Make your cross-border vacay as efficient as possible.
Statistics Canada estimates that about three-quarters of Canadians live within 160 kilometres of the Canada and U.S. border. This close proximity makes the United States a popular choice for everything from shopping trips to sporting events to vacay getaways.
In fact, each day, approximately 300,000 people cross the border between Canada and the United States, reports the U.S. Department of State. If you’re planning on hopping countries for a day, a week or longer, these seven tips can help save you time and money throughout every leg of your journey:
- Book smart: Do the research, and you’re bound to find some great deals on room rates, packages and flights — especially if you have the flexibility to book last minute or travel off season. Hotwire®*, Expedia®* and Airbnb®† are all good resources to try. If you have a travel rewards credit card, use it to book your flights, hotel or car rental reservations so you can earn more points toward your next trip. For example, if you have a BMO Rewards® MasterCard®** or BMO World Elite®* MasterCard, you can apply BMO Rewards points to future travel purchases. And check to see if your credit card includes any travel insurance, or, if you can, add optional travel coverage before you go.
- Get your travel documents in order: Your passport must be valid until the date of expected departure from the United States, so make sure it doesn’t expire before your return date. Need a new one? Canadians can now apply for a five- or ten-year passport so you don’t have to renew as often. Collect other important documents, too, such as out-of-country medical coverage (and all necessary paperwork), an up-to-date licence (if you’re renting a car), and the address of your destination (to save time searching for it at customs when they ask).
- Spend wisely: The Canada-U.S. exchange rate is always fluctuating, so depending on the strength (or weakness) of the Canadian dollar, you may want to adjust your spending accordingly. Use this currency converter1 to give you an idea how far your Canadian dollars will take you, or download one of many available apps to calculate the exchange rate on the go.
At BMO, we also have options that can help. If you travel to the United States frequently, you may want to consider opening a BMO U.S. Dollar Account or applying for a BMO U.S. Dollar MasterCard. That way, you can charge purchases in the United States and pay for them out of your U.S. dollar account without losing money on the fluctuating foreign exchange rate. For help with your BMO banking needs in the United States, call the BMO Cross-Border Hotline at 1-888-214-6720 before you go2.
- Pack with purpose: Leaving on a jet plane? Check your airline’s baggage restrictions. In general, most North American airlines charge around $25 for a first checked bag and $35 for a second — and they must not exceed the weight restrictions. For example, most Air Canada®‡ flights between Canada and the United States have a maximum weight per bag of 50lb or 23kg and will charge you C/US $78.75 per direction on overweight bags. If you can, weigh your suitcases before you leave home. A luggage scale can cost less than $10 and save you much more than that in fees! Travelling light is always best, so pack only a carry-on bag if you can. This will save you both the cost of checking luggage and the time of waiting at the baggage claim.
- Speed up travel time: Canada Border Services Agency lets you check border wait times (current and forecasted), so you can plan accordingly. If you’re a frequent traveller to the United States, a NEXUS card can help you zip through customs and security. At the airport, you can use designated NEXUS or Global Entry machines instead of waiting to talk to an agent, and if you’re travelling by car, you can take advantage of designated NEXUS lanes, as long as everyone in the car is a member. You have to apply and be approved for a NEXUS card, and there is a non-refundable processing fee for a five-year membership. Visit the Canada Border Services Agency site for more ways to save time at the border.
- Consider duty and tax restrictions: The Government of Canada offers a handy duty and taxes estimator that helps you calculate the amount of duty and taxes you will have to pay when you return to Canada. If you’re just going for a day trip, you’re allowed to spend up to $200 (not including alcohol or tobacco) in a 24-hour period without having to pay duty or taxes. If you’re gone for 48 hours or more, the maximum increases to $800. Find out more about what you can bring home to Canada.
- Be prepared for the unexpected: You want to try to cover your bases and prepare for the unexpected as best you can. By taking precautions like packing your bags according to airline rules, having the right travel documents, and taking out appropriate travel medical insurance in case you get sick or injured while you’re away, you’ll have more peace of mind once you go.
For more travel ideas, try Road trip! 4 weekend escapes on a budget. Want to start saving up for your next trip? You might like Change your spending habit into a saving habit.
1 Exchange rates provided through third-party websites are for illustration purposes only.
2 Products and services in the United States are offered by BMO Harris Bank N.A. and corresponding agreements and disclosures available through BMO Harris Bank branches, its website bmoharris.com and through various other online channels are provided in English. Bank of Montreal does not represent BMO Harris Bank N.A. and is not an agent of BMO Harris Bank N.A. BMO Harris Bank N.A is located in the United States.
® * Registered trademark of Expedia, Inc.
® † Registered trademark of Airbnb, Inc.
® ‡ Registered trademark of Air Canada
® **Registered trademark of MasterCard International Incorporated. Used under license