Crossing the Canadian Border by RV: Top 5 Questions and Answers

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I never really expected that I would have the opportunity to cross into Canada to explore that beautiful country with my home in tow.

Just a few years ago, as I dreamed of “one day” visiting Banff National Park in Alberta, RVing wasn’t even on my mind.

But today, I can talk to you about making two border crossings into Canada by RV: our first crossing from Montana into Alberta in 2017 (at the Carway, Alberta crossing station) to visit Banff and Calgary, then Vancouver, BC; and our second crossing from Maine into New Brunswick in 2018 (at the St Stephen, New Brunswick border crossing station) to spend two weeks exploring Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia with another full-time RV family that became very good friends.

Suffice it to say that our time spent in Canada was well worth whatever effort it took to make those trips happen. And honestly, you’d be surprised how little effort is normally involved in order for you to expand your horizons and explore this not-so-foreign country for a week or two.

And now, you need the details that will make your Canadian border crossing as smooth as possible. So let’s stop messing around and get to it.

**Please note that all information contained in this post is directed at U.S. citizens wishing to RV into Canada. If you are not a U.S. citizen, or are not traveling by land, not all of this information will be applicable and might not address the specifics of your situation. You can obtain more general information for visitors to Canada at the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) website.**

Here’s a video of ours that shows us crossing the border into Canada. Watch it to see Justin Trudeau in all his Canadian glory.

Crossing the Canadian Border by RV: Top 5 Questions and Answers

If you haven’t crossed the Canadian border by land recently, then the very first question in your mind (if you’re anything like us) likely has to do with passports. This is the top question that most potential visitors to Canada have, so we will tackle it first.

Canadian Border Crossing Question #1: Are passports required to visit Canada by RV?

You might hear slightly different answers to this question if you do a bit of searching. But the short answer is NO, passports are not an absolute requirement for U.S. citizens to enter Canada by land. (If you are entering via air or sea travel, it’s a different story. So do your research, please.)

Here’s an excerpt from a TripSavvy article about whether or not Americans need a passport to travel to Canada:

The Canadian government requires citizens of the United States to have a passport to fly to or transit through a Canadian airport, but not to enter Canada by land or by boat. For those travelers, in lieu of a passport, Canada requires that you carry proof of your citizenship, such as a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, or a Certificate of Indian Status, as well as photo identification.

Before we set out on our RV adventure in 2017, we made the choice to go ahead and get passports for all family members (our two oldest kids already had them). We made this decision in order to make our planned visit to Canada that first summer go as smoothly as possible. And we also suspected that the border crossing might not be a one-time event.

For us, obtaining passports turned out to be the right decision and I have no regrets about it at all. Those documents helped both of our border crossings go very smoothly (both into Canada and back into the U.S.).

Consider the potential cost of NOT obtaining a passport

It was an additional cost up front ($145 for adults, $115 for kids under 16; you can see current U.S. passport fees here) but I believe that it saved us plenty of time and hassle during our travels. And you also can’t overestimate the luxury of having a little extra peace of mind going into a situation like that.

I am willing to pay well for peace of mind.

If you’re like me in that respect and you want to get started with the U.S. passport application process, this page is the best place to start.

Choosing the “no passport” route

Now, if you choose not to go the U.S. passport route for your RV visit to Canada, just be sure that the proof of citizenship documents you are using (mentioned in that TripSavvy article) are 100% “up to snuff”. I don’t know about you, but I have run into plenty of issues in the past related to birth certificates not being exactly the kind that a government agency will accept (not a certified copy, no raised seal, etc.).

I can only imagine that border crossing agencies, both Canadian and American, are going to be rather particular on these points. So double and triple check everything to avoid a potential delay in your travel plans…not to mention a headache.

Keene’s Family Campground on the border of Maine and Canada

Canadian Border Crossing Question #2: What types (and amounts) of alcohol are allowed to cross the border?

Yes, I felt that alcohol was the second most important question to cover with you. But don’t read anything into that. I’m not judging you. Or me.

The best place to start in researching rules and limits on both alcohol and tobacco entering Canada is at the CBSA “Bring Goods Across the Border” page.

The quick answer is that you should not have any more than:

  • two 750 mL bottles of wine
  • OR one 40 oz bottle of liquor
  • OR 24 12-oz cans of beer.

If you have any alcohol beyond one of these amounts, you will likely run into some snags and will possibly have to pay a tax to bring anything over the limit. I am not certain if they can confiscate any alcohol or if the tax is the worst-case scenario, but don’t try to find out by testing it.

