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What You Need to Know About Crossing the Canadian Border in Your RV

Crossing the Canadian border in your RV is one small step towards a big adventure. Lots of excitement awaits on the other side of the frontier.

However, this isn’t something you can do without a bit of planning. After all, if you forget any important documents, you’ll have to turn back. 

Today we’ll cover everything you need to consider before heading to the Great White North. 

Let’s hit the road!

Family gets ready for a bike ride at Nordic Centre Provincial Park in Canmore, Alberta, Canada on a sunny day.
Canada has much to offer for RVers, but is it worth crossing the border?

Why RV Across the Canadian Border?

Canada is the second biggest country on Earth, but 80% is uninhabited. That means you’ll find tons of gorgeous outdoor spaces to explore. That includes 48 national parks and a thousand provincial ones as well. 

You can find cozy beach towns, wild forests with zero cell reception, and crystal-clear lakes for a serene experience. Banff National Park is in the Rocky Mountains, where you can find jaw-dropping views from the peaks. Canada’s Glacier Park has active icebergs and an extensive cave system.

Of course, cities like Toronto and Vancouver are well worth a visit. These European-style cities have an Old-World vibe and plenty of RV sites nearby that can act as a home base. 

One of the best parts of traveling in the Great White North is meeting different people. You can make new connections while you get to know these neighboring lands. Canadian nomads are just as friendly as their US counterparts, if not more so. 

Here are more Canada travel tips to tempt you: Lonely Planet Canada’s Best Trips.

Do You Need Special Documents for Crossing the Canadian Border?

Crossing the Canadian border is much different now than it used to be. Increased security means you’ll need to have some essential documents ready. 

All adults 16 and older need a US passport, passport card, or NEXUS card. A REAL ID will only work for airport travel. Children only need a birth certificate and a signed letter from their parents if you’re not their legal guardian. 

If you have pets with you, they need paperwork as well. You’ll also have to bring proof of vaccination or a certificate of inspection from the vet. 

Border agents will check for proof of insurance on every vehicle you bring into the country. Of course, anyone behind the wheel will need a valid driver’s license. And don’t forget to call your insurance provider to ensure your coverage includes travel outside the US. 

What Can You Bring When Crossing the Border?

Crossing the Canadian border by RV means you have much more luggage space than someone in an average vehicle. You’re free to bring personal bags with clothes and other essentials across the border. 

You’ll also be able to bring food, but you have to declare it. They limit how much canned, dried, and packaged food you can carry, so you’ll need to check with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to stay current on legal amounts. 

You may run into some issues with fresh produce and eggs. Sometimes certain fruits or vegetables may have temporary restrictions. It’s best to keep it to small amounts that won’t break the bank if a border agent decides to confiscate it. You can also wait until you cross the border to stock up. 

Pet food needs to be unopened and in its original package. Beer, wine, and tobacco also have strict per-person limits, though it’s reasonably generous. For example, you can bring 24 cans of beer per person. 

There’s no restriction on how much cash you can bring, but you’ll need to report if you have over $10,000 on hand. 

Just driving through: Can You Drive To Alaska Safely?

What Can You Not Bring When Crossing the Canadian Border?

Some of the restricted items are no surprise, such as fireworks. But others are a little more complex.

Canada has much stricter firearm laws than the US. Handguns are prohibited. You may be able to bring a rifle with you for hunting, but you’ll have to ensure it’s stored properly. They also have rigid requirements on the types of long guns they allow.

Mace and pepper spray are illegal in the country. The one exception is bear spray, but it must have approval from the US EPA. You’ll also have to leave your firewood behind due to the risk of contamination.

Controlled substances and illegal drugs are an easy way to turn your Canadian border crossing into a nightmare. If you have prescription medicine, you’ll have to declare it. However, cannabis is restricted even if you use it for medical purposes. 

Is It Stressful Crossing the Canadian Border in Your RV?

As long as you have your paperwork and you’re not planning on smuggling anything, the experience should be stress-free. However, you should make sure you have flexible plans for the day. If you have somewhere to be, try crossing the border the night before to avoid anxiety in your travels. 

Check the Canada Services Agency website beforehand to get an idea about the hourly wait times. And be prepared to talk to the agents in a friendly manner. 

It’s best to be polite and answer questions as clearly as possible. Vague answers or odd behavior will likely prompt a secondary inspection. This may add hours to your wait time while they check you and all your belongings. 

Cars lined up waiting to go through a Canadian border crossing
The Surrey crossing is one of the busiest along the US and Canadian border

How Long Does it Take to Cross the Canadian Border?

Crossing the Canadian border is way different than driving over state lines. And many factors can affect your wait time.

The average wait time is 45 minutes. But that’s skewed by people who have lengthy secondary inspections. Many people can breeze through in ten minutes. Just don’t expect a quick trip if you’re hauling a lot of luggage in your RV.

Besides a possible inspection, where you choose to cross can affect how quickly you get through. For example, the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor is notorious for long wait times. You’ll likely get held up by freight trucks.

It’s also a good idea to plan for an early crossing or wait until later in the evening. Most traffic will thin out by then. But traveling during holidays or heavy travel seasons will undoubtedly slow you down. The busiest time of day is typically between 3:00 and 6:00pm. 

The border has 100 legal crossing points. Spend some time finding out which ones are the busiest, and plan your trip around finding a quiet checkpoint. 

You’ll want to avoid these 5 Worst Canadian Border Crossings for US Citizens.

Is a Trip Over the Border in Your RV Worth It?

The Great White North offers a new frontier of rugged wilderness. But you can also immerse yourself in European-style cities. And connecting with a new RV community is as simple as crossing the Canadian border. 

While the logistics of crossing an international boundary can seem overwhelming, you’ll be just fine as long as you plan ahead and stay mindful of what you’re packing.

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