Traveling cross country in your RV or motorhome is easily one of the most enjoyable ways to travel and see the world. You’re basically taking your home with you wherever you go, so when you decide to venture into another country, there are rules and regulations you have to follow. For most people living in the U.S., Canada isn’t what we’d consider a “foreign country,” but just like more exotic locales, it has specific rules you have to follow if you want to enter the country. Being in an RV doesn’t have to make it more complicated if you know what to expect and have everything you need to successfully cross the border. If you keep these do’s and don’ts in mind, a Canadian border cross in your RV will be as simple as a crossing in your car.
- Have your paperwork ready. This will include your driver’s license, registration for your RV and any vehicle(s) you’re towing, proof of insurance and valid U.S. driver’s license and a valid passport for you and everyone on board. Strictly speaking, the passports are the only thing you’re required to have, but the others are a very good idea in case there’s a problem.
- Have current vaccination records for all pets traveling with you
- Know where you’re going and how long you’ll be in Canada
- Make sure you declare any houseplants you have in your RV. If it is a plant that isn’t allowed, the border patrol may confiscate your plants, but this isn’t likely
- Don’t take firearms or ammunition. No guns can travel into Canada with you
- Don’t take fireworks or explosives. Same reason as guns
- Don’t take firewood – it could bring invasive insects or disease into the country
- Don’t bring cannabis into Canada. Although it will soon be legal to purchase marijuana in Canada (possibly by late summer 2018), bringing it into the country will NOT be legal and the fines will be substantial. You may also serve jail time.
This list is a bit more flexible. If you want the smoothest, quickest possible crossing, do not have any of these products with you. However, if you have some food in your refrigerator from this list, you’ll probably be able to cross the border without too much of a hassle if you work with border patrol.
- Alcohol. The guidelines for this are no more than:
o Two bottles of wine
o Twenty-four cans of beer
o 1 bottle of liquor (40 oz. size)
- Tobacco. The guidelines are no more than:
o 200 cigarettes
o 50 cigars
- Dairy products (including cheese, sour cream, etc.) & eggs
Honestly, if you have a loaf of bread, lunch meat and bottle of pop in your refrigerator, it’s doubtful anyone will care, but be aware that there are regulations and keep what’s in your fridge to a minimum. With the tobacco and alcohol, they are looking for people who are carrying lots of alcohol across the border with the intention of selling it. So, if you have fifteen bottles of Bourbon, they will question you and confiscate your hooch. If you have a bottle of Bourbon and a bottle of Vodka, you may get a pass.
What to Expect
On a good day, the border patrol will ask you for your IDs, check them, ask where you’re going and for how long, how much alcohol you have and whether you have firearms or explosives. They may not search your vehicle at all, simply waving you through and welcoming you to Canada.
On a not-so-good day (there aren’t a lot of bad days heading into Canada), you’ll have to wait in line at the border, inching forward like everyone else in a very slow-moving column. (If you can, try crossing in a smaller town so the wait won’t be as long.) Expect that after checking your IDs and confirming who everyone is, you’ll be asked to pull over and wait so that your RV can be searched. The search will take place while you wait in a designated area (usually inside). They may or may not throw out all the eggs, milk and food in your refrigerator (which is why you should try to use up your food before crossing the Canadian border). If they confiscate it, expect a lecture about why you can’t take these items with you.
If you get the “it’s a bad day” treatment, don’t panic! You aren’t suspected of doing anything wrong, they won’t arrest you if you have forbidden foods in your kitchen and they aren’t going to confiscate your vehicle (unless you have something seriously wrong going on, such as a cache of firearms headed to a Canadian fringe group). The border patrol is simply doing its job, and most of the people are very friendly and helpful. At the most, you’ll lose some time and perhaps some food and beverages, but that’s about it.
How to Make Your Crossing Easier on Everyone
Yes, it’s miserable being questioned by the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA), but it’s their job to keep their country safe, so be respectful and keep a few tips in mind that will make your crossing easier and more pleasant.
- Have all your paperwork ready before you reach the border. The driver should have all needed documentation ready to hand over.
- Everyone should remove their sunglasses as soon as a border patrol agent approaches.
- Turn off all distractions such as the television, radio, MP3s, etc.
- Stay seated and keep your seatbelts on.
- Answer any questions truthfully. It’s better to admit you have some eggs in the fridge than to lie, only to have a border patrol agent discover them.
- If they say they need to search your vehicle, don’t ask why. They have the right to search at any time. Be cooperative.
- Bo polite and respectful at all times. Joking around or being sarcastic can backfire on you, so keep it simple.
A Few Things About Crossing the Border with Firearms
Some RVers always have a firearm in their vehicle for safety concerns or hunting. Regardless of the reason, Canada has a zero-tolerance policy for anyone attempting to bring firearms or ammunition into the country without following proper procedures. It doesn’t mean you can’t bring a weapon, but it DOES mean you have to do it the right away. The punishment for doing it the wrong way could be a hefty fine and some serious jail time in Canada.
If you have a firearm you want to bring into Canada, you’ll have to prepare in advance. We’re talking at least three months in advance. With permission, after filling out forms and paying a fee, you may be able to bring as many as three firearms into Canada. There are three classes of firearms in Canada: Prohibited, restricted and non-restricted. Do your homework and know which ones you have. The most common problem U.S. citizens have is neglecting to declare a handgun. If you don’t handle this properly, you could have it confiscated. Canada doesn’t care about your “concealed carry” permit. The website www.ezbordercrossing.com has an excellent article on bringing firearms into Canada that everyone should read before traveling over the border.
A Few Things About Crossing the Canadian Border with Children
This is a situation that doesn’t occur to most people traveling as a family, but it can cause serious delays and extensive questioning by border patrol. If you’re traveling with children who aren’t your own, even if they are your grandchildren, you will need letters of consent from the parents allowing you to take them across the border. If you are a divorced or separated parent with your children, you will need a letter of consent from the other parent to cross the border with your children. You should also have a letter authorizing you to seek and consent to medical treatment for each child from the parents. This can seem invasive and unnecessary, but the CBSA is guarding against parental kidnapping, kidnapping and child trafficking.
An excellent source of information about Canadian border crossing procedures is www.ezbordercrossing.com. You can also get the information you need at the CBSA website, where you can also check current wait times at the various border crossings and learn more about new restrictions.
Finally, don’t panic if the CBSA asks you to answer additional questions. Answer honestly and work with them. If you’ve made an honest mistake, they will be understanding and work with you and will welcome you to Canada.