Cross-border long week-end travel by Canadian residents sometimes results in disagreements with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) at the Canada-US border and/or at airports. The best tip that I can offer is to make a list of (1) all purchases of goods outside Canada AND (2) all goods received as gifts AND (3) all other goods acquired in any manner whatsoever while outside Canada. Check the list twice.

If you have purchased goods while away from Canada, organize all your receipts then make a list with the values paid (including taxes).

If you have received gifts while away from Canada, make a list of the goods and ask the giver of the gift the value of the gift.  It is best to ask for the receipt and not a gift receipt that does not show the price.

If you have acquired goods (e.g., finally removed the box of childhood toys from Mom and Dad’s garage), you also have to declare these goods.  If you receive a bequest, you must declare the good. If you pick up freebies at a convention, you have to declare those too. Sometimes it is difficult to value acquired goods that you did not pay for.  A reasonable attempt is required.

Check the list after making it because you must make sure you do not forget anything.  Go through the shopping bags.  Go through your wallet or purse.  Go through your pockets.

Tally the values of the goods purchased.  If you are over the exemption limit, tell the CBSA you are over the limit. The CBSA has the job to collect duties and taxes (GST/HST/PST, excise taxes) on imported goods. If you under-report in your declaration, you may not be paying your fair share of duties and taxes – that is where the problem arises.

When you arrive at the CBSA primary inspection, provide your list and your total.  Read from your list. Have all your receipts with your list.

This does not prevent a mathematical error on your part, but it reduces the chance of an oversight or a mathematical error.  It reduces that chance of a disagreement with the CBSA over whether you declared a particular item.  If the CBSA sees that you are organized, they will appreciate your efforts.  That does not mean they will not conduct secondary, inspections – but, you should pass the secondary inspection with flying colours.

We have successfully shown that goods are properly declared when there is evidence the goods have been communicated to the primary CBSA officer.  Recently, a client was successful in the appeal of a NEXUS pass confiscation because we were able to show that a paid of shoes were properly declared. The CBSA had seized a pair of shoes as undeclared.  When the officer’s narrative report was reviewed and the completed E311 form, it was clear the goods had been properly declared.

When you are prepared with a list and use a calculator when adding the values on the list, you are less likely to have a disagreement with the CBSA.  However, when there is a disagreement and if you can demonstrate that you had a list and gave the list to the CBSA, you have evidence that will be helpful. If you must file an appeal to the Recourse Directorate, you have something to show that you tried to comply with Canada’s customs law.