Crossing the Border

It's easier than you might have heard.

We have all heard the horror stories and hassles of crossing the border by boat, but cruising between Canada and the United States is easy, as long as you have the proper documents and follow the process. Upon arriving in the U.S. or Canada, the captain of the boat must report to a Customs officer — Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — and provide details of the voyage, as well as information about the passengers and their declaration. No one, except the captain, may leave the boat unless authorized to do so by the officer.

U.S. citizens, you do not need a passport to enter Canada but will need it to return into the U.S. Regardless, Canada still requires proof of citizenship or naturalization, such as a birth certificate as well as photo identification, a valid trusted traveler program card (FAST, NEXUS or SENTRI), or an enhanced driver’s license (EDL). Permanent residents of Canada or the U.S. should bring their permanent resident card.

If every person on board is not a valid trusted traveler, you are required to go directly to a Telephone Reporting Site-Marine and follow the instructions posted on location to contact the CBSA Telephone Reporting Centre (TRC) and request clearance to enter Canada. TRS/M locations can be found online at

Canadian citizens should carry a passport, a valid trusted traveler card (FAST, NEXUS or SENTRI) or an enhanced driver’s license. U.S. citizens should carry a U.S. passport, valid trusted program card, enhanced driver’s license (EDL), military ID with official travel orders, U.S. Merchant Mariner document, enhanced tribal card or American Indian card. U.S Marine Ports of Entry can be found online at

Any recreational vessel 30 feet or longer is required to have a Customs and Border Protection user fee decal. The CBP prefers you order your decal online before entering the U.S., to help speed up the clearance process. They are available when checking in. The application fee is $27.50.

Law enforcement authorities patrol the coasts and inland waterways and have the authority to stop any boat that has recently entered Canadian and U.S. waters. Failure to report may result in detention, seizure or forfeiture of your boat and/or monetary penalties.

Should you need to leave your vessel to report your arrival, only the master may go ashore to do so. After making notification to Customs, this individual must return to the vessel and remain on board until a Customs officer arrives.

If you have prescription drugs, make sure they are clearly identified and are only enough to last for the duration of your visit. The drugs should be in the original packaging, with a label that specifies what they are and that they are being used under prescription.

U.S and Canadian children under the age of 16 will need a to present a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship. Be prepared to prove that you have written parental consent for any minor child traveling with you. If you have legal custody or if you share custody, have copies of relevant legal documents, such as custody rights. If you are not the custodian, a parent or legal guardian, carry a notarized letter of permission that authorizes you to have custody when entering Canada or the U.S. A letter would also facilitate entry if only one parent is traveling with their offspring. The letter should contain a contact telephone number and signature of the parent or legal guardian and be notarized. It’s also suggested that the letter provide authorization to provide medical care in case of an emergency. If you are traveling as part of a flotilla or buddy boating, be sure that your family is aboard the same boat when you arrive at the border.

A proof of rabies vaccination is required for dogs and recommended for cats. A certificate signed and dated by a veterinarian will be required. It must also include the name of the vaccine used and its expiration date. In addition, a description of the animal by breed, age, sex, coloring and any distinguishing marks is required.

The officer will request to see current vessel documentation such as a state/ province vessel registration certificate and/ or U.S. Coast Guard documentation.

Review what is allowable to take into the U.S. or Canada before you reach the border. The list changes frequently and can catch the unwary traveler by surprise. Surprises are the last thing anyone needs when going through a border. Remember to declare everything you’re bringing into the country, have receipts for all purchases readily available and always declare when you are transporting $10,000 or more in or out of the U.S. or Canada.

When you are crossing the border, be prepared to answer the following questions for each person aboard:
• Where are you from?
• Where are you going?
• What is the purpose of your visit?
• How long are you staying?
• What’s your contact phone number during your visit?
• What do you do for work?
• What is the value of goods with you?
• Do you have any weapons? (None are allowed.)
• Do you have any fruits or vegetables? (There are restrictions.)
• Do you have any alcohol or tobacco with you? (There are restrictions.)
• Do you have any meat on board? (There are restrictions.)
• Are you leaving anything in the country?

Once the agent has asked all of the questions and is satisfied with the answers, you will be provided a clearance number to be promptly displayed in the cabin window for the duration of your visit.

The NEXUS Marine Program is a joint U.S.–Canadian initiative that offers facilitated customs and immigration clearance for recreational low-risk boaters. NEXUS is valid for five years and satisfies the boat operator’s legal requirement to report to a port of entry for face-to-face inspection, but boaters must still phone their arrival.

For More Information
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
• (877) 227-5511
• Blaine, WA office: (360) 332-5771

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)
• (800) 461-9999 (in Canada)
• (204) 983-3500 (outside Canada)