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Tips for a Stress Free Border Crossing by Car or RV

Crossing the USA/Canada border by plane has become old hat to me. What the border crossing be like in a car, though, I had no idea.

Crossing in a car proved to be both easier and more stressful all at the same time. Since we usually cross in a car with a trailer in tow, we have much more to declare in the food department. Here are some suggestions to make your border crossing easier and less stressful!

While this is written from the point of view of a Canadian resident, there is information that will be helpful to any traveller crossing the border!

General Border Crossing Tips (not specific to USA or Canada):

  • While you are packing, make a list of all the meat, fruit, vegetable, alcohol and tobacco products that will be crossing the border. More information is always better than less. If you have it written down and can hand it to the agent, they are less likely to assume you are hiding something and request to search your vehicle.
  • Have your passports ready for everyone in your vehicle. If you have kids in the back seat, roll down the back window as they will want to see them.
  • Talk to your children before driving up to the agent. Let them know that this is a serious matter and that turning off electronics and being quiet is essential. Also explain that agents often talk to the children in the vehicle. Remind them that they should answer politely but keep their answers to the questions asked.
  • Have a travel letter for any children who are not traveling with both of their parents.
  • Have vaccination records for any pets traveling with you.

Retro Coleman Cooler

Going to the USA:

  • Research what food you can and cannot take in to the US before you pack. If you are unsure, give the border crossing you will be using a call.  Each crossing follows the rules of the state it is in. Different states have different rules about what fruits and vegetables can be brought in to their borders.

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Returning to Canada:

  • If you are pulling a trailer, have your license plate number handy as the agent will probably ask for it (their cameras can’t take a pic of your license plate if you are pulling a trailer). If you forget, it is on your registration which you likely have on hand in your car.
  • Research what food you can and cannot take in to Canada before you pack. If you are unsure, give the border crossing you will be using a call.
  • Know how much you can bring back to Canada. Currently it is $800 per person after 48 hours outside of Canada (24-48 hours away has a limit of $200). Make sure to have a list of what you are bringing back under your exemption and a total amount. Keep in mind that border guards are trained to see things such as new tires so don’t try to slip them by without telling them (they can have your car disassembled to look for other parts that have been changed and not declared….so not worth it).
  • Realize that alcohol and tobacco have different rules for how much you can bring back. Any extras may incur duty and taxes.
  • You must claim the value of any auto or trailer repairs you have done in the USA as part of your exemption if they were done to increase the value. Emergency repairs are exempt.

In the end, when in doubt…ask and if you think you shouldn’t do it….don’t.

Tips For A Stress Free US Canada Border Crossing

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Friday 21st of February 2020

Oh wow! Such a huge of information and I am thankful to know about this. I will definitely keep these in mind.

Victoria Sconion

Tuesday 15th of May 2018

Thank you for these tips! We are going to be living in an RV full-time and Canadia is one of the places we want to see. I had no idea it was soo much to cross the border. Thanks for the heads up so I can be prepared!

Diana Hansen

Monday 14th of May 2018

It's been a few years since we crossed in a motorhome, but they came inside and inspected. We weren't too concerned about it.

Merry Kuchle

Monday 14th of May 2018

They have never come into ours. I think knowing the rules and being prepared means you can rest easy!


Monday 29th of May 2017

I am planning a trip from Calgary down to Wyoming. I have never traveled across the border with trailer before, Can we take propane cylinders? Do you know or have recommendations about staying in National parks or National Forests?

Merry Kuchle

Monday 29th of May 2017

Yes you can take propane cylinders no problem. I don't have any suggestions for national parks other than I would book ahead if going in summer.


Thursday 13th of April 2017

The link you provided "food you can and cannot take in to the US before you pack" does not list any food

Merry Kuchle

Saturday 15th of April 2017

Fixed. It was one click from the original link.

Merry Kuchle

Saturday 15th of April 2017

I'll have a look. Note that I wrote this in 2013 and at that time it did.