Entering the U.S.
What procedures must a small boat follow when entering the United States? Visit U.S Customs’ website for information and forms.
U.S. Points of Entry
Anacortes (360) 293-2331
Office at Cap Sante Marina
Friday Harbor (360) 378-2080
Customs booth at the dock with phone
Point Roberts (360) 945-5211 or (360) 945-2314
Customs Dock near Fuel Dock
Port Angeles (360) 457-4311
Office Boat Haven
Roche Harbor (360) 378-2080
Customs dock at Roche Harbor Marina
Ketchikan (907) 225-2254
Call and wait for agent at assigned slip
6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Summer
U.S. / CANADA BORDER CROSSING Customs must be cleared whenever the U.S.-Canada border is crossed in either direction. Generally, the process is quick and straightforward; but if the skipper isn’t prepared with the proper information, it can be time consuming. It is extremely important to follow all the rules and be polite. While customs officers are trained in courtesy and usually are cordial, they have at their disposal regulations that can ruin your day. Take border crossing seriously, failure to follow the rules can have onerous consequences. Prepare ahead of time by inventorying items on board that need to be declared. Declare everything that must be reported, have a written list, don’t trust your memory. Follow all the rules and report to customs as soon as possible after crossing the border. We know of an instance where a pleasure boater had their vessel seized by customs officials for failure to report their arrival in a timely manner. Their boat was finally returned, but only after paying a fine of $1,000. Another boater neglected to sign their new passport, which caused some significant delays and anxiety for family members. Be prepared and follow the rules so border crossings are non-events.
All vessels are required to clear with Customs when arriving in either the U.S. or Canada from a foreign port. Canadian and U.S. vessels do not need to clear out when leaving Canada. U.S. vessels do not need to clear out when leaving the U.S., except if the vessel is being exported. Canadian vessels with a U.S. Cruising License do not need to clear out when leaving U.S. waters. All non-U.S. flagged vessels (including Canadian) without a U.S. Cruising License are required to check-out when leaving U.S. waters.
Customs hours, rules, and requirements can and do change with short notice throughout the year. We urge readers to check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website www.cbp.gov and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) website www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca for the latest.
Passports. If you don’t have passports, we encourage you to get them. Lacking a passport, carry proof of citizenship such as an enhanced driver’s license, enhanced identification, birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, and photo ID. Standard (non-enhanced) drivers licenses are not proof of citizenship and are not accepted for border crossing. Citizens of some countries need visas as well. Carry birth certificates for all minors aboard — you may be asked for them.
Contact Customs or Coast Guard. If unforeseen circumstances don’t allow you to report to customs authorities as soon as possible after crossing the border, telephone customs authorities and report your circumstances. If you don’t have cellular coverage, hail the Coast Guard on VHF and report your situation. This applies to crossing the border in either direction and with both Coast Guard agencies.
Trusted Traveler Programs. Canada and U.S. have a number of Trusted Traveler Programs that expedite border crossings for boaters when all on board the vessel are enrolled in one of these programs. Nexus is a joint Canada and U.S. program that is recognized on both sides of the border and can expedite customs clearance going either direction. Most other programs are singular to one side of the border or the other.
Nexus. With Nexus, each person applies online and then contacted to set an appointment for an interview by both Canadian and U.S. customs agents at the Vancouver, B.C.; Blaine, WA or Seattle, WA CBP offices. The card is good for 5 years, and the cost is $50 U.S. or CDN per person. From start to finish, the entire process takes several months. If you cross the border by car along with your card, you’ll have the additional benefit of using the Nexus lanes at the border. For general information or to begin the application process, U.S. citizens can go to www.cbp.gov, and Canadians go to www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca.
Clearance Numbers. A clearance number will be issued to you when you have successfully completed reporting to the respective U.S. or Canadian customs agency. Keep a record of your clearance number, along with the date, time and location of clearance. You may be asked for this number later. Canada requires that foreign flagged vessels post their clearance number on a dockside viewable window while in Canadian waters. Keep a record of interactions with border officers. If you have received permissions or instructions from a customs officer via telephone, record the date and time of the conversation along with name or badge number.
