Border Towns — Online shopping can present several challenges

Many Canadians who shop online need to cross the border to pick up their parcels.

Canadian shoppers are crossing the border in increasing numbers to take advantage of U.S. mail outlets offering parcel pick-up service.

Many U.S.-based online shopping websites don’t ship to Canada, and those that do often charge a hefty premium to send parcels north of the 49th parallel, says Samantha Wallace with TSB Shipping Plus in Point Roberts, Washington.

Located just a few blocks south of the Point Roberts border crossing, TSB Shipping Plus has close to 50,000 Canadians in their customer database.

With the increase in popularity of online shopping, so too has cross-border business increased at the U.S. mail outlet.

“About 85 per cent of our business are Canadians coming down to pick up parcels they’ve ordered, usually from online,” Wallace says.

Canadians still have to pay tax and duty on purchases made online and picked up in the U.S., she adds, but while there are no personal exemptions for stays of less than 24 hours, often the amount of duty and taxes charged is so small it’s not worth the paper work for border officials.

“You have to declare what you bring back, but they usually don’t charge you tax if it’s something small,” says Wallace.

However, those who don’t declare their mailed goods could face hefty fines, and even criminal prosecution.

“If you do not declare goods, or if you falsely declare them, border services officers may seize the goods,” says Canadian Border Services Agency spokesperson Maria Ivancic. “Smuggling, undervaluation and other Customs Act offenses may lead to seizure and/or prosecution in a court of law.”

If goods are seized, you may lose the goods permanently or the CBSA may impose a penalty that ranges from 25 to 80 per cent of the value of the seized goods. The Customs Act also gives border services officers the authority to seize all vehicles that were used to import goods unlawfully.

For Canadians returning from stays in the U.S. of 24 hours or more, $200 worth of goods are allowed to be imported duty and tax free. However, if the amount being imported exceeds $200, the duty and taxes are applicable on the entire amount of the imported goods.

Canadians returning from stays in the U.S. of 48 hours or more have a personal exemption of $800 worth of imported goods, with duty and taxes charged on the amount of goods above $800.

• The CBSA website has a duty and taxes estimator which allows you to determine the amount of duty and taxes you may have to pay on your imported goods before you even leave home:  http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/dte-acl/est-cal-eng.html.

— Robert Mangelsdorf, South Delta Leader

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