All you should know about cross border shopping

Close to ninety percent of Canadians live within 160 kilometres of the border between Canada and the United States. And, for various reasons, prices for several things like gas, cheese and alcohol are cheaper in the US. Add in the fact that coveted fashion items unavailable in Canada are merely a couple hours’ drive away, and this makes a jaunt across the border not only an appealing road trip but for some, a regular activity.

Some considerations for travellers who make cross border shopping a habit include cell phone roaming charges, the length of time visitors can stay and what they can bring back without having to pay duty on their purchases upon re-entry to Canada.

While it may be legal in Canada now, and more people may be carrying or using cannabis, it is by no means legal in the United States. Drug possession is a serious crime south of the border, so make it one of your cross-border shopping rules to leave it, and any trace, in Canada. Be sure to refer to the Government of Canada website  for more information.

Cross border duty free limits vary depending on the length of time you have been gone. The Government of Canada has a great guide here.

  • Cross border shopping for less than 24 hours offers no duty free exemptions.
  • A stay provides a $200 per person duty free exemption.
  • A stay longer than 48 hours and over 48 hours offers an $800 per person exemption. 

Avoid coming home to a massive mobile phone bill by following these tips:

  • Turn your data plan setting to “off while roaming”.
  • Connect to free WiFi while in the US
  • Make and receive calls by using Skype, FaceTime, or WhatsApp.
  • Consider buying a US SIM card.
  • Contact your mobile phone carrier to inquire about available roaming packages.

Save money by reducing foreign exchange fees by using cash and converting your money, before you travel. If you plan on converting Canadian dollars for U.S dollars, shop around first as the rates offered by the various banks differ.

If you prefer to travel with a credit card instead of cash, consider getting a no-foreign transaction fee credit card. This type of credit card lowers foreign exchange fees.

The NEXUS card program helps Canadians shortcut the customs and security lines at airports, use Global Entry terminals when flying into US airports, and use quick lanes when crossing the border by car. The application process is a non-refundable $50 US for a five-year membership. Children under 18 are free.

Not coincidentally some of the most popular shopping sites for Canadians can be found quite close to the border, these include: 

  • Bellingham through to Seattle, Washington
  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
  • Kalispell and Whitefish, Montana
  • Detroit, Michigan
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Niagara Falls, New York
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Manchester, Vermont
  • Bangor, Maine
  • Burlington, Vermont
  • Plattsburgh, New York
  • And… of course if airline travel is an option then the boutiques of Los Angeles and New York are the place to be.

If you are crossing the border anytime soon, make sure to stay on top of the border wait times available on the Government of Canada's site

Black Friday and the holiday season promises some incredible deals for those willing to make the trek across the border and Christmas shopping can be blitzed in no time.

But that cross border shopping trip could wind up costing you thousands of dollars if you are unprepared and embark on a cross border shopping pilgrimage without travel insurance. Even a quick zip across the border to fill up on gas could be fraught with expense if a car accident or trip-and-fall accident require a hospital visit. Be smart and opt for the Annual Medical Plan so that you have coverage during your many cross border shopping experiences.

Travel insurance is underwritten by CUMIS General Insurance Company, a member of The Co-operators Group of Companies, administered by Allianz Global Assistance, which is a registered business name of AZGA Service Canada Inc.

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