We've given you a detailed round-up of cross-border shopping regulations, but here's a more detailed discussion of limits on bringing tobacco across the Canadian-American border.
- What You Can Bring Back Within 24 Hours
- Over 48 Hours
- After 7 Days
- Tobacco Taxes and Duties
- Shipping Tobacco to Yourself
- Hot Tips for Crossing the Border with Tobacco
Sorry. No personal exemptions. You have to declare and pay duties and taxes for any tobacco products that you bring back into Canada if you're doing a trip of less than one day. If you could amble down to the first convenience store in the first American bordertown you could find and buy a carton of cigarettes, would the smokers along the border ever pay Canadian tax on their smokes? You can risk it and fib about some smokes in your trunk, but if you're shifty and you get searched you could be stuck at the border for hours or charged the duties anyhow. You decide.
After 48 hours, your personal exemption shoots up to goods valuing $800 and your “personal exemption” kicks in: you can bring back 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 200 grams of manufactured tobacco without paying taxes or duties.
Your tobacco can travel separately from you. The personal exemption does not change.
That of course doesn't mean that you can't bring tobacco back across the border on a same-day trip. In fact, you can bring back or mail large quantities of tobacco for personal use across the border at any time as long as you declare it and pay the duties and taxes. The duties are governed by the ever-changing, byzantine schedule of Canadian tariffs that cover trade with other countries. The taxes you pay depend on your province of entry — provincial or harmonized sales taxes will apply, the amount varying from province-to-province. Check out the chart below:
Canadian Provincial and Territorial Tax Rates
|Province||Total Sales Tax (%)||Province||Total Sales Tax (%)|
|Prince Edward Island||15|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||15||Saskatchewan||11|
In general, expect the cost of your cigarettes, cigars, or pipe tobacco to increase dramatically once you've paid duties and taxes at the border because of the lower price of tobacco products in certain American states. That means an average carton of cigarettes will basically reach the Canadian price when you bring it across the border. Will you save money? Probably not. But you can access some specialty items unavailable in Canada for modest extra costs.
Variations in Tobacco Prices in American States
Just like in Canada, the price of tobacco varies from region to region, and the range is surprisingly large. In Missouri, the cheapest state, the price is less than $5 a pack, while in New York a pack will run you almost $11. Take a careful look at the price of cigarettes in your destination state: if you're headed to North Dakota, your chances of saving money are much higher. If you're visiting Buffalo, you might as well buy your cigarettes at home.
All prices in USD.
|State||2019 Average Price||State||2016 Average Price||State||2019 Average Price||State||2019 Average Price|
Top Ten Pipe Tobaccos Worth Paying Duties For:
- Rattray Old Gowrie – Medium-strength, full-flavoured Kentucky blend.
- Middle Earth Ruins of Isengard – Celebrate the fall of Saruman with this smooth-burning, slightly sweet, Tolkien-tribute blend.
- Comoy Spiced Virginia Cask 9 – Danish vanilla, chocolate and nougat-y dessert tobacco.
- Orlik Golden Sliced Red – Another Danish blend, this one fresh and bright with hints of citrus.
- McClelland Frog Morton's Cellar – Whisky-barrel-aged mellow smoking tobacco.
- Peekskill Higher Standard Imperial IPA – More hops, this time from upstate New York.
- Ogben St. Bruno Ready Rubbed – Cool British slow-burning tobacco.
- Mac Baren Honey and Chocolate – Extra smooth and sweet, just like Denmark, from whence it comes.
- Butera Pelican – A spicy blend of Cyprian and Virginia tobaccos.
- Gawith, Hoggart & Co. Black Bogie Aromatic – Dark and pungent blend from the UK.
Unlike alcohol, which postal services refuse to carry, you can mail tobacco to yourself or order products from online retailers without much hassle. Your personal exemption for tobacco products — 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or 200 grams of pipe tobacco — applies to the mail. Anecdotal evidence from pipe tobacco enthusiasts suggests that about four tins of tobacco won't exceed the personal exemption, and that orders of larger amounts from certain shippers in the US will escape the notice of customs officials.
If it's really important to you to grab a few packets of hobbit-y pipe tobacco when you're in Madison, splurge and declare them. Message boards and anecdotal evidence suggest that most border guards won't bother waving you over to the wicket, and even if they do, they duty will likely be nominal. Just make sure your tobacco is visible and that you ready to hand over your receipts the moment the guard asks to see them.
With staffing shortages at busy border checkpoints causing guards to wave through many cross-border shoppers, now is as good a time as ever to grab a small collection of hard-to-find cigars, declare them, and head on home without paying an extra dime. For best results avoiding duties, remember our border crossing dos and don'ts and fit the profile: look sharp, speak confidently and politely, and tell the truth. This might also be one of the few situations where a busy crossing is the preferred choice: long lines means harried and tired agents who may not want to bother with your pouch of unusual pipe tobacco. Do the math: is an extra fifteen minutes in line worth saving the potential duty charge?
Don't forget to pool your exemptions: this won't work with the kids on your family vacation, but taking advantage of the personal tobacco exemption of everyone in your car is a great way to maximize your duty-free limits. Make sure you distribute receipts evenly around the car, have each adult take responsibility for his or her share of the haul (keeping in mind the limits that kick in after 48 hours outside of Canada), and be sure to declare everything.
You can roll the dice and “forget” about a few cartons of cigarettes in your luggage, but if you're unlucky and you get searched you could be delayed, harassed, flagged, and/or charged the duties anyhow. Cigarette smuggling is a hot border issue, so trying to sneak in large quantities of cigarettes is especially inadvisable. The Canadian government established a special contraband smuggling task force this year to try to stamp out illegal tobacco sales. If you aren't a member of an organized criminal ring of cigarette smugglers you probably don't have much to worry about, but the extra scrutiny heightens the risk of trying to cheat a little on your weekend trip south.
Border guards have the right to confiscate any tobacco that you do not declare or to charge you large penalties (anywhere from 20 to 85% of the cost of the goods you “forgot” about) on top of taxes and duties. Misrepresenting yourself at the border will almost certainly result in having your passport flagged and make thorough searches likely at future crossings.
Since it's legal to order tobacco through the mail, and since you can get cheap cigarettes on native reserves in Canada, there are fewer incentives to cross-border shop for tobacco than for alcohol. If you're on a trip, however, and you want to bring back a few cartons for the nicotine addict in your life, stick to the rules and don't bother exceeding the personal exemptions
Don't forget to check out our article on bringing alcohol across the border.
$3.4 million of raw tobacco seized at border
This article was commissioned by George Laczko.