Customs quiz: How much can you bring back duty-free?
UPDATE: Personal exemption limits increased on June 1, 2012. For updated limits, see here.
Up, down who knows where our Canadian dollar will settle. Our manufacturers may like it low, but Canadian travellers are revelling in the loonie's high notes. A favourable exchange rate makes exploring many destinations more affordable, which is nice after years of being bilked for our buck. But before you pack an extra suitcase to haul home your shopping, think about what you're allowed to bring back without hearing that four-letter word: duty.
Bellis Fair border-hoppers may not be swayed by the value of buying locally, but they might be by this quick quiz. On a day trip, how much can you bring back to Canada duty-free?
The answer: nothing. "If you go away for less than 24 hours, you're not entitled to a personal exemption, which means that everything you bring back is subject to duties and taxes," says Paula Shore, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency.
Duty depends on what the item is and where it was made; for a rundown, see the agency's Web site. The good news is that some items, such as computer equipment and cameras, don't incur any duty; nevertheless, you're still liable for GST and PST. If you bring back alcohol, "You're going to pay an incredible amount of duty and taxes," Shore says. For example, a US$6.99 bottle of Australian wine purchased in the U.S. will run you an additional $8.30 in duty and taxes.
If you've been away 24 hours, your personal exemption is $50. But beware: if you go over for example, by spending $60 Shore says you must pay duty on the full amount, not just the excess.
It matters where the goods were made, not just where they were purchased. Because of trade agreements, Shore says if something was made in the U.S., Mexico, or Chile, "The rate is likely to be lower." Often there's no duty at all. For example, a T-shirt manufactured in Vietnam merits 17 percent duty; for one made in the U.S., it's zero. (Note that you still have to pay GST and PST if the U.S. made clothing does not fall under your personal exemption.)
Now let's talk real travel. In last January's federal budget, the government increased the personal exemption for those out of the country for more than 48 hours from $200 to $400. The seven-days-or-more exemption remains the same: up to $750 worth of goods before duty rules kick in.
If you exceed whichever personal exemption applies, you'll be charged a "special duty rate" of seven percent on the next $300 worth of goods, regardless of what they are or where they were made, rather than assessing duty on individual items. After that, it's the duty schedule as usual. Shore claims that customs agents arrange things to your best advantage, by grouping higher -duty items under your personal exemption and charging the excess on lower-duty ones.
Keep your receipts. But if you buy a shirt for $3 at a street market in Asia and don't have a receipt to prove it, the customs agent will likely believe you. Shore says they're well versed in the value of items from around the world.
Thinking about smuggling it in? If you're caught, not only will the items be seized, you could be fined and you'll have a black mark on your file. Any infraction bars you for life from being eligible for a Nexus pass, Shore says.
As well, make sure you declare food like meat and dairy. Customs agents will often let you sail through with only a few questions if you are upfront, but won't be happy if you don't declare the edibles. Produce is more problematic; even that apple you packed for the flight home could get you in trouble, Shore confirms. Surrender it on landing, or eat the evidence.
Follow Carolyn Ali on Twitter at twitter.com/carolynali