What new duty-free limits for cross-border shopping in U.S. mean for Canadians?

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

For the majority of Canadians who live close to the U.S. border, slipping over for a weekend tax-free shopping spree is a rite of passage.

It isn't just because we tend to pay more for everything here (14 per cent at last count) — America is a consumer heaven with more deals and variety of goods than we're likely to ever see up north.

And as of June 1, that retail windfall just got a little sweeter for Canadian shoppers thanks to the duty-and-tax-free changes set forth by Ottawa.

Canadians staying in the U.S. for 24 hours can now cart back $200 worth of goods, up significantly from the prior $50 limit. Travellers putting in a little extra face time can come home with $800, double the previous $400, provided they stay in the U.S. between two and seven days.

With 50 million Canadians crossing into the U.S. annually, the Toronto Star reports that numbers could skyrocket with the new rules. Thanks to a strong Canadian dollar, Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter told the Star to prepare for a summer shopping onslaught not seen since the advent of GST.

"A culmination of factors is likely to unleash a wave of Canadians cross-border shopping this summer in numbers not seen in two decades," he said.

So what does that mean for your weekend trip to Buffalo, Michigan or Seattle?

While you'd be excused for thinking a large chunk of those first 24 hours might be spent in a three-mile-long border conga line, some officials are saying the new regulations may actually help speed things up now that customs clearance has been harmonized with the U.S.

What that theory doesn't take into account, however, is the fact that same-day rules are still the same.

Though U.S. travellers staying less than 24 hours in Canada can bring back $200 in tax-free goods, we don't have that same luxury. Considering day trips make up around half of all trips to the U.S., it's a detail that could gum up the border works on a particularly busy day.

That means it's probably best to pack a few extra snacks and CDs (just to be on the safe side) if you're considering a shopping road trip in the coming weeks. You can probably even find some good deals on a car-compatible mp3 player for the ride home.