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Surely I don't have to declare each and every item in my vehicle whenever I travel to Canada, do I? Do I actually have to disclose that I have a clipboard somewhere in my vehicle, for example? I asked Lexis+ AI and was shown the following source:

1 Doing Business in Canada § 4.05 (2023)

Visitors (not including temporary residents) are allowed to bring certain goods into Canada for their own use as “personal baggage.” Personal baggage includes clothing, camping and sports equipment, cameras, tape recorders, and personal computers. It also includes vehicles, private boats and aircraft. Visitors must declare all goods when they arrive at the CBSA port of entry. Border services officers conduct examinations of goods being imported or exported to verify declarations.

In the past, I've only declared things I've asked about (i.e., if they ask, "Do you have any weapons?", I answer "No.") And even when I've declared things, such as gifts, I don't recall Border service officers ever conducting "examinations of goods being imported or exported to verify declarations."

May I only declare what I'm asked about, or do I need to list each and every good that's in my vehicle? In case it matters, I don't visit Canada for longer than a day; I always return to the U.S. the same day I left. Also, I'm understanding "declare" to mean "disclose that you have an item with you."

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    Legally the customs across border require full disclosure. Just because they are not checking it does not entitle a person to skip on details. Equivocation is not full disclosure.
    – Lawyer Aidroos
    Apr 6 at 18:37
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    Itemizing personal effects would annoy them very quickly. You can summarize them as "personal baggage including [say] a used camera and phone." Apr 6 at 18:38
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    The general rule is to declare what a customs official is actually interested in: taxable goods (that what will remain in Canada) and goods that require some form of license (or is not allowed). So, 'I have no goods [or X amount of goods] that will remain or are not allowed in Canada' is a basic declaration. Then the customs official can ask further questions or not. Apr 7 at 4:02
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    Interest only: Usually what the others say applies. Not always :-) I flew into Qingdao in China during the China summer Olympics. Qingdao was an Olympic city for yachting. I problem came via Hong Kong - it was treated as a customs entry. My very large bag was last on the carousel. It did not occur to me that this was significant :-). It contained essentially a full electronics workshop and a very wide range of components. At customs they took me to a back room with maybe 6 ? staff and asked me about EVERY technical item in my baggage. And then let me go on my way :-). Apr 7 at 11:35
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    Fundamentally you are supposed to know what is permitted, and what isn't and what is iffy and declare anything in the latter two categories. In some cases permitted items may indicate something is amiss (for example, huge suitcases for a claimed day trip or bringing apparently inappropriate items along when the claimed purpose of the trip is tourism). Canada requires declaration of commercial items and samples regardless of value so I often get to talk (usually briefly) to a customs official. Sometimes (rarely) they will do a secondary inspection. Apr 7 at 15:20

6 Answers 6

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If an agent were to ask you "what do you have with you?" then you would have to answer that truthfully. However:

  • I don't believe they ask you that - I've never been asked that in an airport or at the land border. They certainly don't give you a form with room to list everything you have with you.
  • A truthful answer doesn't have to be an fully detailed itemized list. "Clothes, a few electronics, some presents for the people I'm visiting." And if it turns out you forgot your "bathroom bag" in that answer, no harm done (as long as that bag isn't full of cocaine or something.) You would probably irritate them if you said "well, this car for one thing, and also the gas in the gas tank, and then..."
  • There isn't one single question where you have one chance to get it right or wrong. There's a conversation.

You should know everything you have with you. You should voluntarily declare things you know you might only be able to bring in limited amounts ("two bottles of wine") or that require paperwork ("a handgun and some ammo"). Other than that, answer the questions you are asked.

Also, customs people and forms ask questions that probably cannot be answered with literal, near-autistic truthfulness. For example the landing card used to ask if you had anything made from plant products. Imagine dutifully writing out each item of cotton clothing, each paper (not just the book you're reading but a receipt in your pocket), each wooden pencil or hairbrush handle, your kleenexes, the toothpaste that's got mint in it... this would make the customs people angry. You are expected to understand the implied filters in the question, even though no-one will ever tell you what those filters are specifically.

(I have declared wooden pencils, entering Australia, I had two dozen and they specifically asked about wood. I have also brought one or two wooden pencils all over the world without declaring them.)

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    I doubt that I have ever been in a situation where I could actually list from memory everything I was carrying. There always are fuzzy things like exactly what cables are in the bag of cables in my laptop bag. Or what are the capacities of the memory cards in my camera bag? Apr 8 at 2:56
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    @LorenPechtel But that's exactly what Kate means. You don't have to know "one charging cable, 0.5m, USB-C, price approximately 12 USD". "Personal iPhone plus charging cable" is completely fine.
    – xLeitix
    Apr 8 at 11:24
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    Right. Knowing there are a pile of cables and cards in the bag for cables, cards, adapters and whatnot -- which you could take out and show the person if need be -- is not memorizing a list of those items and most certainly not reciting it when asked what you're bringing. Apr 8 at 11:39
  • @xLeitix What you are answering is not what Kate meant--her comment agrees with what I was saying, yours does not. I do not recall what all is in my cable bag. And while I have an accurate count on the memory cards that's only because I know all slots are full. Apr 8 at 15:05
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    IIRC, every time I've driven into Canda (which is in the dozens) other than weapons, alcohol, etc. they have asked if I am bringing in anything that I won't be taking home with me. I'm pretty sure they can ask about anything you have with you, but in practice, they don't and likely won't unless the border officer wants to make you miserable for some reason.
    – JimmyJames
    Apr 8 at 20:57
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We actually just did that 2 days ago. All we had to do is answer the questions of the (rather grumpy) immigration officer, which were

