Canadians taking Caribbean cruises should know that the CBSA has seen it all before. It is not uncommon for a Canadian or resident of Canada to be wrongly informed at a duty-free store on board the cruise ship or by a salesperson at a shop in a Caribbean port that they can save the Canadian duties and taxes by shipping the receipts/warranty information for expensive items (such as watches, jewelry) home while wearing the goods when crossing the border. Travelers are wrongly advised to not declare the goods and that CBSA border officers will not issue an assessment because the receipt is not in the luggage.
This is a big mistake (and possibly a criminal offense) and should not be done. The CBSA knows the names of the duty free stores who often provide the envelop in which the receipt/warranty documentation is mailed. The CBSA knows the names of the cruise ship lines who offer free envelopes in the room. The CBSA knows the locations of the ports to which the cruise ships return (from which envelops are mailed). The CBSA has x-ray machines to look for invoices in very light boxes or envelopes.
If the value of the undeclared goods exceeds $10,000, the CBSA may charge you criminally with smuggling. If this happens, you will have a permanent criminal record if convicted, which may limit future ability to travel (persons with criminal records may be inadmissible for entry into foreign countries).
The CBSA may show up at your home seeking more information about the item and asking you to come clean. Since the information provided may be used to lay criminal charges, it is important to exercise caution. If the CBSA does not receive the good or the receipt, the CBSA may issue a Notice of Ascertained Forfeiture and guess at the value in order to impose a penalty (often 50% of the value of the undeclared good). It is possible that the CBSA opened the mail and already has a copy of the receipt. There are rules relating to the opening of mail (which will be the subject of a future post). It is important to know that you may be fined a civil penalty and charged criminally (the two are not mutually exclusive).
If you are a NEXUS participant, the CBSA officer will make a recommendation to the NEXUS Program to revoke NEXUS privileges. You will have to wait 7 years to reapply for admission into the NEXUS program. Based on our experience, this type of infraction is serious and you will not be treated as a trusted traveler in the future (meaning the future application will be denied).
In short, it is bad to lie. When caught, you will find that the penalties far exceed the duties and taxes you attempted to save. Yes – the cruise vacation was expensive. Yes – the expensive goods were expensive. However, your reputation is priceless.