Bringing booze across the border
If you want to carry California chardonnay or craft beer into Canada for your own consumption, border agents won't hinder you. Visitors from the United States are allowed to bring alcohol into Canada without paying anything as long as they don't bring too much. How much is too much? It's important to understand the rules before you approach the border.
Q: How old do you have to be?
A: Americans traveling into Canada are allowed to bring alcohol with them as long as they are of age. But look out – that has nothing to do with your own state's drinking age. You'll have to be old enough to drink in the Canadian province or territory you are entering. That is 18 years old for Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, and 19 years for all the other provinces and territories.
Q: What's the general rule for bringing in alcohol?
A: You can bring in wine, beer or other spirits into Canada. The real question is when you must pay to do so. Importation is regulated nationally and by provinces and territories. If you exceed the limits set by either Canada or by the province or territory you are entering, you will have to pay duty and taxes on the excess amounts as well as any provincial or territorial levies.
Q: What are the limits set by Canada?
A: Canada sets different quantity limits for wine, beer and spirits. If you opt to bring in wine, you can carry in up to 53 fluid ounces (1.5 litres) which means two 750-ml bottles. If you choose to bring in beer or ale, the maximum is 287 fluid ounces, about two dozen cans or bottles. Or you can carry in up to 40 fluid ounces of other alcoholic beverages, which is about one standard bottle.
Q: What are the limits set by the provinces and territories?
A: The limits set by provinces and territories vary. Check with the liquor control authority for the territory or province where you will enter Canada. Some, like Ontario, set the same limits as the national government.
Q: Does low-alcohol alcohol count?
A: Wine and beer counts as alcohol if it has an alcohol content of over 5 percent. Wine or beer with alcohol content of under 5 percent comes in free. You can bring in a truckload.
Q: What about coolers?
A: Coolers with alcohol content of over 5 percent count as alcohol. Canada classifies "cooler" products as whatever alcoholic beverages they contain. Beer coolers are counted as beer while wine coolers count as wine.
Q: How much will I pay if I exceed the alcohol limits?
Because of the varying provincial and territorial sales taxes, excise duties, tariffs, and provincial mark-ups, and the fact that duty is based in part on country of origin of the alcohol, it is difficult to estimate what you will owe if you exceed your personal limit. But keep in mind that if you exceed your personal exemption, you must pay taxes and duties on all that you are importing, not just the excess.