  1. Where are you going? (Pike River and On to Montreal)
  2. What are you planning to do? (Watch the eclipse)
  3. Anything to declare? (no)
  4. What do you have in the car other than clothing? (some chairs, some food).
  5. Do you have alcohol? (yes). What exactly? (a six pack of beer)
  6. Do you have tobacco? (no)
  7. Any drugs, cannabis, weed? (no)

As with all of these things: answer all questions truthfully but say as little as possible otherwise. Whatever they want to know they will ask.

  1. Anything to declare? (no)

In this context I interpret "declare" to NOT mean "tell me about every single object in your vehicle" but "tell me about objects that you are not legally allowed to bring or that you need to pay duty on".

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Must I declare all items in my vehicle when crossing from the U.S. to Canada, or only those inquired about?

You must declare all items obtained outside Canada. In reality this means that you must declare all items unless you can definitively prove that the item with you was obtained in Canada. This is one of these legal requirements specifically written for you to not be able to comply, so that additional charges could be brought when doing something illicit. But they don't really care how many shirts and trousers you have.

As others said, declaring all items doesn't necessarily mean listing them in a very granular manner. If you have a bag of clothes, saying "clothes" is enough, but if in that bag you also have a brick of heroin - not declaring it would be added to the criminal charges against you.

Generally, when you import things, the customs expect the full list of items imported, and their value. They're interested specifically in items not for personal use and those that are explicitly restricted.

So, a bag of clothes for your own use during a visit is not the same as a bag of very fancy designer clothes packed and ready for sale. Restricted items like alcohol or tobacco need to be explicitly called out, those you'd probably have to itemize (e.g.: 2 bottles of wine, 2 blocks of cigarettes).


Worth remembering that personal experiences may vary widely, and are not important. In the end of the day customs and border patrol officers have a very very wide discretion as to what to enforce and what not to, and how, and the legal requirements are designed for the traveler to fail to comply.

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    – Willeke
    Apr 8 at 4:18
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This answer is mostly generic, not specific to Canada.

In most countries, the letter of the law says that everything that comes into the country should be declared, because by default, imports are taxable and may be subject to other conditions and limitations. That’s what usually happens when you ship anything by post or courrier, for instance.

When you travel yourself, there is always an allowance for “personal items”, i.e. your clothes and other items you bring in and will bring out back of the country when you leave. Conversely, for returning residents, stuff they originally acquired in the country before leaving is usually exempt as well when they return.

In theory, everybody should declare everything, and they would have to agree that all that stuff is effectively exempt.

Now, that would be highly impractical, as that would imply a lot of time wasted, both for travellers and for customs, as most people just carry stuff that is exempt (so a lot of manpower for zero revenue).

So in most cases, in practice, you are just expected/requested to declare anything that is actually not exempt. Note that you should do so even if you are not asked: that’s the reason for the red and green corridors present in many airports (if you have something to declare as detailed below, go through the red channel and declare, if you don’t, go through the green channel where, in most cases, they won’t even talk to you), but even if there aren’t, if you have something non exempt, you should declare it.

Things that are usually exempt:

  • For visitors, most of the stuff you will bring back out of the country, i.e. most of your personal belongings such as clothes, toiletries, electronics...
  • For residents, anything you bought in the country, left with, and are coming back with.
  • Additional goods bought abroad and that you intend to leave in the country (for your personal use or for gifts for instance) as long as you remain under the applicable duty free allowances (the limit may be a monetary value or it may involve quantities, for tobacco or alcohol for instance). Duty free allowances vary a lot depending on the country you enter, sometimes where you come from, your residency status, the frequency of your trips, etc. Duty-free limits are only for goods for personal use, anything that is to be sold is usually taxable from the first cent.

On the other hand, you should usually declare (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Anything that you bought abroad and bring into the country with the intention of leaving it there, if over the duty-free limits, or for non personal use (you intend to sell them).
  • Money (in cash and certain other forms) when over the limit (often around 10K USD/EUR/GBP but may vary widely)
  • Any items subject to special restrictions. In many places they includes food and any farm products. In many cases that may also include (legal) drugs, weapons, etc. Be aware that even if one item is legal on both sides of the country, imports may be forbidden or subject to prior approval.

You should declare those spontaneously, and most definitely if asked “do you have anything to declare?” which is probably the most ubiquitous phrase from customs at land borders I've gone through (not to Canada though). In some cases there are paper or electronic forms to fill out which ask these types of questions (though most often for air or sea borders).

