5 Ways to Make Your Cross-Border Shopping Easier

Take The Fear Out Of Crossing The Border

shopping in the USA

With a high Canadian dollar and cheaper prices in the USA, many Canadians cross the border to do a little grocery shopping. This has been made even more attractive since at the beginning of June, the amount that Canadians could bring home duty-free was raised considerably. After a 24-hour stay, one can now bring back $200 worth of products from the former $50, and after 48 hours one is entitled to return with a whopping $800 worth of merchandise. What’s the advantage of shopping in the USA besides the prices? I always enjoy discovering new products, and sometimes I find things that I can’t otherwise buy at home. It’s also a good thing to expand your horizons a little and try new foods! While shopping local is best to support your economy, the occasional trip to pick up a few special items is always fun.

Thinking of doing a little cross border grocery shopping but not entirely sure what you can bring back home? Wary of the borders?  Below are a few tips to help you out.

1. Do A Little Research

Products in the USA may look the same as in Canada, but often the ingredients are different. Companies do research about what the populations of each of our countries prefer and may tailor the product that way.  Case in point: Corn Pops in the USA is a completely different cereal than in Canada. Products in the USA also have different labeling, and it’s worth it to read labels a little more carefully.  If you are trying to avoid specific additives this could be interesting!  Some banks offer US Dollar accounts, where you put American money into it and then can withdraw only American money as well. This is handy if you are shopping across the line, and is well worth looking into.

2.  Prep Ahead

When faced with a pile of new products where everything seems to be inexpensive, it’s easy to load up a cart with a bunch of products you may never use. Stay focused and take a list of the things that you are looking for. By our third trip, I really had a good idea what I wanted to buy and we would use. Make sure to pack a cooler to keep things chilled in case you are stuck in a border line up. It’s always a good idea to give yourself lots of time, as you never know what kind of line ups you may encounter. Weekends and holidays can create notoriously long waits at the border. Be sure you have your passport handy and up to date, and it is always a good idea to have travel insurance in the event of an accident. One can purchase travel insurance for a year, which could be a more economical option if you are crossing the border a lot.

3.  Certain Things Really ARE Cheaper in Canada

Some products aren’t that much cheaper, and likely not really worth the trip. However there are others, such as cheese, which are astoundingly cheaper than in Canada. On my last visit I purchased a wedge of double cream brie from Trader Joe’s that easily would have cost triple (or more!) at home. While it is tempting to load up on certain things, that brings us to the next point…

4.  Know What You Can (and Can’t!) Bring Home

The rules for what can be brought across the border can be a little confusing at best.  If you aren’t sure, it’s always best to consult I Declare, but in my research I have found that to date you can bring:

  • 1.5 liters, or two bottles, of wine (read here for more restrictions on alcohol)
  • 2 dozen eggs
  • 20 kg of dairy products, not exceeding $20 in value (cheese, butter, milk, yogurt)
  • 20 kg of edible meats and meat products, including turkey and chicken. There are further restrictions with this one. Read here for more details)
  • 20 kg of fish or seafood per person
  • up to 15 cans of fruit or 15 frozen packages
  • up to 20 kg of frozen  vegetables
  • 20 kg of baked goods (they may not contain meat!)

5. Be Honest And Follow The Rules

Trying to fool the border guards is risky business and can leave you subject to fines. If you are unsure about a product, it’s best to tell the inspection officer and if it is not allowed, they will take it and you won’t suffer any penalties. When they ask what you bought, tell them honestly and have your receipts handy in case they ask to see them. Following the rules keeps you out of trouble and your border crossings stress free!

Whether you cross-border shop a lot or only occasionally, a little preparation and planning will go a long way to make it a smooth trip, and could possibly help you keep the grocery budget in check!

Do you cross-border shop? How often? Share some tips below!

She may go by the name Scatteredmom online, but Karen really is anything but scattered when it comes to the kitchen.  Churning out tasty treats within view of the Georgia Strait on Canada's west coast, Karen will hand you an organized weekly meal plan or teach you how to make meals from scratch.  As Mom to a teenage boy, she knows exactly what it takes to keep kids full and happy-which has really come in handy with her job as the Food Editor at Yummy Mummy Club.

A strong supporter of Food Revolution who has been endorsed by Jamie Oliver himself, by day Karen can be found working as a special education teaching assistant, running a kitchen and showing teenagers how to cook nutritious meals for themselves.  By night, when she's not chatting on Twitter and answering cooking questions,  she writes her popular blog Notes From the Cookie Jar, or posting mouthwatering recipes over at Chasing Tomatoes.  Not afraid to give her opinion and passionate about community, Karen spoke at Blissdom Canada 2010 and her writing has been published in Canadian Living magazine, as well as in various online publications. 

Follow Karen on Twitter @scatteredmom