Canadian Border Crossing in an RV: What You Need to Know

Now that the border has been open for some time since COVID, restrictions for crossing the Canadian border in an RV have relaxed

Planning an RV road trip across the border from the United States into Canada (or vice versa) and wondering what to expect? Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, it’s important to know the rules and regulations for a Canadian border crossing ahead of time. From documents to inspections for pets, plants, people, food, and firearms there are many things you need to consider and plan for before you leave. 

Over the years, we’ve done numerous border crossings from Canada to the U.S. and back again with our motorhome and toad. 

Banff National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like all countries, Canada and the U.S. both have specific rules and regulations around border protection. Rules about what you can and even more importantly what you CANNOT bring into the country. And when traveling in an RV you are much more likely to have those items on board compared to say boarding a plane with just a suitcase or two.

As you might expect, the information shared in this post may be subject to change by the Canadian and U.S. border agencies at any time without notice.

Land border crossing between Canada and the United States was closed for 19 months during the pandemic and highly restricted shortly after borders reopened.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crossing the Canadian border by land has been reopened and Canada has since relaxed their restrictions. They’re now similar to what they were pre-pandemic.

However, there are still some things you need to be aware of that will make your trip to Canada much easier.

In this article, I’ll provide you with helpful tips and insights as well as the questions you’re likely to be asked and how to handle them. By planning ahead and following these guidelines, you can ensure your border crossing is as quick, smooth, and stress-free as possible. 

Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crossing the Canadian border after COVID

When Canada reopened its borders there was specific procedures and documentation (i.e., proof of vaccination) you were required to show. I’ll notate those changes but also explain the current restrictions as of the writing of this article.

Shortly after Canada reopened its borders it was required to use an app called ArriveCAN to cross the Canadian border. Using this app is no longer required; however, it can still be used. 

ArriveCAN is available for iOS, Android, and web. If you’ve already downloaded it, be sure to check for updates before you reach the border or leave for your road trip. The app is free to use. 

Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You no longer need to prove COVID-19 vaccination

When the border first reopened, Canada required proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the country. However, this is no longer the case. The same is true for pre-entry and arrival testing.

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination and pre-entry COVID-19 testing is no longer required at the Canadian border.

The government’s website, however, does state “If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you shouldn’t travel to Canada.”

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Else You Need to Know About Crossing the Canadian Border

Aside from the above changes in travel requirements following COVID, there are numerous other things you need to be aware of before you go RVing to Canada.

No firearms or fireworks

For one, you cannot bring a firearm (handgun, hunting rifle, etc.) into Canada unless you’ve gone through the (usually lengthy) process to get approval. Canada does not honor your concealed carry permit and trying to take an unapproved firearm into the country can result in serious jail time. The same is true for fireworks or explosives.

Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pet vaccination records

Second, you need to make sure to bring all vaccination records for your pets that are traveling with you. It also helps to bathe your pets before reaching the border if they’ve been playing outdoors a lot because they can deny sickly pets from crossing the border, too. Of course, if your pet is actually sick, you shouldn’t try to take them across the border.

No cannabis products

Third, you cannot take cannabis or any products containing cannabis (including CBD) across the border in either direction. It doesn’t matter whether it’s legal at your point of entry or exit on either side of the border.

Consent forms for children

Fourth, if you’re traveling with children who are not your own, even if they are your grandchildren, you need letters of consent from the parents allowing you to take them across the border. If you are a divorced or separated parent with your children, you must bring a letter of consent from the other parent. It’s also a good idea to have a letter authorizing you to seek and consent to medical treatment for each child from the parents.

Columbia Icefield, Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to plan ahead for a border crossing

  • There are 26 border crossing locations from the 4,000 miles spanning east to west U.S.-Canada. Plan your route in advance by finding your nearest border crossing point
  • Wait times, rules, and restrictions may vary from point to point. So be sure to check the rules relating to your preferred border crossing point in advance via the website or CanBorder app
  • Stay in the car/RV lanes (not truck lanes)
  • Avoid stocking up on groceries in the days leading up to a border crossing. Consume as much of your fresh food as you can especially fresh produce and animal products (meat, milk, eggs)
  • Drink up! Whittle down your stash of alcohol so you stay within the alcoholic beverage product limit to avoid paying duty and taxes. You’re allowed 2 x 750 ml bottles of wine, 1.14L of liquor, and 24 bottles/cans of beer/ale (355ml each) per adult
  • For smokers your tobacco limit is 200 cigarettes and 50 cigars
  • Offload all firewood in advance
  • Don’t bring any live plants or herbs with you
  • Ensure your RV is within its safe legal weight rating
  • Locate (or ask your vet for) copies of your pet vaccination certificates (in particular, rabies shots) for dogs and cats 3 months or older
  • Keep your stash of cash (and cash equivalents such as stocks, bonds, bank/traveler’s checks, gold, silver etc.) under $10,000 (CAN/USD) to avoid having to declare it. You can carry more, but prepare for more questions
  • If you travel with firearms, weapons, and ammunition, you generally cannot bring these into Canada. However there are exceptions and you’ll need to pay close attention to the rules around what you can and cannot bring. Be prepared to either store, ship, or declare firearms. DO NOT just show up at the border with firearms
  • Check and potentially avoid significant delays by checking border wait times via the CanBorder App or website
  • Visit the websites for Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and USA Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the latest updates and info
Glacial Skywalk, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are Canadian border crossings stressful?

