Contributing Lawyers


Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

United States

Susan Kohn Ross


Andrew Hudson

Top 10 Tips on Dealing with the Canada Border Services Agency at a Canadian Border Checkpoint

This blog entry on quicker passage through the Canada Border Services Agency checkpoints into Canada is adapted from James Wysong's "10 Tips of Getting through Customs", which was posted on MSNBC on April 22, 2008 -

Here are some tips for getting through customs and immigration without too much fuss and aggravation.

1. Be organized.  If you have been shopping outside of Canada and are bringing newly purchase items with you, keep the receipts.  Use the receipts to accurately add you purchases and state the value of the goods received outside of Canada.  You do not have to hand the receipts to the primary CBSA officer - however, having them with your passport and declaration cards shows the officer that you are prepared to answer their questions.

2. Before you get to the border, mentally list the items that you purchased or received outside of Canada.  Often the CBSA officer will ask you what you purchased or received.  Sometimes the CBSA officer will ask for your most expensive purchases to assess whether you may be over your purchase limit.  You spending habits may trigger a secondary inspection.


3. Turn off your cell phone. CBSA officials will not be distracted by your talking on your cell phone and may think you are attempting to avoid their questions.

4. Don’t make wisecracks or jokes to the CBSA officials; it makes you look like you are trying to hide something. However, CBSA officials can be very friendly and it is okay to respond to their questions with a smile.  But do not ramble as it is a sign of a unclear conscience.

5. If you are unsure about whether to declare something, declare it.  You are required to report all goods you received while outside Canada (including purchases, gifts, goods your are brining home for others, property located at you vacation home, etc.) If you are selected for a secondary inspection, you will be AMPed (penalties) if you fail to report all of your purchases and could receive a permanent black mark on your record.  I know a person who "forgot" to declare a painting because it was duty-free (but still subject to goods and services tax and provincial sales tax). He was selected for a secondary inspection and the painting was discovered - actually it was in plain view at the time of the primary inspection.  In addition, upon every entry into Canada for years afterwards, he way sent for a secondary inspection and his luggage was searched while he waited - this is frustrating for frequent business travelers.

6. Always carry a photocopy of your passport, and keep it separate from your passport. Some officials will accept the copy or at least give you an easier time if you misplace the original.


7. Read your customs forms carefully and provide complete information. There is a complete guide to filling out your forms along with a list of contraband items in the back of your in-flight magazine.

8. Don’t make a scene if the wait gets long or your bags get a thorough going-over. Look at the experience as your turn.  If you demonstrate to the CBSA officers that you understand that they must do their job and offer to answer any questions that they may have, it will be a more positive experience.  You definitely won’t make your connecting flight if you are sent to secondary screening.

9. If you are uncomfortable with an agent of the opposite sex searching through your luggage, you have three right to ask for a CBSA officer of your sex to conduct the search.  If the search proceeds to a body search, you also have the right to be searched by a CBSA officer of the same sex.  Also, if you would prefer to be searched by a doctor, you have that right.  However, it will not be viewed in a positive light.  I had a client who has recently had surgery and explained the situation to the CBSA officer.  The doctor will be able to tell the CBSA if you have lied, so do not claim medical circumstances that do not exist.


10. Leave any compromising photos or videos of you and a partner at home or ship them home. They could be confiscated as pornography and wind up on a “wall of shame” in some back office.

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