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Cross Border Shopping: 10 Quick Money-Saving Tips for Canadian Travellers

By Diane Amato

Published July 20, 2023 • 5 Min Read

When the Canadian Loonie is low compared to the U.S. dollar, it is still possible to save money when shopping across the border. And, with those favourite U.S. retailers unable to stay afloat in the Canadian market, shopping and buying in the U.S. may be the only option to snag certain (and sometimes beloved) items.

Here are ten cross-border tips to help you make the most of your shopping efforts and savings.

1. Keep an eye on exchange rates. The amount you pay to convert your money can vary greatly. If you know you’re going to the U.S. in the future, monitor the rate before you go and try to convert your cash when it’s low. You can also consider buying smaller amounts every week to average out the rates so you’re not caught paying a high amount for a lump sum.

2. Use a U.S.-based credit card. A credit card issued by a U.S. bank will allow you to buy in U.S. dollars and save on the foreign transaction fees charged by Canadian-based credit cards (usually at a rate of 2.5 – 3 per cent for U.S. purchases). Some banks with cross-border services allow Canadians to apply for a U.S.-based card using their Canadian address and Canadian credit history.

Learn more about optimizing your currency exchange in our article: Shopping in the USA? 5 Money Saving Tips for Currency Exchange

3. Join loyalty programs. Many retailers offer discounts for joining their mailing lists or loyalty programs. Often, it’s a first-purchase discount, so if you know you’ll be visiting that store, subscribe to their program, download any codes or coupons, and present them when in-store.

4. Check retailer and mall websites. If you’re interested in visiting a particular store or mall, start to check their websites in the weeks leading up to your shopping trip, as they will likely post sales or special events online. If possible, time your trip to match sales for extra savings.

5. Shop in tax-free states. Neither Minnesota nor Pennsylvania has a sales tax on clothing and shoes — and both being easy destinations from Canada, are great cross-border shopping destinations. If you’re willing to travel a little further afield, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon have no sales tax.

6. Compare prices before you go. Many retailers have both Canadian and U.S. locations — and while the price tags in U.S. shops may often be lower (even with the exchange rate), it’s not always the case. Before you go bargain hunting south of the border, check the prices at the stores you plan to drop by to confirm you’re actually travelling for a deal.

7. Explore shipping to the border. If you live near the border and want to buy from a U.S. online store, you can save on shipping fees by having the items shipped to a pick-up office in the U.S. For a small fee (typically between $10 and $50), you can have purchases shipped to a pick-up office, then drive across the border to collect your items. Since most retailers ship for free (or at a low fee) within the U.S. — and many don’t ship to Canada — this is a great option for many cross-border shopping enthusiasts. Remember that you may still need to pay duty or taxes on your items when you cross back into Canada, so factor that into your total cost.

8. Know what you can’t bring in. Shopping across the border makes no sense if you can’t bring back what you’ve bought. While the vast majority of goods sold in the U.S. are allowed into Canada, some items are restricted, including some food, plants, animals, prescription drugs and wooden products and crafts. The Government of Canada website lists restricted items, and it’s worth checking it out before bringing back anything that falls within these categories. But good news — those Trader Joe’s tortilla chips should be OK to cross the border.

9. Understand your allowances (and keep your receipts). Canadians who shop across the border can bring in a certain value of goods without paying duty or extra taxes on those goods. The exact value depends on how long you have spent in the U.S. You can find a rundown of U.S. duty and tax rules here. Whatever your allowances are, be sure to claim all purchases when crossing back into Canada and keep your receipts — it’s just not worth trying to sneak items over to avoid paying the required government fees.

10. Gas up in the U.S. Finally, to help save money on your cross-border shopping excursion, try to refuel while you’re still south of the border. Gas is typically cheaper in the U.S., sometimes up to 25 per cent. As you’re looking for bargains, don’t forget about your other opportunities for savings.

There are lots of ways to save on your cross-border shopping. Whether you’re making a quick trip across the border, travelling extensively across the U.S., or even shopping online from a U.S. website, these tips can help you maximize your savings.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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