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Travel Tips – Residents Returning to Canada

The information presented here was reproduced from the Canada Customs pamphlet, I Declare – a guide for Canadian residents returning to Canada.

Download the I Declare Pamphlet [PDF]

For more information check out Canada Customs website at:

Before you Leave

To avoid problems and delays in clearing customs when you return, there are several things you can do before you leave.

Make sure you carry proper identification for yourself and any children travelling with you including any documents the country you intend to visit requires, such as passports, birth certificates, and visas. Proper identification includes birth certificates, baptismal certificates, passports, citizenship cards, records of landing, and certificates of Indian status. These will help prove your citizenship and residency when you return to Canada.

Parents who share custody of their children should carry copies of the legal custody documents. When travelling with a group of vehicles, parents or guardians should travel in the same vehicle as the children when arriving at the border.

Adults who are not parents or guardians should have the children’s identification as well as written permission from the parents or guardians to supervise the children. The permission letter should include addresses and telephone numbers where the parents or guardians can be reached.

Customs officers are looking for missing children, and may ask questions about the children who are travelling with you.

Protecting your valuables
Before travelling abroad with valuable items, you can take advantage of a free identification procedure at any of our customs offices. This service is available for items that have serial numbers or other unique markings. For items that do not have such markings, we can apply a sticker to give them a serial number.

When you show your valuables to the customs officer and state that you got them in Canada or lawfully imported them, the officer will list your valuables and their serial numbers on a wallet-sized card. Simply show your card to the customs officer when you return to Canada with the goods.

Because jewellry often has significant value and can be difficult to identify, we cannot list it on this card. We suggest that you travel with as little jewellry as possible. Taking the following steps before you leave Canada will make it easier for you to re-enter the country with jewellry:

Get an appraisal report from a gemologist, jeweler, or insurance agent, as well as a signed and dated photograph.
Get written certification that the items or jewellry in the photograph are the ones described in the appraisal report.
Carry the appraisal report, the certified photograph, and a copy of the bill of sale when travelling abroad. If you imported the goods previously, make sure you have a copy of your customs receipt.
Remember that under customs law, if you take any item outside Canada and change it in any way or make it more valuable, we do not consider it to be the same item when you bring it back into the country. You have to declare the full value of the new item.

You take an old diamond ring with you on a trip outside Canada. While abroad, you replace the diamond. When you return to Canada, we consider the whole ring to be new.

Even if part of the ring is made from Canadian material, we have to treat the ring like any other piece of jewellry you got outside the country. This rule applies unless you have prior authorization from us to have those repairs or alterations made abroad.

Repairs or modifications to your vehicle
If you intend to have repairs or modifications made to your vehicle outside Canada, check with us before you leave. Under customs law, we can no longer consider your vehicle, vessel, or aircraft to be Canadian if you increase its value, improve its condition, or modify it while abroad. As a result, you may have to pay duty on its entire value when you bring it back.

Repairs or alterations to vehicles, aircraft, or vessels carried out in the United States, Mexico, Chile, or Israel will be free of customs duty when the vehicles are exported to these countries for the declared purpose of repair or alteration. The goods and services tax (GST) or harmonized sales tax (HST) will apply to the value of the repair or alteration.

You can have incidental minor repairs made or parts replaced while you are travelling abroad to maintain your vehicle in an operating condition. Although these minor modifications do not make the whole vehicle subject to assessment, you may still have to pay duties on the repairs and parts.

If you had to make repairs or get replacement parts to ensure the safe return of your vehicle to Canada, we may be able to apply a special provision which waives any duties payable. Be sure to declare the value of all repairs and replacement parts when you return from abroad.

Transport Canada also has requirements for vehicles that are extensively Modified. Contact them for more information.

For your health and safety
Some of the places you plan to visit or pass through may be plagued by cholera, yellow fever, or malaria. Before you leave to travel abroad, find out what vaccinations and medications you might need. You can get this information from your federal, provincial, or territorial health officer, or you can contact:

Health Canada
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9

What to Expect When You Return to Canada

When you return to Canada, you have to declare all of the goods that you got abroad such as purchases, gifts, prizes, or awards that you are bringing with you, or having shipped to you. Remember to include goods still in your possession that you bought at a Canadian or foreign duty-free shop. As well, make sure you declare any repairs or modifications you made to your vehicle, vessel, or aircraft while you were out of the country.

If you aren’t sure if an article is admissible or if you should declare it, always declare it first and then ask the customs officer. Remember that customs officers are there to help you, and will work out your personal exemption and any duty you owe in the way that benefits you most.

