Cross Border Grocery Shopping: What You Can Bring Into Canada

March 1, 2012

Photo by Beverly & Pack

Let’s face it. The US has better selection and cheaper prices. And if, like me, you’re a Canadian living close to the border, you either buy groceries in the States, or have considered doing so. If you haven’t bought groceries in the US before, the main hesitation is probably uncertainty of what you’re allowed to bring back. Here is some information you may find helpful:

Taxes & Duties: Exemptions

First of all, if you are in the US for less than 24 hours, you don’t qualify for any exemption and may have to pay taxes and duties on all of your purchases (unless they’re exempt from duty under the North American Free Trade Agreement.) I say maybe because oftentimes, you will just get waived through if you haven’t bought all that much, and aren’t bringing across any tobacco or alcohol. On the other hand, you should basically be prepared at minimum to pay taxes on everything, since that’s the rule.

Over 24 hours, you get a CAN$50 exemption, over 48 hours you get a CAN$400 exemption, and past a week, your exemption climbs to CAN$750.

What Can I Bring into Canada?

There are restricted items that you can’t bring into Canada. Then there are those that you’ll have to pay duty on (especially over a certain quantity). And still other things you may only get charged tax on. Here are some common food items that you can bring back with you. Stay below the limits to avoid paying ridiculously high duties.

All limits* are per person:

  • Animal fat / suet: up to 20 kg
  • Baked goods, candies, etc. not containing meat: up to 20 kg
  • Dairy (cheese / milk / butter): up to 20 kg, not exceeding $20 total
  • Spices, tea, coffee, condiments: No restrictions for personal use
  • Dried fruits / vegetables: up to 15 packages, not exceeding 250 kg
  • Frozen or canned fruits / vegetables:
    • Fruits: up to 15 frozen packages or 15 cans, not exceeding 250 kg
    • Vegetables: up to 20 kg of frozen or chilled vegetables
  • Fresh fruits / vegetables: This is where people seem to run into the most trouble. There are some fruits and vegetables that you can technically bring across , but there are many restrictions. I personally don’t think it’s worth the hassle, but if you insist, make sure to do your homework (below).
  • Fish / seafood: up to 20 kg (all species except pufferfish and Chinese mitten crab)
  • Processed meat and poultry products (jerky, sausages, deli meats, etc.): up to 20 kg
    • contents must be labeled
    • proof of country of origin may be required
  • Unprocessed meat and poultry (fresh, frozen and chilled): up to 20 kg total, including:
    • One turkey or 10 kg of turkey products
    • 10 kg chicken
    • 20 kg of meat or meat products from cattle, sheep, goats, bison, and buffalo
    • must be labeled, and may need proof of country of origin
  • Eggs: 2 dozen

Do Your Homework

*The regulations above were pulled directly from the CBSA (here and here) at the time of writing this post. I strongly advise you to check them out for yourself to make sure nothing has changed. Also, if there is a particular item that you are uncertain about, check out this very thorough database, the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS). If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or you’re unclear about anything, do call CBSA directly – they are very helpful. And do make sure to declare that you are bringing food across the border, and be honest about the amounts – it’s really not worth the risk.

Kerrygold Butter, Here We Come!

As you can see from the above, it’s possible to get your groceries from the States, especially if you visit the US frequently. Well, except for the dairy – only $20?? Have you seen how much Kerrygold I eat?! :P

A great place to start is Trader Joe’s. They have great prices and a lot of natural products (but still read labels, not everything is natural). I was amazed by how many of the shoppers at the Bellingham Trader Joe’s were Canadian (small talk during long line-up for the washroom).

Are you a Canadian that buys groceries in the US? Any tips?

Leave a Comment


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

parminderdeep grewal September 1, 2012 at 5:14 PM

hi there i just wanted to ask how many milk we can bring in total /person to canada


[email protected] September 2, 2012 at 9:55 AM

It’s $20 total for dairy, per person.


linn April 27, 2013 at 6:04 PM

i grocery shop in the united states mainly —i can’t get the items here–in my hometown–they have over there——we simply do not have a wide variety of groceries and it is really a shame —we use to, but since they made all products to have duel languages–we lost many products.


[email protected] April 28, 2013 at 11:11 AM

interesting.. are there any products in particular that you can’t get over here?


Mary May 3, 2014 at 4:20 AM

If you’re allowed to bring back $50.00 worth of products in a 24 hour period, how is it possible to go grocery shopping in the US?


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