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5 Mistakes To Avoid When Crossing Into Canada

cross border trucking us and canada mexico tips for truck drivers to cross the border deal with customsThe Canada-US border is an economic hub, accounting for one of the largest flows of trade and travel in the world. It connects two of the world's largest economies. One of the biggest industries that cross the border is freight, and trucking is still the #1 mode of transportation for freight between these two nations.

Whether you are a new truck driver running loads to Canada, or you are trying to understand how to navigate the Canadian market, staying ahead of the curve is easier when you can speak the language. Going cross-border is a big deal for any truck driver, but it’s also a huge step in your career. To help you make the most of it, we’re sharing a few things to avoid as a driver going to the other side of the border.

Mistake # 1: Not Knowing Who You're Dealing With 

Always know who the key players are. 

One of the most important aspects of crossing into Canada as a commercial driver, will be in understanding everyone who is involved in the process. Most importantly, you are going to be dealing with CBSA,  which is the Canada Border Services Agency. This is the government agency responsible for clearing the load and the driver to cross into the country. You will deal with them directly if you plan on crossing into the country as a commercial driver.

If you are communicating with or dealing with a customs broker, know that they will be a broker on the side of the country the goods are being shipped to, in this case Canada. A customs broker is responsible for the documentation and clearing of the goods being shipped into the country, so often this may be a point of contact for the shipper, CBSA and at times carriers. The broker will be arranging the payment of duties, fees or taxes, as well as any documentation which is requiring submission so that the cargo can be cleared to cross. 

You may also want to know what the CRA is; which is the Canada Revenue Agency. They are more concerned with the business aspect of shipping, meaning any taxation or financial components. The name will appear on a few documents you may carry as you cross. Canada has its own currency, so it is important to understand that a lot of what you may be dealing with or witness on documents, unless specified it is USD, will be calculated into CAD which is the Canadian Dollar. If you are paying any fees at the border or looking for food or parking in the country, do know you will be charged in the currency of the country.

Mistake #2: You Do Not Have The Correct Paperwork

Always make sure your documents are filled out correctly. 

While it is not the driver’s responsibility for the documents to be completed correctly and submitted on time, drivers often end up stuck at the border due to paperwork which is missing or improperly filled out. It will save you time and any potential delay, if you double check the documents before you head out, to make sure nothing is missing. CBSA requires the following documents be present, for commercial cargo to be imported into the country:

  • Bill of Lading
  • Commercial Invoice or Canada Customs Invoice (CCI)
  • Certificate of Origin
  • Packing List
  • ACI eManifest must be filed (Even if you are empty.)
  • PARS (Canada) and PAPS (US) labels must be attached
  • Canada Highway Carrier Code (While not a document itself, this code has to be present to identify commercial vehicles entering the country.)

Keep in mind that the CCI has to contain information such as the date of shipment, names and contact information of shipper and consignee, as well as a (detailed) description of items and total value (estimate) of the shipment.

You also want to make sure that your BOL and commercial invoice information matches, as this is one common error that can result in delays in crossing into the country.

Mistake #3: Not Using Technology To Your Benefit

Always aim to have documents pre-submitted for clearing. 

When taking on loads, try working with shippers or brokers who are ahead of the game in terms of having documents submitted, and providing you with a PARS or PAPS tracking opportunity. As a driver, when you have your PARS labels, you can track your PARS status online, to know if you are cleared to cross before you even arrive at the border, which can save you time and any surprises when it comes to your documentation. You can use the real-time PARS/PAPS tracker from to access data for your shipment, and see you clearance status. 

The PARS system (Pre-Arrival Review System) in Canada allows brokers to submit documents and relevant information to CBSA for processing and review ahead of the time, before the driver even arrives at the border. This process can help speed up the release of the carrier and goods at the border, so you want to make sure you have access to real-time tracking whenever possible. Also ensure that your PARS/PAPS labels are present on the necessary documents.

You also will want to take the time to research the crossings you are heading to, as only certain crossings will allow commercial vehicles to come in. Your port of entry will be based on the direction you are heading in, so you will inform the broker where you will be crossing ahead of time. To learn more about ports and crossings, or access a list of port codes, refer to our Trucker's Guide to Crossing Into Canada. 

Mistake #4: Having No Relevant Contact Information 

Always try to get after-hours contact information before your trips. 

If you are a driver, it is necessary to keep a record of contact information for your dispatch, shipper or broker, depending on who you are in contact with. Often drivers may end up stranded at the border and it takes a long time to reach a broker or somebody who can help them address any potential issue, especially outside of standard working hours. It is important to keep a list of after hours contact information handy for these situations. You can also use the Zipments broker directory to find the contact info for brokers within seconds, in the case you are in need.

customs broker directory zipments

Mistake #5: Having No Knowledge About Trucking In Canada 

Always try to keep in mind how Canadian trucking differs from the U.S.

Canada is a bilingual country, so a lot of the documents you may see or could be presented with may contain both English and French on them.  Do not get spooked, as you do not have to speak French in order to cross into or deliver commercial goods to Canada. 

The weather conditions in Canada in Winter can be quite severe, compared to driving in the states or Mexico. If you are coming from any of the warmer states, do prepare to drive cautiously and face potentially black ice, severe winter storms, severely cold weather and unpredictable rapidly changing weather patterns. Always prepare with extra clothes and supplies in your cab, as well as check the weather conditions before arrival.

Canada also has slightly different hours of service (HOS) requirements, so if you plan on driving within the country once you have crossed in, you may want to become familiar with them, as you will need to abide by Canada’s ELD guidelines while trucking in the country. You can read more about Canadian ELD rules on the Zipments blog

Read More: Trucking Rules (HOS) Canada vs. The United States 

Trucking is one of the biggest industries to cross the US-Canada border, and knowing these common mistakes will keep you moving quickly and safely. Time is money when you are a truck driver, so knowing how the process works and getting ready ahead of time, will make a difference in the long run. In using the online platform, you can access real-time tracking of your customs clearance process, PARS/PAPS data and get access to relevant contact information for your shipment. Truck drivers are able to take back control of their schedule and time, through greater visibility and streamlined communication between shippers, brokers and carriers across North America. 

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