Friday 8 Feb, 2013

How to Fill Out a Canadian Customs Form

After a long journey, most travellers are eager to get their bags and go home. The last thing you want is to have to wait in a long line. One of the biggest delays upon returning to Canada is caused by improperly completed Canadian Customs Forms.

It’s really important to fill these forms out properly. If you don’t, it will take longer to get through Customs and you will hold up the rest of the line. You also run the risk of being taken aside for a major inspection. To avoid delays, we will show you how to properly fill out a Customs form.

Always make sure that you have enough money left to pay the duty and taxes on your purchases. The amount you pay varies depending on how much you spent and what the border services agent decides to charge you for. You can pay by cash, credit card, and debit card. If you think you will have to pay, be prepared.

A really easy tip is to follow the rules for standing in line. Stay behind the yellow line on the floor until it is your turn and pay attention when they call the next person. This sounds simple, but it really does speed up the process and will get you home faster. The CBSA Declaration Card needs to be completed before you land and before you see the border services officer.

The instructions for how to fill out the form are listed on the left side. Be sure to read these carefully. If you are travelling with someone who lives at the same address as you, you can be on the same card. Up to 4 people from the same address can be on one form. However, each traveller still has to declare the amount that they spent – you can’t combine your totals to try and save money!

“Part C” describes the personal exemptions that each person is allowed based on how long they were out of the country. Each individual can bring goods of a certain value back into Canada without paying regular duty and taxes. For example, if you were out of the country for 7 days, you are allowed $750 dollars worth of goods. Anything above that amount will be subject to duty and taxes. Note: If you were away for longer than 7 days, you can’t add on the 48-hour exemption to get an extra $400 dollars.

You can spend as much as you like while travelling but if you don’t want to pay, make sure you stay under your limit! Gifts count, so be careful when shopping for souvenirs. Items will be excluded from your total if they are made in Canada, the United States or Mexico. If you aren’t sure if an item should be claimed, you should declare it. Then, ask the border services officer. They can make any necessary adjustments.

If you are chosen for a more detailed inspection, a border services officer may examine your luggage and purchases thoroughly. The easiest way to speed up this process is to keep all your new items in an easily accessible area – I like to put them in my carry on if I can. The most important thing to do is to keep all your receipts. Bring them with you – do NOT leave them in your luggage. The officers often ask to see them and you want them within reach.

There are some commonly asked questions that you may encounter when clearing customs. Be sure you know the answer to these questions, as it will also ensure you get through customs as quickly as possible:

  • How long were you away?
  • What was the purpose of your trip?
  • Where did you stay?
  • What did you buy?
  • What was the most expensive item that you purchased?

One more thing to note: there are some things you can’t bring back with you to Canada! For a more detailed list, click here. I’ve included a few here that I think might come in handy:

  • Sea shells – You are allowed to bring sea shells and products made with sea shells back to Canada, but only if they have been properly cleaned. If they show signs of sea life, soil or sand, you might have to say goodbye to them at the border.
  • Wooden souvenirs – The rules are along the same lines as sea shells: make sure they are free of bark, insects, and/or evidence of insect activity.
  • Cheese – There are weight restrictions! A lesson I learned when I tried to bring back a giant wheel of cheese (weird, yes, but it was so good). You are only allowed up to 20 kg per person – about 44 pounds – and it can’t cost more than $20.
  • Spices, tea, coffee, condiments – You can bring these back! Good news if you are heading to a spice market.


Flickr photo via andreasivarsson