What to Know When RVing in Canada

Border crossing basics and other helpful tips.

Lindsay & Dan McKenzie Lindsay & Dan McKenzie  |  07.27.2018

We all know that the U.S. is full of incredible RVing destinations, but there’s something so exciting about the idea of taking a trip beyond the border! This summer we decided to plan a bucket list trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. It took a little extra planning and preparing, but it was absolutely worth it!

Last fall, we actually tried to take our RV to Canada to visit Niagara Falls. We didn’t think much of it, honestly. But as we approached the border, we started browsing the internet for tips on entering Canada in an RV and realized we were too unprepared. We settled on parking in New York and driving our tow car across the border each day to explore the falls and the surrounding areas. So, we weren’t going to let that happen again this time!

If you’re considering RVing to Canada and starting the planning phase, we hope we can help you prepare. From crossing the border, the differences between RVing there vs. the U.S., and other important things to consider, we’ll share it all. Hopefully, with our tips you’ll be ready for any chance you get to visit Canada in your RV!

rving in Canada

Border crossing basics

The first step in preparing to RV to Canada is checking out the Canada Border Services Agency website. This will be your best resource for knowing what you can and cannot bring across the border. It’s also helpful to know what your options are for entry points and their hours of operation, in order to plan your route. The website even has a table with border wait times to help you avoid a long line!

We’ll give you a basic outline of what you can and cannot bring, and what you MUST have with you in order to be allowed to cross the border into Canada. But, you’ll definitely want to check the agency website for recent changes, or any specific needs or questions you have.

You MUST have:

  • Every passenger needs documentation proving your citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate.
  • You’ll also need proof of insurance and registration for all vehicles that you are bringing into Canada.
  • The border patrol officer will also ask for your license plate number, so it’s helpful to have that handy or memorized
  • Lastly, you must be prepared to tell the officer why you are entering Canada, where you are headed, how long you’ll be staying, etc. So, make sure you have your trip planned out and are ready to share!

What you can and can’t bring:

Let’s get the items you cannot bring with you out of the way first. Firearms, ammunition, weapons, explosives, and fireworks must be declared, and are typically not allowed.

Other than that, you can bring almost anything with you in your RV, there’s just some requirements and limitations to a few items. Since many plants, animals, and certain foods can carry disease, these are the items to research ahead of time. Certain meats, dairy, and produce may not be allowed, so try not to do your grocery shopping before crossing the border.

Alcohol and tobacco is allowed in limited quantities, however, and you cannot carry more than $10,000 in cash with you. Prescriptions and medications are fine, as long as they are in their original containers and packaging.

rving in canada

Bringing pets

Don’t worry! You can bring along your furry family members too. With an official, current rabies certificate, cats and dogs are welcome into Canada. The Canada Border Services Agency website also states that pet food must be commercially packaged. As for other pets, like reptiles, rodents, and birds, you’ll want to refer to their website for more information. (Amy of GoPetFriendly has some more tips on bringing pets to Canada in this previous GoLife article.)

All of the items listed above must be declared at the border. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will confiscate them, but it’s best to be honest up front. We’ve heard, more often than not, that crossing the border in your RV is a breeze. We had no problems whatsoever and only had to give up an orange on our way back into the U.S. Just be as prepared as you can be, cooperative, and friendly to the officers, and you’ll be fine!

RVing in Canada vs. the U.S.

Overall, RVing in Canada felt very similar to RVing in the U.S. In fact, there were RVs all over the road! The only major difference we noticed while in Alberta and British Columbia, was that it’s not as easy to find public land to dry camp or “boondock” on. You can find free “overflow” parking lots in some areas, but we didn’t want to rely on that. We felt safest with making reservations in campgrounds, which there are plenty of.

Other important things to consider

Any time you are planning to visit another country, there are certain things to keep in mind and precautions to take. Visiting Canada, as similar as it is to America, is no different. Here are a few things to be aware of:

Cellular service

Check with your cell phone provider to ensure you’ll have coverage in Canada. Some carriers include Canada as part of the domestic talk and data plans, but may have daily data usage limits. Other carriers and plans may not include Canada and could incur roaming charges.

Medical

Accidents and emergencies tend to happen at the most inconvenient times, and we learned this the hard way. Check your policy to see if you are covered internationally, or consider purchasing travel insurance. Be aware that Canada will not accept U.S. health insurance. If you do find yourself at a Canadian hospital or doctor’s office, you’ll be required to pay for services up front. If you are covered under your health insurance, you can submit the bills to be reimbursed later, however. We were thankful to have our health savings account (HSA) during our unexpected ER trip!

rving in canada

Cost differences

It is true that many items in Canada are slightly more expensive than in the U.S., especially gas and food. You’ll want to keep this in mind and maybe “stock up” on certain everyday items and essential groceries ahead of time. It wouldn’t hurt to fill up your gas tank right before crossing the border, too. And of course, Canadians have a different currency, so don’t be confused by the dollar sign when making purchases and be sure to check the daily exchange rate.

