Can I buy groceries in the USA and bring them back to Canada?
October 21, 2009 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I live in Vancouver, Canada and I am going to the U.S. for the day this weekend. I want to know if it's in fact true, that you can bring groceries back into Canada without paying duty or customs fees?

A work colleague said that they pop down to the U.S. often to buy groceries in border cities like Bellingham.

Does anyone have experience doing this and are groceries in fact duty free even though I am just going down for the day?

I want to buy about a $100 worth of groceries.

posted by ninefour to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Depends what groceries. I know I've brought back cheese and milk, but just about any fruit seems to be a big no no. And once the customs guys gave me grief about a leftover subway sandwich.

More info.

Also check the general customs website for how much, dollar wise, that you're allowed to bring back. (I'm too lazy to keep looking) Past these limits, it's totally up to the customs agent . One trip I had to pay duty on a $50 pair of shoes, and other times I've come home with (after declaring) over $300 worth of stuff bought in a day and they just let me through.
posted by cgg at 5:06 PM on October 21, 2009

This page says you only get an exemption if you stay over 24 hours, which means they can ask you to declare your goods and pay taxes on them. However, if you tell them a relatively small value when they ask how much you are bringing back, they will often let you through without going through the extra trouble. This has been my experience at the Buffalo/Niagara border anyway.

Many foods will not pass through if they know about it. The page I linked to also has a section about that.
posted by bread-eater at 5:22 PM on October 21, 2009

They have large garbage recepticles along the road at blaine. you will put your fruits and vegetables in there, or you'll wish you had when you get to the nasty man with the gun.

Milk, not so much.

Point being, find out what the rules are and don't fuck around. They take that stuff very seriously at the border.
posted by klanawa at 6:31 PM on October 21, 2009

We used to buy groceries across the border and usually the border guards were cool with it, as long as you do not bring any fruits and vegetables (and whatever else is forbidden by border rules). As a child, I remember how much fun I had getting chocolate bars and candy that weren't available in Canada; as a special treat, I'd sometimes get crazy American breakfast cereal like the Nintendo branded stuff.
posted by synecdoche at 6:59 PM on October 21, 2009

for less than 24 hrs its all up the the border guard, as cgg references. As synecdoche points out, do not run afoul of the obvious no-no's - fruit, veggies and alcohol. Make sure, in part, the shopping is done at TJ's (that's just a personal choice but a valid one).

posted by Country Dick Montana at 7:19 PM on October 21, 2009

Never had any problems when we lived there (9 years ago) - heck, I even remember bringing Washington cherries back. But... that was awhile ago.

Milk - never a problem, there is a nice dairy on the US side near the Abbotsford border cross (head straight south, it will be on your right-hand side)
posted by jkaczor at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2009

Border townie here -- we come back regularly with meat, cheese, milk, bread, packaged products, with no problems. They normally don't care if it's over the $50 "wave-through" limit. [note: if you get a douchenozzle border guard, nothing's gonna save you, however]

As said many times above, save yourself any hassle, and stay away from fruit/veggies. Some are okay, some are not, but it's not worth the effort. At $100, you should be fine bringing it back, and no tax.
posted by liquado at 8:09 PM on October 21, 2009

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