Since 2007, U.S. citizens and permanent residents of the United States must show a passport to enter Canada and reenter the U.S. This is a big change from the past, when a driver's license and a smile were often enough to get you across the border. If you don't have a passport, get one before your trip, and remember it will take a few weeks to process your application.
Very frequent cross-border travelers should inquire about the government's NEXUS program, a joint Canada-U.S. effort which gives you a sort of quick-entry pass -- though it can only be used at about a dozen specific border crossings. Details on NEXUS may be found at the U.S. customs and border patrol website, www.cbp.gov.
For more information about traveling into Canada, browse the "Visiting Canada" section of the Canadian website www.goingtocanada.gc.ca. You can phone Canadian immigration officers at tel. 888/242-2100, but only from within Canada. Better to contact a local Canadian immigration office; they can be found in Buffalo, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., in the U.S., as well as in cities around the world, such as London, Paris, Sydney, and Tokyo. For a full list of offices and lots more information, see Citizens and Immigration Canada's website at www.cic.gc.ca.
American travelers to Canada do not require visas and neither do residents of many other countries, including citizens of most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, and some present and former British territories in the Caribbean -- this includes anyone holding a green card in the U.S. or anyone who is a British overseas citizen of the U.K. Needless to say, bring your identification or the relevant paperwork on your trip. If you're still not sure about whether you will need a visa or not, consult the Canadian government's up-to-date listing of countries whose residents do need one at www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp.
What You Can Bring into Canada -- Customs regulations allow adult travelers (19 or older) to bring 1.5 liters (50 oz. or 1 bottle) of wine or 1.14 liters (40 oz.) of liquor or 8.5 liters (287 oz.) of beer (not all three) into Canada without paying any duties or taxes. Travelers can also bring in up to 200 cigarettes and up to 50 cigars without paying duty or tax. An automated phone service can answer most of your questions about Customs regulations; call the Canada Border Services Agency at tel. 800/461-9999 within Canada only, or 204/983-3500 or 506/636-5064 from outside Canada. Also consult the Canadian Customs website for more details on border crossing. It's located at www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca.
Regulations regarding firearms, by the way, are more complicated; in short, it's best if you simply don't bring a gun. If you're traveling for hunting and need to bring a rifle into Canada, however, you should be traveling during hunting season and carry proof of your plans to hunt (a written confirmation from a guide service or hunting lodge would help immensely). There are also limits on how much ammunition you can bring in.
What You Can Take Home from Canada -- Returning U.S. citizens who have been away for at least 48 hours are allowed to bring back, once every 30 days, US$800 worth of merchandise duty-free. (This allowance can be combined by family members traveling together -- US$1,600 for two family members traveling together, US$4,000 for a family of five, and so on.) You'll be charged a flat rate of 4% duty on the next US$1,000 worth of purchases above your allowance. Be sure to keep receipts handy to expedite the declaration process. On gifts mailed home, the duty-free limit is US$200. If you owe duty, you are required to pay on your arrival in the United States -- either by cash, personal check, government or traveler's check, or money order (and, in some locations, a Visa or MasterCard).
To avoid paying duty on foreign-made personal items you owned before your trip, bring along a bill of sale, insurance policy, jeweler's appraisal, or receipts of purchase. Or you can register items that can be readily identified by a permanently affixed serial number or marking -- think laptop computers, cameras, and CD players -- with Customs before you leave. Take the items to the nearest Customs office or register them with Customs at the airport from which you're departing. You'll receive, at no cost, a Certificate of Registration, which allows duty-free entry for the life of the item.
For more information on what you're allowed to bring home, contact one of the following agencies:
U.S. Citizens: U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP; tel. 877/287-8667; www.cbp.gov).
U.K. Citizens: HM Customs & Excise (tel. 0845/010-9000 or 020/8929-0152 from outside the U.K.; www.hmce.gov.uk).
Australian Citizens: Australian Customs Service (tel. 1300/363-263; www.customs.gov.au).
New Zealand Citizens: New Zealand Customs (tel. 04/473-6099 or 0800/428-786; www.customs.govt.nz).
Unless you're arriving from an area known to be suffering from an epidemic (such as cholera or yellow fever), inoculations or vaccinations are not required for entry into Canada.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.