Road-trip ready: what to know about entering the US from Canada by car
The land border is open, spring is in the air, and road-trips are on the horizon! Whether you’re planning a longer vacation, a weekend getaway, or a quick shopping trip, it’s important to check the most up to date information about entering the US from Canada by car before you hit the road.
To help you avoid delays and get you on your way, we’ve put together an essential travel checklist of things to be mindful of when planning your cross-border trip from Canada.
1. Get your docs in a row
One of the very first things you should do while planning your trip across the land border is to make sure you have all the valid travel documents you need to bring with you, starting with a valid passport. Check the expiration date to avoid the unfortunate situation of getting turned away by customs and border protection (it can happen to the best of us!).
While most countries require passports to be valid for at least another 6 months in order to enter, Canadian passports can in fact be valid up until the date of departure for the US. However, it's always best to have some wiggle room just in case plans change.
As for visas, Canadian citizens are not required to have a visa or ESTA to enter the US, but foreign nationals from certain countries that aren’t part of the Visa Waiver Program do. So, if you’re travelling with any foreign visitors without Canadian citizenship, be sure to check their specific requirements ahead of time to avoid any setbacks at the land border. A trusted traveler program card like NEXUS is another great way to pass through faster.
Canadian permanent residents may also require a visa to enter the US depending on what country they are from, so be sure not to overlook that detail!
Don't forget that the government requires families travelling with kids under the age of 18 to have a letter of consent when not travelling with both parents.
If you’re driving to the US in your own car, you’ll also need to provide proof of vehicle ownership if asked by CBP officers. Always have your vehicle registration and insurance papers handy, or your rental agreement if you’re using a hired car.
Be ready to answer any questions customs and border protection agents may have and be prepared to show documentation about your trip itinerary too. If your stay is more than a day, they might want to see where you’re staying at your planned destination, and that you have enough funds to cover your trip.
Last, but certainly not least, it’s good to be aware and prepared with any necessary permits for the activities you’ll be doing during your trip. Going fishing? You may need to obtain a license ahead of time.
As it stands right now, you don’t need to show border protection agents any proof of vaccination for COVID-19 or a negative test, but as we’ve learned from experience in recent years, these requirements are subject to change. For peace of mind, take a minute to check the latest disease control information before you go.
The US Customs & Border Patrol website is a great resource for the latest information on entry requirements, all necessary documents for international travellers and permanent residents, and any temporary restrictions. You can also check with consular services if ever you still have questions.
2. Ensure you’re well insured
Before you start packing up the car, it’s also important to review your insurance policy to make sure you have the protection you need during your visit. While it is likely that your car insurance policy will insure your Canadian car in the US for a period of up to 6 months, some providers may have restrictions. *
Car insurance regulations differ province to province, so the coverage you’re eligible for can vary based on where you live. Ask your provider how long your coverage is good for in the US, whether it remains intact when you cross the border, or whether you need any additional coverage for your policy to remain valid. Nobody wants to end up being responsible for unforeseen repair bills because they didn’t have sufficient car insurance coverage. *
Remember that it’s always better to be safe than sorry! You don’t need to notify your insurance provider if you’re heading south of the border, but a quick call or a visit to intact.ca to verify your coverage can give you valuable peace of mind. *
For longer trips, it's advisable to look into travel insurance as well. Should anyone need emergency medical treatment while you're away, it can be very costly in the US. Check what kind of policy you may already have and whether you need any additional coverage.
3. Plan the best time to go
While a long holiday weekend may be the perfect time to get away for a few days, it can also come with longer wait times at the land borders. In fact, weekends in general are simply a more popular time to go. If your plans are flexible, aim to leave on a weekday (especially in the morning!) for better chances of breezing through border crossings.
Did you know that you can actually check live wait times at Canada-US land borders? It’s not a bad idea to check those ahead of time to avoid any hold-ups. As for the land border itself, some are typically busier than others. Sometimes it’s good to see if there’s a smaller, less popular crossing nearby to help you reduce wait times.
In the event that you do end up having a bit of a wait, a great playlist, delicious snacks, and some car games like 21 questions will always help pass the time!
4. Be aware of what to declare
Before heading back to Canada, be sure to have your receipts readily available to show customs and border protection agents, in case you need to declare any purchases you made while away. Canadian residents can bring back tax and duty-free goods valued at $200 after being away for 24 hours, and $800 after 48 hours.
In the US for a same-day cross-border shopping trip? There are no personal exemptions for this so be prepared to pay any taxes or duties for those purchases. The CBSA offers a handy calculator so that you can estimate these numbers ahead of time and avoid any costly surprises.
And of course, it's essential to respect the customs and border protection rules. Make sure you’re not bringing back anything that’s prohibited in Canada, and be ready to declare items like alcohol, food and any other restricted products. Not doing so can end up in border inspection which can really add time to your journey.
Good to know
Planning a picnic across the border and want to bring some good cheese, charcuterie and alcohol from your province? Make sure you check if these foods are authorized by U.S. authorities. Most cheeses are, except soft cheeses such as cottage cheese or ricotta, meat-based cheeses and some unpasteurized cheeses. Deli meats such as sausages are unfortunately prohibited as well as mutton, lamb or goat meat. As for alcohol, you must be 21 years old to consume it in the United States, and the limit is 1 litre. Above this amount you will have to pay import taxes, or the item will be confiscated. Please note that all food must be declared to U.S. customs, and it is important not to drink and drive. If you do drink, make sure you have a designated driver or can walk back to your hotel or accommodation.
Be on your way
If you want to be extra diligent, the Canada Border Services Agency has a border reminder checklist on their website that you can consult before heading to the border crossing and back into Canada. Once you've checked everything off your list, drive safe and happy travels!
* Certain conditions, limitations and exclusions apply to all our offers. Please see intact.ca for more details. These offers are subject to change without notice. The information contained in this website is provided for informational purposes only. Your insurance contract prevails at all times; Please see it for a full discussion of protections and exclusions.