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What do I have to declare when going through customs?

Whether you are returning from vacation or you are immigrating to Canada, when you are entering or re-entering, not only do you have to present valid travel papers (including: passport, permanent resident card) but you also have to let customs know what you are bringing back into the country.

Declaration card

You’re going to get a declaration card, called a Canada Border Control Agency Declaration Card, before you even enter Canada via air. You have to fill the card out and depending on how long you were absent from Canada, you are allowed to bring back goods worth a certain amount of money without having to pay taxes. However, you must declare what you are bringing into the country on this card. The card may not ask you for very detailed information about the goods you bring in.

There are goods that you absolutely must declare in detail when entering Canada through any of its ports.

Alcoholic beverages

There are restrictions on how much alcohol is allowed to be claimed under your personal exemption. If you exceed the personal exemption amount you will have to pay full duties and taxes on the additional amounts being imported.


There is also a restriction on how much tobacco you can claim under your personal exemption, after which you have to pay duties and taxes. Note that for certain tobacco products, you may have to pay partial exemptions even it’s still under your personal exemption amount.

Food, plants, animals and related products

The CBSA is extremely vigilant about food products, animals and related products being brought into Canada, because of the possibility that such products can pose a risk to the health of Canadians due to disease.

$10,000 CAD and over

If you have this much money or more in your possession when entering Canada you have to declare it to the CBSA.

Prohibited goods

There are some things that you absolutely cannot bring back to Canada. A few of these items include:

  • Firearms and weapons;
  • Baby walkers;
  • Infant self-feeding devices;
  • Jequirity beans and items containing them;
  • Lawn darts with elongated tips.

Things like explosives, fireworks and ammunition are only allowed IF there is written authorization and permits obtained by the proper authorities.

Note that $10,000 CAD and over applied in 2016, the government may increase or decrease the amount for monies you bring into the country in the future.

Personal exemption

The amount of the exemption depends on how long you were out of the country. The exemption amount means that you don’t have to pay duty or taxes for goods below a certain amount of worth. For example, if you were gone for seven days, the maximum amount of exemption that you can claim is $800. Any amount above that would be subject to duty and taxes.

To qualify for the exemption, one of the following conditions must apply:

  • A Canadian resident returning from a trip outside Canada;
  • A former resident of Canada returning to live in this country; or
  • A temporary resident of Canada returning from a trip outside Canada.

Note that the above addresses Canadian citizens and permanent residents. If you are a visitor to Canada you may have more requirements.

If you have had or have an issue going through customs which is causing problems you may want to consult a lawyer.

Read more:

What you can bring home to Canada

Residents returning to Canada

Visitors to Canada