadian residents may be interested in browsing the pages about Canadian residents traveling abroad and obtaining more information about exemptions for returning Canadians.

The Canadian customs FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page also can be quite helpful in answering questions.

More Related Web Sites
Webcams of four border crossings for lower mainland British Columbia, plus tips for Canadian travelers. (Web site by

Immigration Direct
U.S. Immigration & Citizenship Form Services

More Information

U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) telephone numbers for customer service:

  • Local: 202-354-1000

  • Toll-free (from US): 1-877-227-5511.

The above information is presented to assist you in your travels. For additional information, please visit either of the following web sites:

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)

U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP)

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