How to Whiz Through Canadian Customs

by Luciano Nisi

When returning to Canada from an international destination there’s often a lot of things going through your brain; you may be jet lagged, thinking of the memories of your trip, what you forgot, who is picking you up, or perhaps you have a personal disability that makes your mobility require assistance. The last thing you want is to be pulled into the secondary examination area and have your luggage checked and asked a lot of questions about your travels. The following is a list of tips to reduce your stress when it comes to dealing with CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) – formerly known as Customs and Immigration officers.

Before Departing from Canada

If you are planning on bringing back any souvenirs, artifacts or gifts make sure you know what the rules and regulations are before leaving Canada. There are strict regulations on wood carvings and rare artifacts and if you bring them back without authorization they could be seized and/or fines administered. “Know Before You Go” is a good rule of thumb to prevent any delays on your return to Canada. The CBSA website will offer all the information you need and if you cannot find it, contact the toll free phone number and speak to a representative.

Arriving back into Canada – Declaration Cards

Prior to disembarkation on any international flight, the flight attendants will come around and hand you a CBSA Declaration Card also known as an E311. To reduce delays and processing the following tips will make the process faster and less disruptive.

  1. Read the card carefully before filling it out – this is a legal declaration and if you fill in false information there could be consequences.
  2. Make sure you fill it out completely before you arrive at the primary inspection area (booth with officer in it). Do not fold the card.

Note: When it comes to filling out the meat/dairy products section, it’s important to note that all these goods fall under the authority of the CFIA (Canadian Food inspection Agency). CBSA Officers are constantly seizing goods under this category to protect our habitat and prevent cross contamination that could infect our country’s ecosystem. If in doubt, don’t bring it back into Canada.

Have your ID ready

Canadian customs

Have your ID (Passport) ready when you walk up to the primary booth for your initial interview. Be personable and yourself, smile if you like. Remember the officer is dealing with thousands of travellers a day, and he/she is doing their best to do their job and expedite the process and still be aware of people or items of concern. A pleasant presentation will make the process more enjoyable for everyone. If the officer appears grumpy perhaps it is because every traveller has been disgruntled or had a frown on their face, approach the interview as if you were applying for a new job.

What happens if you are sent into secondary for a luggage check?

If you are selected for a mandatory (i.e. your shoes need to be inspected for soils because you travelled to a farm) or random (randomly selected for inspection) exam you can make things much faster and easier if you do the following:

1) Ensure your luggage is packed neatly

2) Separate all items by categories if possible (i.e. keep duty free items together).

3) Ensure you are the one that closed and locked or sealed your luggage. The officer will ask you if you know the contents of your luggage, and your reply is a legal verbal declaration. If anything prohibited or not declared is inside your luggage, you are responsible. If you forgot to mention an item prior to the officer opening the luggage, tell the officer immediately that you forgot to mention something contained in the luggage.

4) Be polite and do not get angry with the process, the officer is just doing his/her job and will handle your personal items respectfully.

How to answer questions about your travel and contents of your luggage

If you are selected for a luggage exam in the secondary examination (inspection) area, follow the directions of the officer, you will be directed into an examination room and directed to stand in a certain area. The following things may happened during your luggage examination.

1) The luggage will be placed on an item free table in front of you.

2) You will be asked if you packed the luggage and if you are aware of the contents.

3) You will be asked to not come towards the officer during the examination

4) You will be in the room at all times and the exam will be done in your presence until completed.

5) If an item requires to be opened that is difficult for the officer to open you may be asked to open the item or container.

6) All items will be removed individually and placed on the item free table until the contents have been removed.

7) The luggage itself will be examined in detail when empty looking for items concealed inside the fabric.

8) Providing the exam is non-resultant all items will be placed back inside the luggage or you will be asked to re-pack the luggage.

9) You will be shown how to exit the secondary examination area and providing nothing else is of concern will be free to leave.

Search and Seizure of Goods in your possession.

If you breach any Customs regulations or are found to have made a false declaration or false statements to offices regarding your goods; items may be seized and or fines imposed. In addition your name will be entered into the CBSA database and future travels will reveal a past enforcement action against you. To prevent this, be 100% honest in your declaration and answer all questions truthfully and you will not have a problem even if you are selected for a random examination of your luggage.

Planning to cross the border by car? Be sure to check out these important tips!

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