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I travelled alone in Japan for business, for 10 days. I declared that I bought items for $550, well under the $800 limit. After my non-stop flight from Japan landed at YYZ, I was directed to secondary inspection at approx. 5 PM. The female CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) officer inspected all my belongings and the receipts for my purchases.

At 5:15, she started alleging that some other items (like clothing, 1 backup pair of eyeglasses, 1 pair of sunglasses) were bought in Japan, as they looked too new and clean to have been bought in Canada. Of course they did...I'm a business professional! But they aren't that new in fact, and I bought them in Canada.

I repeated that they were bought in Canada and were brought by me to Japan. She said that she didn't believe me. She demanded proof that they were bought in Canada. I answered that I bought the clothing in Toronto and can't remember exactly where or when. I told her the name and approximate locations of some opticians that I remember. It feels unreasonable to expect weary travelers to remember details on the spot, without records on hand.

She then got angry and rude. She said that I was being evasive and warned me not to lie. She threatened to seize my items. She admonished that I, not she, had the onus of proving to her that I bought these items in Canada.

At 5:45, I requested politely to speak to her supervisor. She asked why. I answered that I was a little jaded from being reasked the same questions and repeating the same answers for 30 minutes. She got more offended and ruder, when she raised her voice to ask why I thought she was wasting my time and asking irrelevant questions. I answered that I never said this at all. She said that I don't need a supervisor, if I had nothing to hide.

At 6, I reiterated my request for a supervisor, and she bitterly told me to be patient. At 6:20, a supervisor showed up, and we repeated the same questions before I was allowed to leave at 6:45.

In all, I spent 105 minutes in secondary inspection. My tone was always deferential and polite.

  1. What can be done in the future, to avoid this kind of wrangle, and waste of time? What could I have done better?

    I don't intend to complain against her...I'm too frightened of retaliation and being black-listed.

  2. Has this wrangle has already put me on some list and blemished my CBSA records?

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    That's not how it works. You need to make a formal complaint. Do not let this go. NOT making a complaint will increase the chance that you have problems on subsequent entries to Canada. – Michael Hampton Feb 14 at 22:11
  • Don't worry about retaliation, especially if you're a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. You should make a formal complaint via CBSA. They will, at the very least, respond. If you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, then you should also write to your MP. The MP might not do anything, but they are able to exert pressure on CBSA to investigate. – TainToTain Feb 14 at 23:00
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I have heard this, and read on a quora.com post by a CBP officer, is a common tactic by border patrol officers no matter what country. They ask the same questions to see your reaction. They pay most attention to your reaction and body language. Sounds like you acted correctly.

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There is a complaints process for CBSA. While there is no actual oversight or mandatory follow-up, the process is subject to freedom of information laws and from time to time the press accesses these and does articles about such problems, so even if they don't respond to your complaint in particular, making a complaint will add to the pool of information about CBSA conduct.

  • The linked page says that CBSA will respond to any complaints made, even if it's just to pay lip service. – TainToTain Feb 14 at 23:01
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It is when returning to Canada, just as when returning to probably any other country, your duty to prove that expensive items you are bringing along have already been in Canada and therefore are exempt from duty and taxes.

To do so, you can have Candian customs confirm the temporary exportation before you leave Canada and present this documentation when you return.

There is BTW nothing in your question indicating that the customs officers did anything wrong or unreasonable.

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    You can, though while I've heard of people documenting the temporary export of expensive electronics or jewellery (where that can be documented, which it often can't be), I've never heard of anyone documenting the temporary export of ordinary clothing or eyeglasses, which do not usually carry serial numbers or other unique identifiers. – Zach Lipton Feb 14 at 0:53
  • @ZachLipton I assume that we are talking about rather expensive glasses here, and they usually have serial numbers. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Feb 14 at 1:02
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    My glasses cost around $400 and don't have a serial number. How expensive do they have to be to get one? – JonathanReez Feb 14 at 20:12
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    I have heard stories about computers and high-end photographic equipment, but eyeglasses? But I just looked it up, and they appear to be much less expensive in Japan. – Andrew Lazarus Feb 15 at 2:05
  • @AndrewLazarus Yeah, have family who would always buy new eyeglasses in Southeast Asia and wear them back. Was worth it through maybe the early 2000s; the difference is much less now after factoring in insurance. – user71659 Feb 15 at 5:37

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