Making your report
When you contact the TRC, you will be asked about your trip, passengers, and whether you have any goods to declare. As the owner/operator of the boat, only you can report to the TRC. You must collect the information from each passenger onboard and provide it to the TRC.
U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION (CBP) CBP requires approved identification, such as a U.S. or Canadian passport, U.S. Passport card, Trusted Traveler Program cards (Nexus and Sentri), I-68, State or Provincial issued enhanced driver’s license, for entry to the U.S. We recommend that everyone aboard have a passport.
Reporting to U.S. Customs. You must report arrival and obtain clearance from U.S. CBP at a designated point of entry; OR by using the CBP ROAM smartphone App; OR if all on board are enrolled in Nexus, I-68, or Global Entry. Clearance may be conducted by calling (800) 562-5943. Whether in-person, by ROAM App, or by voice call, have the following information at-hand in order to avoid delays:
• Name, date of birth and citizenship of all persons on board (including passport number or citizenship identification)
• Name of the boat and vessel registration or documentation number
• Nexus BR Number
• Vessel homeport and current location
• CBP user fee decal number (if over 30 feet in length), or Cruising License Number for foreign flagged vessels (including
• Canadian customs clearance number for U.S. flagged boats.
• Estimated length of stay in U.S. for Canadian vessels
• For U.S. vessels, date you departed U.S. and how long you were in Canada
Download the U.S. Customs BRINGING AGRICULTURE PRODUCTS TO THE UNITED STATES FROM CANADA
Available in Washington and Alaska
ROAM is an official CBP smartphone App that can make your arrival reporting within U.S. waters a lot easier and may expedite your U.S. customs clearance requirements. New for 2019, boaters can check-in with CBP using the App as soon as they enter U.S. waters and have cell phone coverage. CBP officers access your boat and traveler information with the App and can open a video chat with you to obtain and verify information if needed. CBP will then either clear you for entry with a clearance number, or direct you to a designated U.S. Port of Entry for further processing. Those approved for entry do not need to report in-person at a Port of Entry. CBP ROAM is planned to be available for clearance 7/24. At press time, CBP was establishing support for off-hours processing. Check with CBP regarding hours of operation.
You don’t need to be a member of a Trusted Traveler program to use ROAM; it can be used by U.S. and foreign travelers. The ROAM App can be used when entering at Washington and Alaska Ports of Entry for pleasure craft. The App supports iOS and Google Android phones and tablet mobile devices. The App works best with 4G or LTE service and is reported to also work with 3G service. Boaters needing a Cruising License, or that must pay duty, will need to report in-person to a Port of Entry. For more about the App and its use, see the www.cbp.gov. Or read more about here.
Currency and Duty Free
Cash or other monetary instruments in excess of $10,000 U.S. per boat must be reported.
Duty-free Limits. U.S. residents outside of the U.S. less than 48 hours can import merchandise up to $200 in value per person without duty. If the stay is more than 48 hours, the limit is $800 per person. For ease and simplicity, try to restrict what you bring back home to products made or grown in Canada (sometimes even that isn’t sufficient). For the latest customs information, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website pages for pleasure boats at www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boatsprivate-flyers/pleasure-boat-overview.
Bringing alcohol (including homemade wine) to the U.S. for personal use
Find out more on the U.S. Customs website.
NOTE: This change is ONLY for U.S. Customs Pets
Dogs and cats must be healthy. The requirement for evidence of rabies vaccination for dogs coming from certain countries into the U.S. was removed in 2018. However, rabies vaccination is still required when entering Canada. Birds are subject to USDA Veterinarian inspection to enter or re-enter. It is usually not advisable to bring birds across the border.
Clearing by Telephone
Boaters with nothing to declare normally can clear U.S. Customs by telephone, if all on board have Nexus, I-68s or Global Entry. With Nexus, I-68 or Global Entry, you can call the Small Boat Reporting Office after entering U.S. waters, at (800) 562-5943 to report arrival and request clearance. While you report, slow to idle speed to reduce background noise and remain in the good reception area. The Small Boat Reporting Office operates from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. from May through September, and from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. the balance of the year. If you enter the U.S. outside these hours, you must remain aboard your boat until you can clear. Indications are that clearing by telephone with the Small Boat Reporting Office’s 800 number will be replaced by ROAM App in the future.
