Save Money by Crossing the Border this Summer

26 July 2012

With the recent changes to the cross border allowance that started June 1, 2012 (source: Yahoo Canada), there are without a doubt, more and more Canadians crossing the border to take advantage of great deals. As Anna mentioned in a previous post, that Canadians are crossing the border to buy merchandise.

With the new changes, if you:

  • Stay less than 24 hours in the US – there is no change
  • Stay more than 24 hours in the US - Now you can bring back $200 worth of goods per person instead of $50
  • Stay 48 hours to 1 week in the US - You can bring back $800 instead of $400 before June 1, 2012.
  • If you’re staying more than 1 week, you can bring back $800 instead of $750.

This is a huge change from before and now you won’t have to be sheepish by wearing the clothes you just bought and saying that they are old when questioned by the Customs Officer.

In addition, if you are visiting the US for less than 24 hours (e.g. if you’re crossing the border for only the day), there are a few things that you can bring back under the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) exemption where you won’t have to pay extra duty bringing these items back into Canada. The NAFTA exemption includes products that are made in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

In addition, some products that you won’t have to pay extra duty on are (source: CBC):

  • Books
  • Cellphones
  • Cordless telephone sets
  • Video games
  • Antiques
  • Most types of original art
  • Picks for climbing or mountaineering
  • Juice extractors
  • Hair dryers
  • Electric irons
  • Microwave ovens
  • Bread makers
  • Indoor smokeless barbecues
  • CD players
  • Gifts under $60 value

Seeing cellphones on the list amazes me because I should have bought my iPhone in an Apple store in the United States! I should double check with this and call the Border Information Services though for my future cellphone purchases. If you want to check the amount of duty of an item you’re planning to buy in the United States, you can call:

Border Information Services 1-800-461-9999

This number is toll-free.

I have saved hundreds of dollars on my textbooks for school by buying them online on, shipping them to the local United States based shipping company, driving 30 minutes to the border at Point Roberts, Washington, and picking them up.

All you need to do to set up a cross border shipping address is to register online with the company you have chosen. Oftentimes you don’t have to pay anything until they collect and hold a package for you. Some other companies ask for an initial membership fee and have reduced holding/ shipping rates. Even then, to collect a package with the shipping company I use, I only have to pay $3.50 for a pretty medium sized package.

As Anna mentioned in an earlier post, there is just so much more variety on than The only things you can basically buy on are books, with a few recent category additions (like the baby store). On you can buy anything and everything you want, even a vacuum cleaner or a microwave. However, the taxes can be horrendous. I once tried to look at a vacuum cleaner on for $50 and the shipping and duty was $100. Other items can’t even be shipped into Canada sometimes, it depends on the item.

Never Lie!

Another tip is to always tell the truth as to what you’re bringing back. It never pays to lie and the customs officers are trained to detect this in your speech, your eye contact, and your demeanor. They are on the lookout specifically for people who are lying.

We often go over the limit (because the limit is $0 for day trips obviously) even when we are going for a day trip to Seattle. We usually come back with $250 between two people and they have let us gone without having to pay taxes or duty 99% of the time.

Enjoy the shopping!

Although our dollar isn’t as good as it was in previous years, trips down to the U.S. of A. are still worthwhile just because of the heavy taxes we have in Canada and the cost of goods here. Despite having to pay taxes and duty, many items still come out cheaper if bought in the United States than in Canada.

Bargainmoosers, are you planning a trip down to the United States this summer to take advantage of the increased personal exemption?


  • Steve A.
    I have found recently, that unless you are purchasing liquor or certain grocery items, most items are not worth the hassle and expense of driving across. Good example for the text book savings.
    • Clare
      @Steve- Yes-- especially if you have a precious Nexus pass that you don't want to tarnish lol :) I'm considering getting one- the line ups are so long sometimes.
  • Cassie
    We were thinking of crossing the border to look for some new house stuff that we need, like a kitchen stove, mattress and couch set. I have heard that there are some really great deals to be had, so I thought it might be a good idea to check out what was available. Let's just hope duty won't be too expensive that it will eat into our savings!
    • Clare
      @Cassie- I think (now I am guessing) that even with duty, the savings will still be substantial (much like buying a car in the states and importing it up to canada). Hope you find some good stuff!
  • YesM
    There are some items that just aren't available in Canada so I'm ordering my first thing today, but I notice lots of Cdns think it is not patriotic to, so I keep rather quiet about it. BTW You mentioned Pt Roberts is very cheap for parcels. I notice that the few Blaine places that don't charge an annual fee, charge $5 minimum for parcels, and they don't have very good pick up hours (only 1 late night a week, and not much weekend hours). But I heard Bellingham has pricing similar to Blaine's.
    • Clare
      @YesM- THanks for the tip! The one I choose (TSB shipping) doesn't have an annual fee and charges $3.5o0 to $5 for each parcel that you pick up and they're open every day. Sometimes the line ups are long though.
  • cher
    leaving this weekend for our annual trip to idaho. we'll cross over into washington (spokane) - where, as an added bonus for alberta residents - you don't have to pay sales tax.
    • Clare
      @cher- Wow I had no idea- geez you Albertans really have it good lol! We have to go to Portland on the westcoast if we want to avoid the taxes. Though 8.5% in Washington is still better than the 12% or so we pay here.
  • Stephanie
    Thanks for posting this. I'm planning a trip to the US for day shopping soon to get my last-minute baby items (I'm due with baby #1 next month). This time, since I knew exactly what I want, I did a "ship to store" order at with a credit card linked to our USD bank account. Now they email me when it's there at my chosen store, and I just go pick it up. Awesome! The tip "Never Lie!" has been true for me. I have been going for day shopping about twice a year for a number of years now, and always tell -most of- the truth (didn't mention the $100 worth of cheesecake in the cooler since I didn't think bringing cheese over the border was allowed!). I only had to pay duty ONCE and it was only about $30.
    • Clare
      @Stephanie- I only clothes shop in the states too! I rarely shop in Canada just because of the high taxes, and honestly the lack of selection (IMO). Good tip on and shipping to the states and picking it up there- thanks for sharing!

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