Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lenient Border Guards

At this time of year many Canadians head to the U.S. in search of bargains for Christmas presents. Taking a bite out of the savings are travel costs and duties when you return. However, border guards don’t always make you pay.

My cousin was telling me about a woman who returned from a trip recently having bought $900 worth of items, including the obligatory bottle of booze. She declared the full $900 and even though her exemption limit was only $400 for having been gone 48 hours, she was sent on her way without having to pay any duties.

This happened to me once, although I was only over my limit by a small amount. Not being an experienced U.S. shopper, I’m curious about how common it is for border guards to not make people over their limit pay duties.

Are there any experienced U.S. shoppers who can comment on how often border guards forgive duties and for what types of dollar amounts?


  1. My brother was returning from Florida with my mother and declared his $3000 set of rims for his car. Being away for a week granted them a combined exemption of $1500, but the border guard smiled and spoke those magical words "Have a nice day." The guards can be lenient on purchases, but they are very strict about restricted items like alcohol.

  2. @Chris B: Wow! Your brother was forgiven for being $1500 over his exemption. That beats my story where the woman was $500 over. I suspect that being honest and hoping for a break is a better plan than lying and hoping not to get caught.

  3. @Michael James: I agree; it is better to be honest with the border guards. I'm sure there are all kinds of fines that we don't know about for being caught smuggling. In the case of my brother, he was prepared to pay any duties/taxes required, so it was just his lucky day I guess.