A Cruising License is available to Canadian and most foreign flagged vessels. A Cruising License saves time and money for foreign flagged vessels frequenting U.S. waters. Foreign vessels without a Cruising License must complete form CBP-1300 upon entering U.S. waters, with each movement within U.S. waters, and upon exiting U.S. waters. With a Cruising License, form CBP-1300 is only required at the vessel’s initial reporting and clearance with CBP. To get a Cruising License, foreign vessels upon entering U.S. waters must report to one of the designated CBP Ports of Entry where they submit form CBP-1300. CBP will inspect the vessel and process CBP-1300. A Cruising License can then be requested.
There is no charge for the Cruising License. Cruising Licenses expire after one year or upon surrendering to CBP when leaving the U.S. Vessels with a Cruising License do not need the $29.47 decal. Cruising Licenses cannot be extended and are available only when the vessel reports and clears-in at a CBP Port of Entry. Foreign flagged vessels made outside of the U.S. must wait 15 days after expiration of their Cruising License before requesting a new one. During this 15-day period, the vessel may enter and depart U.S. waters by submitting a CBP-1300 and paying $19.00 upon entry, exit, and movement. Vessels made in U.S. are exempt from this 15-day waiting period. Cruising Licenses do not affect customs reporting requirements. Vessels must report and clear in with CBP upon entry to U.S. waters by reporting in-person; OR by reporting arrival with the CBP ROAM App; OR by telephone with one of the trusted traveler programs like Nexus. You will need your Cruising License number when reporting in with CBP.
Declare All Items
If in doubt, declare the item to CBP. This is especially true for food products. If you are not sure, simply declare it and let the CBP officer make the decision. It is always best to inform CBP agents of items that you have on board. Failure to declare items can result in fines and penalties.
The I-68 Permit is valid for 1 year from the date of issue. U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, Canadian citizens and Landed Immigrants of Canada who are nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries are eligible to apply. The cost is $16 per person, $32 for families. Apply at CBP offices within the Puget Sound area. Bring proof of citizenship, such as a passport, certified copy of your birth certificate, and photo ID. Vessel information also helps. Each person applying must appear. Children under 14 can be listed on parents’ I-68.
Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS)
The Small Vessel Reporting System program was replaced in 2018 with the CBP ROAM App. SVRS program is no longer available.
All vessels entering Southeast Alaska from a foreign country must clear U.S. Customs. Vessels my clear customs by reporting in-person in Ketchikan; OR with the CBP ROAM App; OR by telephone if all on board are enrolled in Nexus, I-68 or Global Entry.
Pleasure vessels 30 feet in length or more must pay an annual processing (user) fee of $29.47 to enter or re-enter the United States. U.S. vessels less than 30 feet are not subject to the fee, provided they have nothing to declare. Payment is required at or before the vessel’s first arrival each calendar year. If you report by telephone, they charge your credit card. A non-transferable decal will be issued upon payment. Renewal notices for the next year’s decal are mailed or emailed in the autumn. Vessels with a valid Cruising License do not have to pay this fee and do not require a decal. Order your sticker before you need to enter the U.S. Even if you have Nexus, I-68 or Global Entry preclearance, lack of a current-year sticker may direct you to a designated port of entry for inspection. User Fee stickers are not sold at CBP offices, but can be ordered online at https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov, or by phone (317) 298-1245, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pilotage Exemption for Foreign Flagged (other than U.S. or Canadian) Vessels.
Foreign flagged vessels (other than Canadian) in Washington waters are required by Washington State law to have an exemption in order to operate without a professional Pilot. To request an exemption, download and submit an application from the www.pilotagewa.gov website or call the Washington Board of Pilotage Commissioners at (206) 215-3904.
Food restrictions are subject to change without notice. For specific food related questions, contact an Agricultural Specialist at (360) 332-8661 or (360) 988-2971. As a general guideline, any food you bring into the U.S. must be made or grown in Canada or the U.S., and labeled as such. Don’t bring fresh tropical fruits or vegetables in, even if you bought them in the U.S. CBP recommends declaring all meat and produce when entering the U.S. If declared, prohibited goods will be seized but no fine will be levied. Subject to change without notice, use the following list to minimize problems:
• No sheep lamb or goat in any form, this includes pet food.
• Meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey) and meat products from Canada are allowed.
• Keep pet food in original packaging.
• No fresh citrus, regardless of where you bought it. No fresh produce (vegetables or fruit) grown outside the U.S. and Canada.
• Canned fruits and vegetables, however, are unrestricted regardless of origin; leave labels/stickers on cans
• No tomatoes. No garlic, chives, green onions, leeks, and other green Allium vegetables from Canada. No potatoes.
• No cut flowers or potted plants (they are subject to so many restrictions that it’s better to leave them in Canada and avoid the hassle.)
• Seafood is okay.
• Dairy products are okay.
• Eggs are usually okay.
• All firewood is prohibited; boaters with firewood may be required to return to Canada to dispose of it.
CANADA BORDER SERVICES AGENCY (CBSA) Proof of citizenship and identification, such as Canadian or U.S. passport, U.S. Passport card, Trusted Traveler Program cards (Nexus and Sentri), State or Provincial issued enhanced driver’s license, is required of all on board when entering Canada. If you are bringing a child other than your own into Canada, carry a notarized statement authorizing you to take the child into Canada and proof that the person signing the statement has custody of the child. The letter should include parents’ or guardians’ addresses and phone numbers. Canada Border Services Agency website has a sample letter.
Duty-free Limits and Currency
Canadian residents returning to Canada may be eligible for a personal exemption on duty for goods brought into Canada. An exemption on goods up to $200 CDN is allowed for out-of-country stays of more than 24 hours. The exemption for stays of 48 hours or more is $800 CDN and may include alcohol and tobacco items. See the CBSA website for full details.
Declare All Items. If in doubt, declare it to CBSA. This is especially true for food items. If you are not sure, simply declare it and let the CBSA officer make the decision. It is always best to inform CBSA agents of items that you have on board. Failure to declare items can result in fines and penalties.
Currency. Cash or other monetary instruments in excess of $10,000 CDN per boat must be reported. For current rules and regulations, check out the Canada Border Services Agency website at www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca.
You may not bring switchblades, most handguns, automatic weapons, anti-personnel pepper spray or mace into Canada. Under certain circumstances, some long guns are allowed. Bear spray, if labeled as such, is permitted if declared. A Non-Resident Firearm Declaration Form is needed to bring firearms into Canada. Call the Canadian Firearms Centre at (800) 731- 4000 for a copy of the form, or download one from www.cfc-cafc.gc.ca. The cost is $25 CDN, and it is good for 60 days. All weapons and firearms must be declared to CBSA.
The 52 Steps Dock in Ucluelet is a seasonal CBSA Customs reporting station from June 1 to September 30. This is the only Canada Customs reporting station on West Coast Vancouver Island. Because this is a seasonal reporting location, not all offices and agents are aware of this reporting station.
Reporting to Canada Customs.
All vessels arriving in Canada from a foreign country must clear Border Services immediately after the vessel comes to rest. The master, or the master’s designated representative, must report to Border Services in-person or by telephone from a Border Services direct land line phone, or by calling (888) 226-7277. No one else may leave the vessel, and no baggage or merchandise may be removed from the vessel. You must report at a designated port of entry unless you have Nexus or Canpass. At some locations, Border Services officers will be present; at many other locations you will report by telephone. Even if you report by telephone, your boat may be subject to inspection. To avoid delays, have the following information ready when you report:
• Vessel name, length, and Coast Guard documentation number or state/province registration number.
• Number of people on board.
• Names, addresses, citizenship, birth dates and passport numbers of all passengers.
• Purpose of the trip.
• Number of pets on board – proof of vaccination.
• Declare if you have cash over $10,000.
• Length of absence from Canada (Canadian boats); Length and purpose of stay in Canada (U.S. boats.)
• Quantity and type of alcoholic beverages.
• Declare all goods being imported, including firearms.
Once cleared, either by phone or by an officer, you will be given a clearance number. Post your clearance number in both side windows. Log this number with the date, time, and place of clearance. Vessels are subject to re-inspection while in Canadian waters, usually by RCMP officers when their patrol boat reaches a marina. The officers are well trained and polite, but be sure you don’t have anything on board you shouldn’t have.
