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Crossing Borders: The Adventurer’s Playbook for RVing to Canada

Many people think RVing to Canada is scary or difficult. The thing is, it really isn’t. My family has driven in Canada multiple times, and as long as you’re prepared, taking an RV into Canada can be super easy. Not only that but once you get there, it is an absolute blast.

All that said, there are a few things you’ll want to know before you start your RV trip to Canada adventures. Here are our top travel planning tips.

Plan for Delays When RVing to Canada

On the day you plan to cross the Canadian border, punch your destination into your GPS. When it gives you your total travel time and estimated time of arrival, make a mental note that you may arrive up to an hour and a half later. Although it is possible that you may sail right on through the border crossing and customs, there is, unfortunately, an equally good chance that you will not.

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When you arrive at your chosen border crossing, there is likely to be backed-up traffic as many other cars, RVs, and other assorted vehicles await their turn. Your wait time will vary depending on where you cross, the time of day, and the day of the week. At a busy crossing, a wait of 30 minutes is pretty typical.

Want to know what to expect on the days you cross? Although border wait times can change quickly, the Canada Border Services Agency website will give you an idea if there’s already a serious delay.

Be Prepared for an Inspection

The other hour of extra time you should budget may or may not be needed. This is a matter of sheer luck—or the lack thereof. You see, every so often, RVs get singled out for inspection. You never know if you will be the “lucky” one or not. If you are, count on an hour for a full inspection.

Have Your Passports Ready When RVing to Canada

RVing to Canada requires a current passport, passport card, or NEXUS approval card if you are a frequent border crosser. At least three months before heading north, verify that yours is not expired. If it is, the wait for a passport renewal can take six to eight weeks, or two to three if you pay a hefty expedited service surcharge.

The one exception to this rule is for children under 16 who are entering via vehicle (not by air). These younger travelers only need to show proof of U.S. citizenship. A birth certificate or naturalization paperwork will work for this. Still, it’s best to carry a passport for every member of your travel party if at all possible.

Gather Pet Paperwork

If you are RVing to Canada with dogs, cats, or ferrets you will need a current rabies vaccination certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian. Make sure your pet’s rabies vaccine is not within 30 days of expiring, or border officials may require you to re-vaccinate before crossing. Puppies and kittens under 3 months are exempt from a rabies vaccine certificate, but you must be able to prove the age of the pet, that you own the pet, and are not importing it for commercial purposes.

And although not required by the Canadian government, it’s a good idea to take your dog for a vet exam in order to get a Health Certificate from your veterinarian. If border officials suspect your dog is not healthy, and you cannot provide a Health Certificate, you may be turned away. And yes, even though they are not veterinarians, border officials have the authority to reject any pet on those grounds. Health certificates are only valid for 30 days.

If you have anything other than a dog, cat, or ferret, be sure to check the Canadian government inspection rules before arriving at the border. Certain species, such as turtles and parrots, require CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) permits that will take at least a month to obtain and will require the payment of additional fees.

Finally, you are only allowed to cross with up to 20 kg (or 44 pounds) of US manufactured, commercially made and labeled pet food.

What you need for your dog’s return trip to the us

Your return trip to the US with your dog just got more complicated. As of August 1, 2024, a new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ruling requires that in addition to the above rules, dogs going into the United States must also:

  • Be microchipped; and
  • Be accompanied by a CDC Dog Import Form online submission receipt

For more information visit the CDC article, “Bringing a Dog into the United States.”

Have Your Vehicle Registration, Insurance, & Roadside Assistance

Just like traveling in the US, you need to have your vehicle registrations and proof of insurance. The border crossing agents will usually not check for this, but it is illegal to drive without it.

Most US auto and RV insurers do extend their policies to Canadian travel. Verify whether your U.S. insurance covers you while in Canada, and purchase any additional coverage if needed.

RVing to Canada with Weapons

Canada may look like the United States on the surface but try to cross the border with your rifles, handguns, tasers, or mace, and you will quickly realize that they play by a different set of rules.

The following are not allowed to cross the border:

  • Tasers
  • Mace
  • Brass knuckles
  • Many types of knives

As far as guns are concerned, it’s easiest to just leave them at home. Most firearms are prohibited in Canada. If, however, you want to bring your guns when RVing to Canada, you’ll need to learn more about the laws. There are ways to go about bringing certain firearms. Many US citizens go hunting in Canada with rifles, for instance. But all must follow Canada’s guns rules and prepare for bureaucratic hassles.

Bringing Food

Of course your RV will have food on board when you cross the border. That’s OK, if your food is not on a restricted products list. Thankfully, most typical food from a grocery store is not. Your RV food must be clearly labeled. And it must comply with the personal use limits for bringing food into Canada.

  • You can usually have up to 20 kg (44 pounds) of various food types. For example, you are allowed to cross with up to 20 kg of processed or nuts, fresh produce, fish, or dairy. You can even carry up to five dozen commercially grown eggs.
  • If you carry no more than 20 kg of meat, you’re good to go. But proof of country of origin is required, such as a label showing “Product of USA.”

The same goes when you return home to the U.S. There are personal use limits for food products you bring in. For instance, you are allowed to carry up to 50 pounds of meat. You can also carry an unspecified amount of produce commercially grown in Canada. Just try not to return with any food you brought in from the States. The US says that “Travelers may not bring U.S.-grown produce they previously took into Canada back across the border unless the items are whole and still in their original packaging.”

Toting Plants

If you like to spruce up your RV by having a few houseplants around, then breathe a sigh of relief. Personal house plants are usually allowed to cross the border. Don’t carry more than 50 personal plants. Prepare to show proof of origin for each plan. And long before you go, get to know the Canadian ‘Plant Protection Import Requirements for Plants and Plant Parts for Planting.”

And speaking of plants: RVing into Canada with any form of cannabis in expressly prohibited. The Canadian government’s Drugs, alcohol and travel page has more information.

Wrapping Up RVing to Canada

RVing to Canada in your motorhome, travel trailer, fifth wheel, or camper van is one of the best road trips you can take in the summer. Yes, border crossings can be a hassle, and there are lots of rules to follow. The reward, however, is well worth the effort. Once you set eyes on the natural beauty of this gorgeous country, you’ll know why.