Christine Hogg is the Associate Digital Editor at PAX Global Media. Prior to joining PAX, she obtained her Honours BA in Journalism from the University of Toronto. Upon graduating, she went on to write for several travel publications while travelling the world. Her longest trip was a three-week stint in Europe, and the shortest was a 16-hour adventure in Iceland. Get in touch: email@example.com.
For many, bringing home a souvenir from abroad is second nature.
It would almost be considered taboo to return from the Netherlands and not have stashed a kilogram of vacuum-sealed Gouda cheese in your bag.
Or in my case, the hunk of cheese and a package of fresh tulip bulbs in a colour I've never before seen blossoming in Canada in the springtime.
But, despite how strange my suitcase must have looked in the security scan, once I landed back on Canadian soil, I declared it all.
Most souvenirs are allowed
Despite what many travellers think, dairy, plants, meat, and alcohol are all perfectly legal souvenirs to bring back into Canada--so long as they're declared, and of the legal transport limit.
My Dutch cheese, for example, was perfectly fine, so long as it was less than 20 kilograms, as outlined in the policy by the Canadian Border Services Agency. And the tulip bulbs I purchased from the Amsterdam Tulip Museum were stamped with a pre-authorized inspection sticker that declared that the particular bulb was allowed to be planted in Canada.
When you travel, it's normal to want to bring something back with you.
Flowers, and bulbs in particular, are a souvenir that are often associated with unwanted pests, which can, in turn, repopulate and harm the Canadian environment.
So why dooesn't everyone declare?
For whatever reason, and despite how easy the declaration process is, many travellers, both seasoned and new, choose to refrain from the practice.
According to Elise Gaetz, communications officer, regional communications at the Canadian Border Services Agency, themost commonly seized possessions are all perfectly legal, just undeclared.
"Over 92 million people entered Canada in 2016, which is well over 250,000 people every day," Gaetz said. "The majority of travellers make full and complete declarations--only a small percentage of people fail to properly declare their goods."
A false declaration is more common than one might think. For example, out of fear of being apprehended by the Canadian Border Services Agency, a traveller might declare their intent to bring back alcohol from overseas. However, knowing the limit for Canadian travellers is up to 1.14 litres, and not wanting to pay a fine or surrender the other two bottles of Caribbean rum, the traveller might then simply write down 1.14 litres on the declaration card, feeling reassured that they haven't exactly lied, but they haven't been entirely honest, either.
Before you pack your bags, make sure your souvenirs are allowed back into Canada, and always declare them once you land.
There are some items that are seemingly so harmless that travellers are not even aware of their responsibility to declare them upon re-entry to Canada.
For example, a beautiful silk shirt bought in italy, or a silver ring aquired in Mexico might seem like the sort of thing you can wear home, but as Gaetz points out, it's not a good idea.
"When you return to Canada, you have to declare all of the goods you aquired while outside of Canada...this includes goods that are still in your possession that you bought at a Canadian or foreign duty-free shop," Gaetz said. "Failing to declare these goods, or falsely declaring these goods can result in prosecution or penalty. If travellers aren't sure if an article is admissible or should be declared, they should always declare it first, and then ask the border services officer."
What happens if you don't declare your goods?
Although each situation is different, if caught with undeclared possessions on your person, the remainder of your trip will not be easy. Individuals who fail to declare their goods after being out of the country are more likely to be referred for a second exam upon attempting to re-enter their country of residence.
If you travel for work, it's normal not to aquire any lavish purchases, but if that's the case, make sure you indicate that you were travelling for business on your declaration card.
Jewellery, clothing, or textiles that are confiscated will cost you seventy per cent of their value if not declared.
The maximum penalty for bringing undeclared food, plant, or animal products or bi-products is $1,350.00, as well as the seizure of these goods. Unreported currency and monetary instruments can land you a fine ranging from $250.00 to $5,000. Jewellery, clothing, or textiles that are confiscated will cost you seventy per cent of their value.
While there are obvious red flags that could see you undergo a more thorough inspection, like issues with documentation or declaration cards, certain factors like random inspections can put travellers holding undeclared goods in serious hot water.
"The single best thing you can do to save time returning to Canada is to simply be open and honest with the CBSA officer," Gaetz said. "If you are not sure about what to declare, don't hesitate to ask a CBSA officer at a port of entry."
Have you reached the end of your trip? Make sure your bag is ready to come back to Canada.