Liquor & Tobacco Restrictions
Not more than 1.14 liters (38.5 oz.) of hard liquor, or 1.5 liters of wine, or a total of 1.14 liters of wine and liquor, or 24 12-ounce bottles of beer or ale per person of legal drinking age (19 years old in B.C.). Not more than 1 carton of cigarettes and 2 cans (200 grams) of tobacco and 50 cigars or cigarillos, and 200 tobacco sticks per person 19 or older without paying duty and taxes on the excess amount.
Nexus and CANPASS
If all passengers aboard a boat have a Nexus permit, a vessel can clear Canada Border Services Agency by calling, toll-free, (866) 996-3987 at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours before arriving at a designated CBSA or Nexus reporting station. The vessel must physically check in at a designated CBSA or Nexus reporting station. At the time of Nexus call-in, the Border Services officer will ask for the vessel’s identification number, vessel’s intended reporting station, estimated time of arrival (ETA), purpose of the trip, and length of stay. You must appear at the appointed reporting station before your declared ETA and wait at the station until the ETA. If no officer is present at the reporting station before the ETA, you may continue on your way, without further action. We usually take a photo, with date and time stamp, of ourselves and our boat at the reporting station – just in case. In the accompanying list of designated reporting stations, note that some are for Nexus/Canpass vessels only and can only be used by vessels where all on board have Nexus or Canpass.
Canpass-Private Boats program was discontinued in 2018. New applications for the program are no longer being accepted. Those with valid and unexpired Canpass cards can continue to use them until the expiration date.
Food restrictions are subject to change without notice. Check the CBSA website for updates. Canadian customs has an interactive website where you enter the food item you are planning to bring into Canada, and after selecting options regarding the items origin and planned use, you will get an Approved or Not Approved determination. See the CBSA website for a link to this Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) website. Other than restricted foods, you can carry quantities of food appropriate for your stay. Be aware of the following restrictions and limitations:
• No houseplants (including potted herbs)
• No apples, no pitted fruit (apricots, plums, peaches) Cherries are sometimes okay
• Potatoes from US are allowed – 1 bag per person of US #1 commercially packaged
• All firewood is prohibited
If in doubt, call (204) 983-3500 for inspection.
Owners of dogs and cats must bring a certificate issued by a licensed U.S. or Canadian veterinarian clearly identifying the pet and certifying that it has been vaccinated against rabies during the previous 36 months.
Before heading out on the water for the season, we like to review the systems on our boat and handling procedures. Even experienced boaters run the risk of becoming complacent, and some boaters may simply not be aware of the nautical rules of the road. Understanding...read more
Whales and dolphins must come to the surface of the water in order to breath or they will drown. Unlike humans on land who breath automatically when asleep, whales must make the conscious decision to breath; so how do whales get any sleep? Evidence and studies...read more
For many of you, just seeing the words “Kwatsi Bay” in the headlines conjures up a flood of pleasant memories. The sale of Kwatsi Bay is bittersweet. After 25 years of building and managing the Kwatsi Bay Marina, Max Knierim and Anka Fraser deserve a well-earned...read more
What is a Nomar Bumper? I found myself asking that same question about two years ago. We had just purchased a marina; you can read about our new venture at Waggoner. It all started with some beer and oysters on a hot summer day. Truly, that’s how that story began for...read more
Operators of vessels less than 26 feet in length, with open-helm stations, must wear a link that shuts off the engine in the event an operator is ejected from the vessel or thrown from the helm station. This Federal Law takes effect on April 1, 2021, and applies only...read more
Are you looking for spare parts or needed parts for a boat project? You may just find what you’re looking for at the Sailboat Wrecking Yard in Lynden, Washington at 210 Duffner Drive. They have everything from masts with complete rigging and sails, to ladders,...read more
Did you know that gray water (soapy water) can be more damaging in many cases than black water containing human waste? The surfactants (compounds that lower surface tension) in soaps are deadly to fish, causing damage to the external mucus layer that protect fish from...read more
Every year the Island folk of Saturna invite boaters, and those wishing to ride the BC Ferries, to join them for a family-style Lamb Barbeque with 1200 of your best new friends, a tradition that has lasted over 70 years. July 1st, Canada Day, is the date to anchor...read more