How to spend less time at the Canada-US border and more time on vacation

Sep 3 2023, 4:00 pm

Summer might be nearing the end, but soon it’ll be time for the Canadian snowbirds to take flight to escape the cold winter in search of a warm paradise.

But no matter what time of year you prefer to escape, we have some tips so you’re not wasting your precious vacation time waiting in a long line at a Canadian airport or border crossing.

Have your identification and travel documents ready

Person holding passport and boarding pass


Before heading to the border or airport, have your passport and proof of vaccination handy.

If crossing the border with a child, it’s strongly recommended to carry a consent letter, along with copies of any applicable legal custody documents.

Travelling with a pet? Check the paperwork required, such as proof of vaccination against rabies.

Drive at non-peak times

Line of cars waiting at border

Daniel Avram/Shutterstock

Plan your drive south so that you’re crossing the border during the slowest times, which tend to be early mornings. Avoid extremely busy periods, such as weekend evenings and the Mondays of holiday long weekends.

Look online to see the current US Customs and Border Protection wait times. When returning home, check the Canada Border Services Agency wait times.

Check airport security wait times

Woman in mask walking inside airport


The long-standing advice has been to arrive two hours early for a domestic flight and three hours early for international flights, including to the United States.

Before you head to the airport, check the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s online tracker, which gives real-time estimates of wait times for security screening at Canadian airports.

Know the COVID-19 rules for your destination

Woman swabbing her nose


The Government of Canada lists travel advice and advisories for every country, including COVID-19 restrictions and requirements for entry, exit and transit.

Install and use ArriveCAN ahead of time

arrivecan cost

Wandering views/Shutterstock

Speed up your travel time by installing the ArriveCAN app ahead of time to save time at certain Canadian international airports by providing your customs and immigration declaration to the CBSA in advance.

Add up your purchases

Car trunk filled with shopping bags


Before returning to Canada, prepare a tally (converted to Canadian dollars) of all goods bought or received while outside the country. Keep your receipts handy. If the goods exceed specific pre-set limits, be prepared to pay duty and taxes on your purchases. Also, be aware of the specific limits for alcohol and tobacco.

If you’re bringing back gifts, leave them unwrapped. This makes any required inspection easier.

Leave prohibited items at home

Sign showing items prohibited in carry-on luggage


Even though marijuana is legal in Canada, crossing the border with any form of cannabis is still a criminal offence. Also, check the rules regarding restricted or prohibited goods such as firearms, explosives, food, plants and animals. Before flying, consult Transport Canada’s list of items you can’t bring on a plane.

Sheri RadfordSheri Radford

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