Doesn’t it sound nice to spend the winter in California, Arizona, or Florida? Unfortunately, being a Canadian snowbird is more difficult than it sounds. There are lots of regulations you have to be aware of as you travel back and forth across the border.
Not only are you dealing with crossing the border into the US, but you’re also planning to return to Canada each year. This can complicate things such as vehicles, pets, and various goods you might want to bring with you. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of government websites and bureaucratic jargon as you search for the rules that apply to your specific situation.
Whether you’re a new snowbird or you’ve been traveling back and forth between the US and Canada every year for decades, here are some things to keep in mind as you plan your transportation. If you want advice on your specific situation, don’t hesitate to give us a call.
1. Driving your vehicle back into Canada is considered importing
As you’re thinking about how to get back and forth between your Canadian home and your American vacation property, it might seem like the best option is driving your Canadian car across the border and then driving it back to Canada a few months later. There are several things to consider before making this decision.
Driving your Canadian car from Canada to the US will not require you to pay taxes or duties as long as the vehicle stays in the US for less than a year. That’s because this is not considered a permanent importation of your vehicle.
Driving your Canadian car from the US to Canada as a Canadian resident is considered importing, but you won’t need to pay duties or taxes as long as the car did not increase in value or improve in condition while it was in the US. That means you cannot modify the car in the US. If you do, you will need to pay GST or HST on the car’s full value.
Don’t sweat it if you need to make emergency repairs to your vehicle while in the US. You’ll need to declare the value of the repairs and replacement parts, but you likely won’t be required to pay taxes when you return to Canada.
If you enjoy the long road trip back and forth between your two residences or you have a lot of stuff that goes with you, you may decide that driving your Canadian vehicle back and forth is the right choice for you. As long as you don’t spend more than a year in the US and you don’t make significant alterations to your vehicle, you shouldn’t have any problems with customs.
2. Buying a car in the US could be your best option
Many Canadian snowbirds find it’s more convenient for them to leave their Canadian car at home in Canada and buy a US car to leave at their American residence. They prefer flying rather than making the long drive back and forth. They don’t want to have to deal with the stress of potentially getting stopped at the border.
If you’re interested in purchasing a US car to leave at your American residence, keep in mind that new cars tend to be about the same price in Canada and the US. Used cars typically run a little cheaper in the US. If you’re buying a new car from an American brand, though, you might pay a little bit less than you would in Canada.
As a non-US resident, you’ll most likely need to pay for the car with cash. This is because you don’t have US credit or a Social Security number. One option you do have is using a Home Equity Loan on your US property in order to get the cash. You’ll also avoid paying foreign exchange fees if you do this.
Of course, leaving your car at your US residence all summer comes with some risks. Make sure you store it in a garage or buy a car cover. Also, you might want to consider putting your car up on blocks to avoid tire damage.
If you decide to drive your US car with US plates to Canada, you must apply for a Temporary Import Permit from Transport Canada. This allows you to keep your US car in Canada for up to one year. For more information about importing your US car to Canada, click here.
3. Your pet must meet all requirements in order to cross the border with you
Are you planning to bring your pet with you as you go back and forth between the US and Canada? Whether you choose to drive or fly, your pet will need to meet certain requirements for each country.
When you’re entering the US, your pet needs to appear healthy upon arrival. Since Canada is considered a no-risk rabies country, you’ll need to prove that your dog has lived in Canada for the past six months or since birth. Cats are not typically required to have a general certificate of health. However, some US states require proof of vaccination for cats. Check the requirements for your pet on the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) website.
When you’re returning to Canada, you will probably need to provide a rabies vaccination certificate for your dog or cat. Dogs and cats younger than 3 months do not need a vaccination certificate; in this case, you’ll need to show proof of your dog or cat’s age. For further requirements, use this tool to specify which kind of pet you have and how old they are.
Remember, even though you are not importing or exporting your pet, bringing your pet into a different country is considered importing. Therefore, you need to carefully follow all guidelines to ensure your pet has a smooth journey. For more information about importing your pet, click here.
4. You have a certain amount of duty-free goods you can bring back to Canada with you
During your time in the US, you might want to buy some things to bring back to Canada with you. Make sure you keep all receipts of goods you purchase in the US that you intend to bring back to Canada.
As a Canadian resident, you are entitled to a personal exemption of $800 (CAD), provided you’ve been outside of Canada for at least 7 days. This means you are allowed to bring $800 (CAD) of goods back to Canada with you without paying import duties or taxes.
Each person is allowed a personal exemption, including children (as long as the goods are for the child’s use). If you have more than $800 (CAD) worth of goods, you will need to pay import duties and taxes on the excess goods.
There are special requirements for bringing alcohol and tobacco with you to Canada. You are allowed to bring 1.5 liters of wine, 1.14 liters of liquor, OR 8.5 liters of beer. You are also allowed to bring 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 200 grams of manufactured tobacco, AND 200 tobacco sticks. If you wish to bring more alcohol and/or tobacco, you will need to pay import duties and taxes, which can be quite high.
In order to avoid the risk of paying import duties and taxes on personal items that you bought before entering the US, consider obtaining signed evaluations of your jewelry from a Canadian jeweler or presenting your items to the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) office before you leave Canada. If you have proof that you bought something valuable in Canada, you will not need to include its value in your duty-free personal exemption when you return to Canada.
As a Canadian snowbird, you may have questions about the customs regulations that affect you as you travel back and forth across the border. At BorderBuddy, we’re here to help with whatever you need. Give us a call today.