US-Canadian Customs

“What can we bring across the U.S./Canada border?”

This question is frequently asked by boaters going either direction across the U.S./Canada border both on British Columbia’s southern border with Washington and northern border with Alaska. While the question seems straightforward, it is often difficult to answer quickly and succinctly. Both the U.S. and Canada customs and border patrol have extensive websites addressing border crossings. These websites are designed for a broad spectrum of travelers entering by air, by car, and by boat, and they cover a huge geographic area. So the challenge is finding what you’re looking for in the sea of websites information. Despite, these websites are the most authoritative source, and it’s always good to check the appropriate border crossing website before your travel.

The list of allowed and disallowed food items changes in response to known problems. Sometimes these changes happen very quickly as new problem areas become known and others are resolved. Some food restrictions may be very specific to items grown, harvested, or produced in designated geographic regions. While the information online is the official policy, it has been our experience that there is a fair amount of latitude an agent can offer. For example, we recently learned that agents in Southeast Alaska might allow certain food items where the items will be consumed on the boat and not leave the boat.

What Can Be Brought Across the U.S./Canadian Border?

Below is a short list of website links to help you navigate the large quantity of information on the U.S. and Canada websites along with some generalities that can make your border crossing uneventful.

  • Fresh items are more problematic than cooked, packaged, or processed and are more likely to be restricted or disallowed. Plan to stock up on fresh items after your border crossing and bring in only those items that you know are allowed.
  • Keep fresh items in their original packaging. Leave the individual item number stickers on fresh produce and keep receipts to show where the fresh items were purchased.
  • Loose or bulk items are more problematic than packaged. Sometimes it helps to peel the items and remove pits.
  • Avoid locally grown produce and vegetables. Don’t take items from local farmers’ markets (like the Ganges Saturday Market or Anacortes Saturday Market for example) since open-air market items are more suspect.
  • According to the US Customs and Border Protection website, firewood cannot be brought into the U.S. and vessels with firewood will be sent back to dispose of the firewood, not simply confiscated.
  • Inventory the alcohol onboard before border crossing.
  • Always declare food and plant items.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection website links:

Canada Customs and Border Services:

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