Vancouver, Canada, is less than 200 kilometers (119 miles) from Seattle, Washington, and just 82 kilometers (51 miles) north of Bellingham. The proximity of the border makes it easy for Vancouverites to travel into the states regularly for day trips and shopping sprees. Buses and trains that run between the two main cities make the journey simple even for those who don't have a car.
Before you go crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada, though, you'll need to know which documents you need and the value of goods you're allowed to bring back to your home country.
Where Are the Border Crossings?
There are four border crossings between Vancouver and Seattle. From west to east, they include the Peace Arch, where Canada's Highway 99 becomes U.S. I-5. This is the most common option for drivers. The Pacific Highway is used mostly by buses and trucks. It's accessible via 99 and leads back to I-5 on the U.S. side. Smaller ones include the border crossings between Lynden, Washington, and Aldergrove, British Columbia, and between Sumas, Washington, and Abbotsford, British Columbia. All crossings have a NEXUS lane for card holders, allowing for faster transit across the border.
What Are the Wait Times Like?
Border Wait Times can be found on the Border Services website and it would be wise to check them before deciding which border to cross. Summertime tends to be busier, but more border agents are on duty during these peak periods. Avoid long holiday weekends (for U.S. holidays and Canadian holidays), when the roads become especially packed with vacationing locals. Otherwise, you can see wait times displayed on electronic information boards along the highway, so you can make your decision en route.
What Type of Documents Do You Need?
As with any border crossing in airports or the like, you'll need the appropriate travel documents to pass through immigration. Canadian citizens must have either a Canadian passport, a NEXUS card, a Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card, an enhanced driver's license (EDL), or an enhanced identification card (EIC). Vancouver residents who are not Canadian citizens must have a passport and any visas or ESTA visa waivers required for travel to the U.S. Check the U.S. Border and Protection site for more details.
Sometimes, you'll need to show proof of car insurance or your car registration to prove that your vehicle is not stolen. If you're driving a rental car or someone else's vehicle, be sure to bring official documents or written permission.
What Are the Transportation Options?
There are three ways to travel from Vancouver to Seattle by land.
- By train: The Amtrak Cascades train offers a scenic journey, but it does take longer than driving a car. It only travels twice a day, so you must book your tickets far in advance. Arrive an hour early to clear immigration before your trip.
- By bus: Buses are a great option for day trips. Quick Shuttle buses leave from multiple Vancouver destinations and stop at Bellingham, the Seattle Premium Outlets, and Seattle. BoltBus offers direct buses from Vancouver to Seattle at cheaper fares, but has a more limited schedule and leaves only from Vancouver's Pacific Central Station.
- By car: Things will be much more comfortable in your own vehicle, especially because public transit in Washington—with the exception of downtown Seattle—doesn't have the best of reputations. Having your own car will make traveling and shopping around Seattle much easier.
How Much Can I Bring Back Duty-free?
Excluding alcohol and tobacco, an individual can bring back $200 worth of duty-free goods in a 24-hour-or-less trip, according to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). A 48-hour-or-more trip, rather, allows an individual $800 worth of duty-free goods. Check with the CBSA for more details on alcohol and tobacco as limits vary for wine, beer, and spirits. Although cannabis is legal in both Canada and Washington, it cannot be transported across the border.