Metric system

Canada, like most other countries, uses the metric system. Related to RVing, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with certain conversions. It is also important to know how tall your RV is in meters and the weight in tonnes as well as kilograms for when you need to go under or over a bridge. You’ll also be buying gas by the liter instead of by the gallon (approximately 4 liters = 1 gallon).

You’ll also notice right away that speed and distance is in kilometers instead of miles. While some GPS systems can be switched to kilometers, it is still good to have a rough estimate of the conversion.

The common speed limits are 110 km/h, 90 km/h, and 50 km/h. So, here are some helpful conversions to know:

  • 110 km/h = 68 mph
  • 90 km/h = 55 mph
  • 50 km/h = 31 mph

rving in canada

Don’t pass up the opportunity to visit Canada in your RV! It’s an incredibly beautiful country and having your RV allows you to see and explore more of it at your own pace. We hope that by sharing our experience with RVing to Canada, we help inspire you to take your own trip, know how to prepare, and have as great of a time as we did. (For a video version of these tips, watch our Winnebago Facebook Live session here).


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9 Comments

  1. Barb Smith Posted on 09.22.2018

    We spent part of September in the Vancouver area with WIT friends. Traveling through BC was easy. In other years we have gone all over BC and AB and it’s just like being in the US but with more trees and mountains—and we drive a Class A. Coming back into the states we were not asked anything about our dog and did not have the dog food confiscated. In our many years of border crossings we have had just some fruit taken. And way back in 1977 we took our coach to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and drove it all over. Love our Canadian neighbors.

  2. Chris Maxwell Posted on 09.10.2018

    We just got back from a trip through Canada to Alaska. The Provincial and Territorial Parks were wonderful. For the most part, we did not have reservations, only in the National Parks and over holidays.
    British Columbia had a lot of smoke on the way back. Plan your route so that you see your high priority locations before the forest fires start.
    US Customs took much of our fruit going into Alaska and back to Washington. Then California took some more. :-(
    The exchange was great this year. Although prices were higher than in the states, the exchange saved us about 25%.
    Roads were much better than we expected. We highly recommend the Top of the World Highway. What views. Just be prepared to wash your RV and tow afterward.

  3. Polly Hjelt Posted on 09.09.2018

    If traveling the Alaska Hgwy (aka ALCAN), Do not leave home without “Milepost”. It takes you the entire length of the highway and will designate any and all important places to visit, plus pull thru (boon docking) areas. They are safe and plentiful. We used them 3-4 days and on the 4-5th day we rested. Took advantage of a campground, did the laundry and washed the car/rig. They do get dirty. One of the highlights of the trip was spending the night on top of “Top of the World Hgwy”. About 2 miles from the Alaska border. We were by ourselves in a 35′ motorhome. What a sight. Sunset was about 1230am, with the sunrising about 4 hours later. From the time we entered Canada to the time we arrive US, we had spent 3 months. I wish we could have had another month but weather dictated us to start heading south. One last FYI. Allow yourself time to enjoy every mile. Take a day off as I previously stated. There is a lot of important history to be discovered. Happy Trails

  4. Bill Lampkin Posted on 08.25.2018

    We’ve been to Canada 3 times in the last 4 years and I am not aware of any law that requires using headlights during daylight hours. The confusion may come from a requirement that vehicles sold as new in Canada be equipped with “Daytime running lights”. But as a visitor from the US, your vehicle is not subject to this requirement.

  5. Bill Lampkin Posted on 08.25.2018

    If you are travelling into Canada with Fido, be aware that upon re-entry into the USA, all dog food must be in its original packaging (showing ingredients list) or it will be confiscated and destroyed by US Border Patrol Agents. Ours was! Luckily, a stop at a vet in Bonners Ferry and Fido didn’t miss a meal (but we were out $100 for Fido’s prescription dog food).

  6. Dan R Posted on 08.05.2018

    Another tip (curiosity) NO RIGHT ON RED in Montreal.

  7. Norm Posted on 08.03.2018

    Remember to have your headlights on at all times when on the road in Canada.

  8. Mike Posted on 08.02.2018

    You may be asked your license plate at primary inspection.
    The exact rules for document requirements are here…
    https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/td-dv-eng.html
    Minors usually only require birth certificates, and a letter of consent to travel from a parent not traveling with the child, in some cases. Everyone else must have a passport, NEXUS/FAST card, or other WHTI acceptable document.
    Everything in Canada is more expensive than in the United States. Not just gas and food. Check the daily forex rate, consider the cost of identical things in the US, and do the math. You’ll be surprised.

  9. Marian Miller Posted on 07.28.2018

    Thanks for more info about Canada. Leaving Tuesday!!