Bringing Alcohol Into Canada Without Paying Duties

Wine bottles in a wine store

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Anyone who's made a margarita supply run during their Canadian vacation has probably been personally victimized by the country's high alcohol prices. Happy hour beers or a glass of wine with dinner is bound to be pricier than what the average American is accustomed to, which is why so many choose to bring their own alcohol into the country. 

Tourists of the legal drinking age are permitted to travel with a small amount of alcohol for personal consumption without being charged a stack of extra fees. Naturally, one can get carried away when preparing for a trip, but bringing too much alcohol can actually add up to double the cost of buying in Canada after paying taxes and duties.

To avoid the astronomical charges, keep your wine under the maximum 1.5 liters (equivalent to two standard 750-milliliter bottles) or your liquor under the 1.14-liter limit (40 ounces, that is). The beer regulations are more generous: 8.5 liters of beer (24 12-ounce cans or bottles) per person is allowed.

The government defines alcoholic beverages as products exceeding 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, and they must be commercially packaged to qualify for the border-crossing exemption.

Alcohol Prices in Canada

Alcohol in Canada is typically heavily taxed, regulated, and in some places, sold only in government-owned and -operated stores. Some provincial and territorial governments also regulate the minimum price of alcoholic drinks in restaurants and bars. A case of 24 cans or bottles of beer can cost double what you would pay in the United States, and a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey might cost up to 133 percent more, even in the Ontario town where it's distilled.

Import Rules for Personal Consumption

Regardless of how long you plan to stay in Canada or whether you arrive by boat, car, or airplane, the amount of duty- and tax-free alcohol you can bring into the country remains the same. Exceeding this amount will result in paying a federal customs assessment as well as any applicable provincial or territorial taxes on the total value (in Canadian dollars) of the full volume of booze, not just the amount in excess of the allowable exemption. The laws forbid bringing in alcohol as a gift.

Because some Canadians like to drive across the border for their liquor, the country requires that the traveler has been out of Canada for at least 48 hours before claiming the personal exemption.

The age requirement for bringing alcohol into Canada is 19 years old; however, Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec allow 18-year-olds to travel with booze. Americans purchasing alcohol in the United States before arriving in Canada must, of course, be 21 years of age.

TSA Regulations

Keep in mind that TSA regulations restrict liquids in carry-on luggage to 3.4-ounce containers, so if you're traveling from the U.S. to Canada by air, keep your bottles in a checked bag. Additionally, TSA prohibits the transport of any liquor with 70 percent or greater alcohol by volume (140 proof) because of the fire hazard, so leave your high-alcohol spirits at home.

Tips for Traveling With Glass Bottles

To avoid opening your checked bag to a puddle of alcohol and a pile of broken glass, be sure to pack the alcohol with care. Travel with sealed bottles, provide cushion for the bottle by surrounding it with soft items, and consider flying with smaller bottles. As additional protection, seal the bottles in a self-sealing plastic bag then squeeze out excess air before sealing the bag. In the event that the bottle breaks, the glass and most of the liquid will be contained in the plastic bag.