It’s a good idea to check the questions on those forms, that will tell you the stuff they want to know about. For instance, for Canada, the E311 Declaration Card asks if you bring:

  • Firearms or other weapons (e.g. switchblades, Mace or pepper spray).
  • Commercial goods, whether or not for resale (e.g. samples, tools, equipment).
  • Meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, plants, flowers, wood, animals, birds, insects, and any parts, products or by-products of any of the foregoing.
  • Currency and/or monetary instruments totaling CAN$10,000 or more.
  • Cannabis or goods containing cannabis.

Or if you:

  • have unaccompanied goods.
  • have visited a farm and will be going to a farm in Canada.
  • exceed the duty-free allowances per person?

(The form also details the duty free allowances)

If you have any doubts, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and declare stuff you don’t think you need to, but don’t annoy them with a detailed inventory!

If you don’t have anything special to declare, and the question is the traditional “Do you have anything to declare?”, a simple “No.” is enough.

Of course, if the customs officer starts being more inquisitive, you should answer accordingly and accurately, though unless they really ask you to do so, you should not enumerate items of clothing one by one.

One case when it can become touchy is for high value items, like jewellery, watches, or some electronics for instance. Their goal is to make sure you didn’t buy something abroad (in a place without taxes or getting a tax refund) and are importing it trying to avoid paying local taxes. Anything valuable that looks brand new (or even worse, still in its original packaging) may trigger more questions. For returning residents it can be good to have proof of purchase or to have declared the items before leaving. For visitors, if they’re not convinced, they will ask for payment of taxes or a deposit, to be refunded When you leave (with the goods!).

Likewise, large quantities will trigger the suspicion of an import for commercial reasons.

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  • I don't think this is true for Europe. You are asked to go through the "to declare" gate only if you have things over the limits set in law. Apr 8 at 15:52
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    @akostadinov isn’t that exactly what I wrote? I added a bit of clarification, let me know if there’s still ambiguity.
    – jcaron
    Apr 8 at 17:47
  • I was referring to "In most countries, the letter of the law says that everything that comes into the country should be declared" which I don't believe is true. Apr 9 at 17:30
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In practice, it would be wildly impractical to list every single thing you have with you. "I have 6 pairs of sock, 4 white, 1 black, and 1 red; a pencil; my boss's business card; a letter from my mother ..." etc. If I were the customs agent, I'd likely suspect this was a ploy to hide something taxable or illegal that you were bringing in, so you could say, "But I TOLD the customs agent I was bringing this. I mentioned it right in between "three paperclips" and "a bar of soap".

Customs forms normally ask for specific items. Do you have guns, illegal drugs, plant or animal products that may be regulated, etc. As another poster said, I have never had a customs agent ask me to list everything I have with me. They have a specific list of things they ask for.

I suppose if you had something that was taxable or regulated that was uncommon and so they didn't ask for it or list it on a customs form, you are expected to volunteer the information.

I have also never had a customs agent truly examine my luggage. Once they opened my suitcase, looked in, and closed it. I suppose if I was carrying a machine gun they would have seen it. Besides that, nobody has ever searched my stuff. I suspect they spot check, maybe really search every 100th person or something. Or maybe the customs agents make snap judgements based on a profile -- "He looks like a seedy character". I wouldn't try to get away with anything because even if the chance of getting caught is low, the consequences if you do get caught can be very high, so I figure it's not worth it.

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You should not rely on Artificial Intelligence in any form for definitive answers on any topic, especially matters of law.

The correct answer, from the government of Canada, says that you must declare:

  • purchased goods
  • gifts, prizes or awards
  • goods bought at a duty-free shop (Canadian or foreign) that are still in your possession
  • the value of any work, including repairs, done outside Canada on items that you are bringing back

You may need to pay duty and taxes on these items. When you shop outside Canada, use the duty and taxes estimator to help estimate the amount of duty and taxes you will need to pay when you return to Canada.

Based on the length of time you are outside Canada, you may qualify for a personal exemption that allows you to bring goods of a certain value into Canada without paying regular duty and taxes.

If you aren't sure if you should declare something, always declare it. Border services officers will help you identify your personal exemptions and if duties and taxes are owed.

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  • how do you prove that the goods were or were not purchased? When you arrive in Canada, you must inform the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) of all the goods you have with you that you obtained while you were outside Canada. - how do you prove that the goods that you chose not to declare were not obtained outside Canada?
    – littleadv
    Apr 7 at 22:20
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    @littleadv, that's a good question, but not what the the OP asked. (maybe ask separately?) However, receipts would be a good start to an answer... Since that's a pretty standard proof. Apr 7 at 23:11
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    If OP is from the US and visiting Canada, presumably all (or almost all) of their items are "purchased items" from the US? And therefore they would indeed need to declare everything?
    – Esther
    Apr 8 at 20:15
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    This answer seems to be for a Canadian citizen returning to Canada. The OP is asking as someone visiting Canada. When I go to Canada (typically a few to a half-dozen times a year) they always ask if I am bringing anything that I will not be taking home with me.
    – JimmyJames
    Apr 8 at 20:16
  • @JimmyJames, fair point, but not sure how much that would change the answer. Got a link to a better page? Apr 8 at 20:20

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