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It has been a while since I have been on an aircraft so I will try to remember this from memory.

I live in Canada. Occasionally when I fly back from USA to Canada, the airline (Air Canada, United Airlines), gives some sort of "sheet" to each of the passengers to fill out before we land.

I am not sure what this sheet is, but it usually asks for your name, where you are travelling, and how much money you spent in the country.

I want to know two things.

Firstly, what is this sheet of paper, and is it always handed out. Is it optional to fill out?

Secondly, why do they need to know how much money we spent in another country. For example in the USA, if I bought a gift (400$), and I am returning to Canada, do I have to pay tax on this?

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    Does it look like this? If not, please upload a picture. – Michael Hampton Dec 5 '19 at 1:01
  • Yeah. Without the "instructions". Perhaps that part is detachable. – K Split X Dec 5 '19 at 1:02
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    Yeah that's detachable, but you should have been given a card with the instructions attached so that you could actually read them. Very odd. – Michael Hampton Dec 5 '19 at 1:08
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    That's a customs declaration. Strictly it's the country you're entering that's asking you for it, not the airline. The airline is only giving you the form in advance as a courtesy, and so that you can figure out or avoid problems in advance. – smci Dec 6 '19 at 3:31
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That is a landing card, or declaration card, on which travelers to Canada make an official customs declaration to the Canada Border Services Agency. There are English and French versions of this card. When flying to some Canadian airports you can use a smartphone app instead of the card.

Many countries use landing cards, but some are beginning to get rid of them (e.g. the UK has phased them out this year). The US also has them, but if you use a kiosk then you don't have to fill out the paper card.

Airlines are required to give these to passengers traveling to various countries before landing in those countries so the passengers have time to fill them out before going to the immigration hall. The airline itself is not really interested in what you are bringing in to the country; they only hand out the card on behalf of the destination country's customs service.

Customs officers will use the declaration to determine if you owe any duty on the items you are bringing in, or if any special screening is required (e.g. if you bring in a firearm they will want to inspect it and check your license).

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    Additional notes: They want to determine if you're importing any banned items. Plants and foods are often/usually banned for import (even in very small quantities) without a lot of official paperwork to ensure you're not bringing in anything invasive or that could otherwise damage the local ecosystem. They also want to ensure that you're not importing goods while acting as a tourist in order to avoid paying import duties on items - after all, they don't want the government getting stiffed on its share... – FreeMan Dec 5 '19 at 1:09
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    Canada also asks if you've been on a farm during your trip; I believe this is an effort to prevent foot-and-mouth disease from entering the country. – Michael Seifert Dec 5 '19 at 14:03
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    @FreeMan Note: I don't know about Canada, but in NZ/AU, processed food is usually fine. You still need to declare it, but you will be allowed to bring it in. As long as you're not bringing fresh fruit or vegetables or meat or dairy products - processed foods containing those ingredients are okay - it's not a blanket ban on food. – user253751 Dec 5 '19 at 14:51
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    I suspect that the precise list of foods they are concerned about changes over time and also changes with where you come from, so it's easier to ask the blanket question on the form and have the customs officers sort out the details for the people who say yes. – Peter Green Dec 5 '19 at 16:47
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    @yms Here it is eDeclaration. That's nice to know. I always to Canada by road so I had forgotten about the app. – Michael Hampton Dec 6 '19 at 5:30

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