Even if you’ve done border crossings before, they can be unnerving. You never quite know what to expect and each time can be a different experience. It’s another country after all. You could face anything from long delays to difficult border agents to an interrogation. Others might experience confiscation of food, duties charged on goods, or even an inspection of your RV and/or car. To us, the latter feels like the worst scenario of all and we do everything to try and avoid it! 

Over the years, we have crossed the border and back many times in our RVs. Overall, we have found our border crossings to be fairly quick and incident-free in both directions. But it’s not always the case.

When you know what to expect and plan ahead, you can increase your chances of a quick and easy border crossing. Of course, I cannot personally guarantee this. But following my tips and suggestions will get you off to a good start.

Elk, Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10 tips for a smooth border crossing in your RV

1. Have the Passport for all passengers ready in advance and hand them to the driver

2. Stop using cell phones. Turn off radios/music on approach to the border control area

3. Roll down windows so agents can clearly see all passengers

4. Keep your seatbelts buckled

5. Remove your sunglasses so the agents can see your eyes

6. Stay calm, relaxed, and look the border control agent in the eye

7. Answer ALL questions truthfully while maintaining eye contact

8. Be polite, cooperative, and courteous

9. Be prepared to report goods you are bringing including food, plants, and any animal products

10. Only answer questions you are asked

Rocky Mountain Sheep, Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What kind of questions will they ask?

U.S. and Canadian border control agents can ask you just about anything. Following is a list of the questions they have asked us plus a few other common questions we’ve heard from others. This will give you an idea of what to expect.

  • Where do you live? (Simply share the domicile on your driver’s license. Don’t over-complicate things by saying you live full-time in an RV!)
  • What is the purpose of your visit?
  • Where are you staying and for how long?
  • What is your citizenship/residency status?
  • Do you have any alcohol on board?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • Do you have any pets on board?
  • Who is traveling in the vehicle?
  • Do you have any firearms?
  • Any plants or restricted foods on board?

Other questions you may be asked include:

  • What is the length, height, and license plate of your RV and tow vehicle?
  • Do you have proof of vehicle insurance?
  • Are you bringing any goods or gifts?
  • Are you conducting any commercial business?

Again, remember to stay calm, maintain eye contact, and be honest. They are just doing their job and trying to determine that you are a trustworthy person that doesn’t pose a threat to the safety of their country. If they have any concerns, they can send you to a secondary inspection for further questioning or search your vehicle.

Fort Assiniboine National Historic Site, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for Canadian speed limits and fuel fills

Once you’ve safely crossed the border into Canada, you can finally take a deep breath. Congratulations, you made it! Now, to avoid speeding fines, missed turns, or sticker shock at the pump, here are just a few more things to keep in mind.

Speed limits in Canada are measured in kilometers not miles. So once you cross the border, you will start to see signs that say 100. Keep in mind that 100 kilometres per hour = 62 miles per hour. Sticking to 60 mph is easier to remember and your safest bet.

If using a GPS that is set to give distance in miles you’ll need to get used to seeing/hearing it in the metric system ie. meters instead of feet (1 meter = 3 feet approximately)

Fuel prices in Canada are charged by the liter, not gallon. There are 3.78 liters in a gallon, so don’t be fooled at the pump. Gas is more expensive in Canada than the U.S. So those prices aren’t as exciting as they appear at first glance!

Elk Island National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crossing the U.S.-Canada Border is totally worth it!

Finally, yes, we know, this may sound like a LOT of hassle to go through just to drive across the border into Canada. But I’m here to say that it really is worth it. Canada is such a beautiful country with friendly people. And it really does do us all good to get out and experience another country. Even if it is still part of the same continent, speaking (mostly) the same language!

One of the things we love most about our RV lifestyle is the freedom and ability to visit new places, cultures, and countries while taking our home with us. We also love not having to deal with airports and air travel. 

So grab your passports. Get out there and drive as far and wide as you can. Canada is waiting for you! We have barely scratched the surface of the Great White North and we definitely look forward to returning many more times. We hope you get there too. Happy travels!

Worth Pondering…
My truck tore across Montana
Ian Tyson sang a lonesome lullaby
And so I cranked up the radio
Cause there’s just a little more to go
For I’d cross the border at that Sweet Grass sign
I’m Alberta Bound.

—Lyrics and recording by Alberta born Country Music singer, Paul Brandt, 2004