Shipping computers across the Canada & U.S.A. border
June 25, 2008 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm in Canada, and I need to send some computers to our office in the U.S.A. (Vermont, to be more specific). Will the hardware be inspected by customs or other security as it crosses the border?

A colleague is certain that we can't ship a computer across the border without it being seized and inspected by border security. I've never heard of this, outside of a laptop being carried by an actual person going through customs.

A quick Google turns up lots of info on duties and cross-border shopping, but not much about actually shipping a box of computer equipment into the States. Does a policy/practice/rule about cracking open every box to inspect the computer hardware inside exist? If so, can you tell me anything about it?
posted by danwalker to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
How are you shipping it?

They definitely do not crack open every box. They look for things that are suspcious and they pick a few packages at random to inspect. Mainly it's to make sure that everbody is paying the duties and taxes that they're supposed to.

And, for what it's worth, I've driven over the US-Canada border many times and at most they've asked me to open the trunk.
posted by meta_eli at 11:13 AM on June 25, 2008

Maybe a bit more detail:

I'm buying the computers here in Canada and configuring them. I will then ship to our office in Vermont for use by our employees. We'll probably use one of the usual suspects for shipping - FedEx, UPS, Purolator.
posted by danwalker at 11:30 AM on June 25, 2008

I used to work in Vermont and we had to take computers up to Canada to one of our warehouses. It was a HUGE pain in the ass to cross the border and to ship computers up there. Lots of customs forms.

Thankfully our office had a customs officer who helped us do the paperwork.
posted by k8t at 11:39 AM on June 25, 2008

If the forms are right, they usually don't care. But oh, the forms!
posted by rokusan at 12:02 PM on June 25, 2008

A colleague is certain that we can't ship a computer across the border without it being seized and inspected by border security.

There has been some recent coverage of customs officers searching laptops of people entering the country. For example, having the user log on and having the customs officer copy data off the laptop; or customs simply taking the laptop never to be seen again.

That said, an inspection of a freshly-installed windows desktop PC being shipped as freight (a) would be a pain in the ass to do compared to a laptop and (b) would not reveal anything. So it's quite possible they wouldn't bother to do an inspection. The customs employee theft appeal is probably similarly low, but it might be worth making sure your insurance covers it.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:54 PM on June 25, 2008

Inspection of commercial freight at US/Canada land crossings is largely automated, with extensive use of x-ray scanners and chemical sniffers. Your boxes would only be opened if you won the random-check lottery or if your package is blatantly suspicious.

If you don't want to raise any red flags, just make sure you fill out the documentation accurately and thoroughly, and pay all fees and duties.
posted by randomstriker at 1:17 PM on June 25, 2008

Thanks folks. I hadn't realized that there would be paperwork, beyond what we usually fill out for our shipping company - oh, the forms. I spent my afternoon with the forms.

For reference sake, those forms include:

- the Commercial Invoice
- the Declaration For Imported Electronic Products Subject To Radiation Control Standards
- the Statement Regarding the Importation of Radio Frequency Devices Capable of Causing Harmful Interference

I am pleased to know, at least, that not all computers are automatically halted at the border, as had been the belief around here earlier today. We'll see whether my paperwork is a success in time.

Thanks for everyone's input thus far!
posted by danwalker at 1:59 PM on June 25, 2008

Who told you to fill out all those forms?! I ship PC stuff across the boarder all the time and all I've ever filled out was a little customs declaration slip were I write "Computer Parts" and a value. Now if this is a large scale commercial venture, I'm sure you are supposed to do things a bit differently, but what I read from your question is "a computer".

Out of the hundreds of items (like, close to a thousand, I expect) I've shipped or received between Canada and the USA in the last ten years, only one or two has ever been opened and.
posted by Chuckles at 11:19 PM on June 25, 2008

Alright, now I'm reading "some computers". Still..
posted by Chuckles at 11:24 PM on June 25, 2008

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