Duty & Tax Free Groceries In The U.S.

13 June 2014


On a recent trip to Trader Joe's, I was really excited to realize that groceries are not subject to taxes, which makes my trip down to the United States with my Nexus card (save time and money when traveling to the United States with it) and back within a few hours completely guilt-free.  Before, I would feel anxious about whether or not I would get charged a high amount of duty and taxes on my groceries and same day purchases.

With a little more searching and researching, I discovered a few amazing things about groceries in the United States and bringing them back to Canada, and I thought that you might want to know about them.

If you already know about these restrictions and allowances, my apologies for duplication of information you already know about.  If you don't know about this (just like I did), I hope this helps you on your next trip down to the states for groceries!

Groceries, Duty and Taxes

In case you didn't know (I was vaguely aware of it but not 100% sure because I thought it was a rumour), basic groceries, for example, food that is edible by humans, are duty and tax free.  However, non-edible groceries like cleaning products, toiletries, paper products, pet foods, and household items are subject to taxes.

Yes, that means that the cheap run to Trader Joe's in the states was well worth it because you don't have to pay taxes or duties to bring that back.  Might explain why Pirate Joe's did so well heading down to Trader Joe's in his large van.

Restricted Groceries

There are some grocery categories that have restrictions, and if you go over these allowances, you will need to get a permit!

  • Turkey- you can only bring back one turkey.  That's it.
  • Meat and Poultry- fresh, frozen (maximum of 20 kilos)
  • Meat and Poultry- processed, like sausages (maximum of 20 kilos)
  • Fish and seafood - not puffer fish and Chinese mitten crab (maximum of 20 kilos)
  • Milk products (cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream)- a maximum of 20 kilos with a maximum allowance of $20 worth
  • Eggs- 24 eggs
  • Potatoes- you are allowed one bag of commercially packaged potatoes
  • Baked goods (maximum of 20 kilos of baked goods- which seems like a lot in my opinion!)

Groceries Not Allowed into Canada

  • Needless to say, anything with soil is not allowed into Canada (for example, that cute basil plant for $3.99 at Trader Joe's is not allowed back to Canada unfortunately!)
  • Apples are not allowed (thank goodness someone stopped me at the counter from buying the apples)--> this is a specific restriction for British Columbia
  • Fruits that have pits/ stones in them (apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums)  --> This is a specific restriction for British Columbia
  • corn on the cob

If you want more information, check out the Canada Food Inspection Agency website.

Do Not Bring back Alcohol or Tobacco

Of course, do not bring back alcohol or tobacco if you have been gone for less than 48 hours unless you want to get in the bad books with the Canada Border Services Agency.  If you do bring back these items to Canada within a same day trip (a trip less than 24 hours) they are subject to taxes and duties.

If you need a refresher on personal exemptions allowed, check out this mini-guide from the Government of Canada travel site.

There you have it, folks.  Because cheese is so ridiculously cheap and economically priced in the United States and at Trader Joe's, I'll be sure to make regular (perhaps every two months) trips down to the United States to stock up on some cheese and other goodies.

If you want to get more trivia about Trader Joe's, check out this interesting Buzzfeed article on 18 incredible things you didn't know about Trader Joe's! I had no idea that you could ask a sales person to open anything and they will let you try it.  Or that managers at Trader Joe's stores can make over six figures!

Or you could alternately check out this Buzzfeed article on 23 Reasons why Trader Joe's is the Best.

Bargainmoosers, do you buy your groceries in the states? Have you ever been taxed or gotten into trouble with the CBSA?

(banner image credit: Spiro Bolos)


  • joy
    You just might my day! We travel to the US a few times a year & I stock up on my favorite US groceries, I always included it in my duty-free allowance, usually I have $200-$300 in food & when combined with my other purchases I come close to maxing out on my allowance, now I can spend that money on clothes & other stuff and not have to worry about duty!! Thx :) Do you know, are those restrictions ie, $20 in dairy per car or per person?
    • joy
      I just found the answer to my question,its per person. I just can't seem to locate where it says they are Duty & Tax free. Can you provide the link? Thanks
      • Clare Y.
        Hi, check out http://www.crossbordershopping.ca/duty-tax-import-guide/canada-customs-duty-rates-tariffs-and-taxes Basic groceries are non-taxable. It is per person per trip (for the restriction)
  • Margarita D.
    I have never shopped for groceries in the states, but this is definitely pretty handy to know. Thanks Clare!
  • Fay. H.
    Thanks for compiling the information!
  • Tami
    This is great news! How did I not know this?? I usually keep my food purchases low but not anymore!! I'm looking forward to going to Buffalo since TJ finally opened. Every time I go to visit friends in CA I talk with the manager and always ask when they are coming to Toronto. LOVE TJs!!! Thanks for this article!
  • Julie
    I was told by the CBSA that if something is taxable in the US, they will charge the taxes even if it's food. I would like to have the link too so I can make sure if these items are taxes-free or not. I don't want to get ripped off ;)
    • Clare Y.
      There is a great calculator if you are unsure: http://www.crossbordershopping.ca/calculators/canadian-duty-calculator
  • Rad
    What an amazing post!!! Thank you. I look forward to your emails EVERYDAY! Thanks again!
    • Clare Y.
      Awe thanks guys! You are awesome!! xo
  • Joanne L.
    I was told by customs officers at the Canadian border that any snacks or candy and that anything taxable in Canada (like baked goods) will be charged duty. I generally separate groceries I buy in the US that are taxable and non-taxable. Sometimes it works and I'm not charged duty on the basic groceries like cheese, meat, etc but other times I'm charged for all groceries. It seems to depend on the customs officer... I try to be extremely organized with my purchases to organize them for customs, but grocery items are not terribly consistently dealt with at the border. Just wanted to mention that it's not been my experience that anything consumable that is food is considered duty-free at the border. I wish it had been my experience. Perhaps it's different for others, but I have gone over many times, as I live about 45 minutes from the border and enjoy going over with friends and on my own, and this has been my experience. By the way I too am a HUGE Trader Joe's fan!!! I was told at Trader Joe's that everything in the store with the Trader Joe's brand (which is most of what they carry) is non-GMO, which is fantastic!!! I too hope for Trader Joe's to come to Canada!!!

What do you think?

Your comment