Canadian Border Crossing Question #3: What types (and amounts) of produce and other foods are allowed to cross the border?

Well, the details involved in this question are far too much for me to try and reproduce (no pun intended) in this post. I highly recommend that you look at all the details provided on the CBSA site related to food, plant, animal and related products.

In our experience, based on the questions we were asked at our border crossings, they are not deeply concerned with many of the items listed there when they are dealing with an RV. If you came across in a semi truck, it might be a different story.

Beware of the citrus

What we and other RVers have seen is that they seem mostly concerned with citrus fruits. We had to throw out some oranges at the border crossing point in St. Stephen, New Brunswick that we forgot about. Other RVers have definitely had similar experiences but decided to eat all of the citrus (oranges) in a hurry instead of tossing it out. (That is a very entertaining video, but actually covers their crossing back into the U.S. from Canada after a visit. Just FYI.) 

Bottom line: Ditch the citrus and you’re probably in the clear. But do your own research here.

(I feel like I should also mention that you cannot bring more than 10 dead finfish that are not eviscerated into Canada. In case you’re into that sort of thing.)

*Side note: This isn’t specifically about food or produce, but any houseplants that you have in your RV will be at risk of confiscation as well. I haven’t found any specific guidelines that I can point you to, but our friends that crossed the New Brunswick border with us actually left a plant of theirs behind at the Maine RV park we were returning to after our Canadian visit. They didn’t want to risk losing it, so some nice folks at the park did some free “plantsitting” while they were gone. Consider it as an option if you have beloved plants along for your travels.

Canadian Border Crossing Question #4: What documentation do I need for my pet to cross the border with me?

While we did not travel with a pet, it is extremely common for RVers to have pets along for the journey. Normally this does not cause any major headache or hassle related to a visit to Canada. You can see the details of the requirements at this USDA information page.

Here is the quick overview of the requirements related to common pets:

  • Dogs over 8 months old require only a rabies vaccination certificate less than 3 years old. (If you have more than two dogs, additional requirements may apply.)
  • Dogs under 8 months old MAY require a health certificate from a licensed U.S. veterinarian.
  • Cats are NOT allowed. Just kidding! Similar to dogs over 8 months old, they only require a rabies vaccination certificate.
  • Birds are a little different: You must have a USDA endorsed health certificate for any pet bird entering Canada.
  • Chupacabras: Just don’t.

During our second visit to Canada, the friends we traveled with did have a last-minute scare when they suddenly realized that the rabies certificate for their dog had just passed the 3-year mark. They had to scramble in the last day or two before crossing the border in order to get the new certificate in Maine…which they were never asked for at the border crossing into Canada or the U.S.

Canadian Border Crossing Question #5: Can I bring my guns to Canada?

The short answer to this question is yes, you are allowed to bring firearms into Canada. I cannot speak from any personal experience on this subject as I have never owned a gun, but here is the most likely scenario that you should be prepared for when crossing with guns according to the Royal Canadian Mounted police website:

  • PRIOR to arriving at the border, complete the  Non-Resident Firearm Declaration form. (If you have more than three guns, you will need to use the continuation sheet just below that form.)
  • DO NOT SIGN the form until you are in the presence of a CBSA customs officer.
  • Pay a flat $25 fee, regardless of number of firearms.
  • This approved form acts as a 60-day Canadian license for the gun owner.

There is a second option listed on the RCMP site (a 5 year Possession and Acquisition Licence), but it requires showing proof that you have completed a Canadian Firearms Safety Course. I’m guessing that’s not the case with you.

One additional point to consider when choosing a Canadian border crossing point

Based on our experiences and the experiences of others that we have watched and read about, the relative size of the border crossing station seems to make a significant difference in the experience you will have.

Generally speaking, it seems like the smaller stations are going to give you fewer hoops to jump through and less hassle overall. They seem to be more laid back.

Both of our crossings into Canada were at smaller stations, and we spent a total of about 60 seconds at the first crossing and maybe 3-5 minutes at the second crossing (where the officer actually entered our travel trailer, checked our fridge, etc.).

I can’t make any promises about this obviously, but it’s definitely something you should at least consider as you make your travel plans.

What other pressing questions do you have about crossing the Canadian border in an RV?

I’ve done my best to hit the most likely questions that you will need to ask and answer before heading into your Canadian RV adventure. But if you have any other questions at all about rules and regulations or our specific experiences with Canadian border crossings, please comment below and I will give you a quick answer.

Canadian adventure awaits! Make it happen.

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Crossing the Canadian Border by RV

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