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Cross Border Transport Between U.S. and Canada: What You Need To Know

Transporting commercial goods across the US and Canada border is a process that is both long and tedious, unless you prepare ahead of time. It's always good to know what you are heading into, and if you are a truck driver, a business owner or a transportation company; there are a few key points to know in order to transport efficiently and smoothly.  Brown Beige White Minimalist Aesthetic Elegant Special Price Ice Cream Sundae Only 4 Dollars Ingredients Banner Landscape (1)

The most important parts to consider in cross border transport will be your documents, the carrier and the customs broker. These are integral pieces of the puzzle that can make your shipping process go quickly and smoothly, or delay it.


The most important aspect of transporting cross border is the documentation. This is because if your documents are missing or incomplete, the driver will likely be delayed or held back from crossing until it is resolved. Nobody has that kind of time to be waiting at the border, which is why using an integrated platform like Zipments, allows you to have all your documents in one place, apply for necessary documentation, and ensure you can fill everything out correctly. It is also good to have a checklist of items you need to cross ahead of time. 

There are a few key documents that need to be present in most, if not all, cross border transports. Some of the documents/paperwork you need include:

  • Bill of Lading
  • Packing Slip
  • Commercial or Customs Invoice
  • Certificate of Origin (CO)

Some shipments will require additional documents, and this is where consulting a customs broker would be helpful.


The right carrier or transportation company is key in transporting goods, especially if you are a shipper or company needing to get your goods across the border. As a driver, you also want to make sure you work for a good transportation company with excellent communication and rates. If you need cross border transport, you will likely want to choose a transportation provider with experience in that area.

Find the right customs broker

It is frustrating having to spend extra money or time to deal with other parties in your transportation journey, but hiring a customs broker may be a decision that benefits you the most in the long run. Reason being, a broker is licensed and knows the ins and outs of the industry, duties and taxes or customs fees you may need to pay. They can help you classify your freight and prepare all the needed documentation. This is especially useful if you have freight which requires special classification or dealing with other government agencies (like the FDA). The broker acts on your behalf to ensure your shipment crosses the border quickly and legally.

If you are struggling to get started or find a broker that works for you, then you can also use the Zipments broker directory to find verified brokers nearby. Remember that you are going to use the broker on the side of the border you are sending your shipment to. 

The broker is responsible for:
  • Calculating duties, fees or taxes that your shipment may require
  • Giving direction on the documents you need and helping you compile them
  • Preparing your forms for entry and transmitting documents/data to border services
  • Ensuring you have a transaction record and everything is documented in case of audit, for legal purposes
  • Addressing the CBP or CBSA on your behalf

Some customs brokers deal specifically with certain categories of product/freight, so if you are transporting goods that are specific to a certain category, ensure your broker can deal with them. For example some brokers specialize in transport of cars, whereas others do not. Knowing the goods you are transporting will help you find the right broker to work with. 

CBP vs. CBSA requirements 

It is important to note that when dealing with cross border transport, the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) is the US government agency enforcing customs regulations and ensuring safe trade for the United States. Meanwhile, the CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) is the Canadian government agency ensuring flow of legitimate trade/transport into Canada. You will be dealing with these agencies in your border crossing process and this will be where you will focus the preparation of your documents and necessary codes, as each country may have specific rules about customs clearance. For example, Canada requires the Canada Carrier Code, and you can learn more about it here. If you are dealing with the CBP you may become familiar with the SCAC, which is the code used to identify transportation companies, and you can learn more about the SCAC here


You will want to clear your shipment ahead of time with customs, to save time. This is where PARS/PAPS labels and the ACE/ACI manifest systems come into play. The system allows you, or your broker, to submit information to border services for review before you arrive at the border, so you do not end up waiting too long. Border services reviews your shipment pre-arrival, and you can check online to see whether you are cleared to cross, using our PARS/PAPS tracker

In the instance you do end up forgetting or running out of PARS/PAPS labels, you can always purchase more on Zipments, or contact us for emergency printable labels, to help you cross quicker. 


In order to make sure you cross the border and undergo customs clearance quickly, you may want to make sure you keep up with the following important steps in the process:

  • Get all your information to your broker quickly
  • Prepare your customs invoice, bill of lading etc. and keep them organized
  • Make sure packages correspond with your invoices, have detailed descriptions on invoice
  • Make sure country of origin is on the documents and visible
  • Ensure you have your PARS/PAPS labels, this is often where drivers may run out or forget

These small but important details will ensure a smooth and rapid shipping experience. Now that you have covered some of the essential components of cross border transport, it is going to be an easier process if you prepare everything ahead of time. Remember that communicating with your broker will be important, to ensure the documents have been generated or filed with customs. When you know what the process entails, it is easy to save time and money.