What not to bring into Canada

Canada Customs Restrictions

By Simon Vaughan
Photo by Dan Paluska

When my bag emerged from the X-ray machine entering New Zealand, the Customs Service agent grabbed it, hauled it to an inspection table and instructed me to follow her. Unlocking the pack and opening it for her inspection, she rummaged around inside before removing a small wooden club I had purchased in Fiji on my way down.

"What's this?" she asked, holding the intimidating looking thing in her hand. "It's a throwing club," I replied. She eyed me curiously, compelling me to explain further. "It's a souvenir. I liked the ornate carving," I mumbled. "Just for decoration. I don't plan on using it." She laughed. "Is the wood treated?" she asked. I confessed I didn't know, the thought had never occurred to me.

She inspected it further and explained that untreated wood, animal hides and things like seeds and nuts aren't permitted into New Zealand as they present a threat to the environment.

She examined it more closely before handing it back. "This is fine," she added. "It's been made as a souvenir and it's okay." I thanked her, re-packed my war club and left the terminal. While very conscious of most contraband, endangered species and animal products and well aware that you must be particularly careful with food, especially in places like Australia and New Zealand, the thought that my club could be a problem never crossed my mind. Partly because it was just wood, and partly because I was thinking only of what I could bring back into Canada, and not of passing through New Zealand on the way home or having to abide by their rules.

Most nations have lists of items that can't be brought into—and in some cases out of—their countries.

Many are obvious, like endangered species, weapons, drugs, pornography, etc., but I've seen some really weird things in my time, including a ban on electric carving knives and anything bearing an image of the national flag. If locked-up in some horrific prison surrounded by a gang of hardcore death-sentence drug smugglers who demanded to know what I was in for, I feared that replying, "A small kitchen appliance" wouldn't do much for my street cred. Although the vagaries of Customs in other countries might be a bit of a puzzling nightmare, most of us have a better idea of what we can and cannot bring back into Canada after our world travels.

Illegal things aside, many of us are aware that if we've been out of the country for more than 48 hours we can bring $800 worth of items back without paying duty on them.

We also likely know of the limitations on alcohol and tobacco, but did you know that it is not permitted to bring baby walkers, infant self-feeding devices and lawn darts with elongated tips back into Canada?

Many people know the trade in endangered species is taken very seriously, and any attempt to smuggle an elephant tusk or rhino horn will result in major consequences.

But those rules also apply to some types of coral (or items made from coral) and the sort of ivory knick-knacks that can be found in shops or markets all over the world. It is well worth remembering that just because something is being openly displayed and legally sold in an expensive boutique or reputable looking shop abroad, does not mean that it is automatically legal to bring back into Canada.

It's not just items bought in shady backstreet deals or on the black market that can cause trouble here, and don't forget that the rules apply to gifts, even family mementos, not just items you have purchased.

Thankfully, we don't have to incessantly wonder if everything we buy on our travels is legal or illegal to accompany us home. The Government of Canada has a number of Canada Customs Restriction websites that can help negotiate what we can and cannot bring back with us. These can be read before leaving Canada, or checked from overseas as we travel, thereby alleviating fears of confiscations, fines or even imprisonment when we re-enter the country. And that's just as well, especially if you're heading overseas to furnish your bedroom as you may not be aware that you can't bring back any used or second-hand mattresses unless you have "...a certificate, letter or any other document signed by a person qualified to clean and fumigate that clearly proves that the mattresses have been cleaned and fumigated." Devastating I know, but better to know it now than to find out when you are lugging it through the airport!


Simon Vaughan is a Senior Writer/Editor & Special Travel Advisor for Outpost. Alongside special reports and travel features you can find Simon’s voice in his super-mega-funny Local Knowledge travel stories in Outpost Magazine every issue.  Don't miss each of Simon's articles over at Simon Says Travel.


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