Your rights
We want to make the experience of returning to Canada as pleasant as possible for you. If you have any difficulties with the customs process, we want to resolve them quickly. Please do not hesitate to speak to the supervisor on duty. In many cases, the supervisor will be able to resolve your concerns at once.

Making your declaration
If you are returning to Canada by commercial aircraft, you will receive a customs declaration card to complete before you arrive. You can list up to five family members living at the same address on one declaration card.

These cards are also used at some locations for travellers arriving by rail, vessel, or bus. If you have any questions about the card or Canadian regulations, please ask the customs officer when you arrive.

If you arrive in Canada in a private vehicle such as an automobile, aircraft, or bus, you can usually make an oral declaration. If you are declaring goods claimed as part of your $750 exemption that preceded or will follow your arrival in Canada, ask the customs officer for Form E24, Personal Exemption Customs Declaration. You will need your copy of the form to claim these goods. Otherwise, you may have to pay the regular duty on them.

Customs services
We have areas at most major airports where you can pay any duty and tax you owe while waiting for your baggage to arrive. If you want to claim more than your exemption limit, or if you have something to declare, follow the red signs to the declaration area. If you are within your exemption limit and have nothing to declare, follow the green signs to an exit.

In co-operation with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, we have introduced the CANPASS program to streamline customs and immigration clearance for low-risk travellers. CANPASS participants arriving by either private aircraft or private boat report by telephone before leaving the United States. Any duty and tax they owe are billed to their credit cards. We have also introduced the CANPASS – Highway program at selected land borders across Canada. Participants using the CANPASS lane declare their goods on a special declaration card and the duty and tax they owe are billed to their credit cards.

You and the Customs Officer
You may occasionally find yourself going through a more detailed customs procedure. In some cases, this simply means that you may have to complete a form. In other cases, a customs officer will need to identify the goods you are bringing into the country or examine your luggage.

If you are travelling with children, do not be surprised if our officers talk to them, or ask you questions about them. Keep in mind that they are looking for missing children.

You should also know that our officers are legally entitled to examine your luggage as part of their responsibility to protect Canada’s safety, economy, and environment. You are responsible for opening, unpacking, and repacking your luggage. We appreciate your co-operation.

By making your goods easily accessible for inspection and having your receipts handy, you will be helping us to help you. It is a good idea to keep all your receipts for accommodations and purchases, and for repairs done or parts you got for your vehicle. We may ask to see them as evidence of the length of your stay and the value of the goods or repairs.

If you disagree with the amount of duties and taxes that you have to pay, you can contact any of our customs offices. A consultation can often resolve the issue quickly and without cost. If you are still not satisfied, our officers can tell you how to make a formal appeal.

False declarations and the seizure of goods
If you do not declare goods, or if you falsely declare them, we can seize the goods. This means that you may lose the goods permanently, or that you may have to pay to get them back.

Depending on the type of goods and the circumstances involved, we may impose a penalty that ranges from 25% to 80% of the goods’ value.

The law also allows us to seize vehicles you use to unlawfully import goods. When this happens, we impose a penalty you have to pay before we return the vehicle. We usually seize commodities such as alcohol and tobacco products outright when they are not properly declared, and you cannot get them back.

We keep a record of infractions in our computer system which can influence the customs inspection process. If you have an infraction record, you may have to undergo a more detailed customs examination on future trips.

If you have had your goods seized and disagree with the action taken, you can appeal. To do this, you should write a letter to us within 30 days of the date of the seizure, to tell us you want to appeal. You can send the letter to any of our customs offices. You can find more information about the appeal process on the front of your seizure receipt form.

Claiming unaccompanied goods
When goods arrive that preceded or followed your arrival in Canada, you have 40 days to claim them by producing your copy of Form E24, Personal Exemption Customs Declaration. This is the form you had to complete when you returned from abroad.

The carrier who delivers the goods will ask you to pay the duty that applies, along with a processing fee. You then have two options, you can: accept delivery by paying the amount owing and then file a claim with us for a refund; or refuse to accept delivery.
If you refuse delivery, the carrier will return the package to us and ask you for a telephone number where we can reach you to discuss the assessment. The carrier will give you a copy of the assessment notice for your reference. Once we have determined that the goods are eligible for free importing as declared on your Form E24, we will release them for delivery to you without an assessment.

Exchanging goods
If you have to replace any of the goods you brought in under your personal exemption, and you want to avoid paying more duty, you have 60 days from the date you imported them to do so. Contact us for advice on how to do this.