Cross Border Shopping

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Hockey is Canada’s official favourite pastime. However, cross-border shopping runs a close “unofficial” second.

Canada and the United States share a huge 5,000 km undefended border. Seventy-five percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of that border.

Canadian and American citizens have never had to produce a passport to cross our land border. So people living near the border have gotten into the habit of simply hopping into their cars, with little or no travel documents at all, and crossing the border just do their grocery shopping, fill up with gas, see a movie, visit a favourite restaurant, or do some serious bargain hunting at their preferred shopping mall.

As a result of the American “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative” (WHTI), starting sometime between January and June 2008, all travelers (with the possible exception of some Canadian children) will need a valid passport to enter the United States at a land border. While this will take some of the spontaneity out of the experience, the daily pilgrimage to American shopping grounds will undoubtedly continue, albeit at a somewhat abated rate.

Clearly, new permanent residents of Canada will be anxious to join this very Canadian ritual.

So, it’s important to keep some basic things in mind.

Canadian citizens do not need a visitor’s visa to enter the United States. However, permanent residents of Canada may unless they are exempted by the American Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Nationals of the following countries do not need a visitor visa if they meet all other requirements of the program:

Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom (including its colonies, territories, and dependencies).

A passport which states that the holder has “Right of Abode” in the U.K. does not qualify for visa-free travel under the VWP.

Visitors seeking entry into the U.S. under this program must intend to enter the U.S. for 90 days or less. They must be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond the intended visit. Passports issued between October 26, 2005 and October 26, 2006 must contain a digitized photograph of the bearer to be eligible for entry under the VWP. Passports issued after October 26, 2006 must be e-passports – that is, include an integrated computer chip. Of course, people applying under this program must also meet every other ground of admissibility to the United States. Up-to-date information on the Visa Waiver Program can be found at www.amcits.com/visa_waiver.asp.

Those planning to cross the border at peak travel periods might want to check how long it will take to cross the border into Canada or the U.S. at www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/general/times/menu-e.html or at apps.cbp.gov/bwt/ .

While in the U.S., Canadian residents can buy as much as they want as long as importation of those goods to Canada is not prohibited and they are willing to pay the appropriate duties. For information on prohibited goods see www.beaware.gc.ca/english/|questione.html#page-top . Before duties are calculated, the value of the goods purchased in the United States has to be converted to Canadian dollars.

Canadian residents who are outside of Canada for 24 hours or more can claim a personal exemption from duties if they buy and bring back with them less than $50.00 CAN worth of goods for their own personal or household use. Residents who spend more than $50.00 CAN dollars will have to pay taxes on the whole amount. If they are there for more than 48 hours they can claim an exemption of up to $200.00 CAN if they bring the items back with them. After an absence of 7 days or more the personal exemption increases to $750.00 and it’s not necessary that they have all the items with them other than tobacco products and alcoholic beverages.

Residents cannot include tobacco or alcohol in the $50.00 exemption but can claim a partial exemption on the $200.00 and $750.00 exemptions if they bring these items back with them.

Everyone traveling abroad is entitled to these exemptions, including young children, provided that the items acquired abroad are for that person’s personal or household use. Accordingly, residents cannot combine their exemptions with another person or transfer it to someone else.

All receipts should be kept for the return to Canada for the proper calculation of all payable duties. All cars and their occupants are subject to a customs and immigration search and examination.

Transportation companies who transport people to Canada i.e. airlines, railways, bus lines etc are required to ensure that travelers are properly documented. Permanent residents who are returning to Canada by commercial means are expected to have a PR card. However, those traveling by private means are not legally required to be in possession of a PR card provided that they can prove to the satisfaction of an immigration officer that they are lawful permanent residents of Canada. Technically, an officer can satisfy himself of this fact even without any travel documents of any kind before him/her. While the PR card is the best proof of a person’s status in Canada as a permanent resident, a confirmation of permanent residence form signed by an immigration officer together with a valid passport should be sufficient for the officer to conclude that the person in front of him is a lawful Canadian permanent resident.

Many new permanent residents of Canada will be visiting the United States for the very first time. With the right documentation and a little planning there are bargains and more waiting for them just across Canada’s southern border.

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