Rules for Visitors Bringing Alcohol Into Canada

Visitors exceeding their personal allowance will pay duties

Bottles with liquor in a wood box on a table
Rune Johansen/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you are a visitor to Canada, you are allowed to bring a small quantity of alcohol (wine, liquor, beer or coolers) into the country without having to pay duty or taxes as long as:

  • the alcohol accompanies you
  • you meet the minimum legal drinking age for the province or territory at which you enter Canada. The legal age for purchase and consumption is 19 years of age in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, PEI, Saskatchewan, and Yukon; 18 years of age in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec.

    Please note that rules change, so confirm this information before you travel. 

    Alcohol Quantities Permitted

    You may bring in only one of the following:

    • 1.5 liters (50.7 US ounces) of wine, including wine coolers over 0.5 percent alcohol. This is equivalent to (up to) 53 fluid ounces or two 750 ml bottles of wine. OR
    • 1.14 liters (38.5 US ounces) of liquor. This is equivalent to (up to) 40 fluid ounces or one large standard bottle of liquor. OR
    • Up to 8.5 liters of beer or ale, including beer coolers with more than 0.5 percent alcohol. This is equivalent to 287.4 US fluid ounces or about 24 cans or bottles (355 ml or 12.004 US fluid ounces each).

    According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, the quantities of alcoholic beverages you can import must be within the limit set by provincial and territorial liquor control authorities that apply where you will enter Canada. If the amount of alcohol you want to import exceeds your personal exemption, you will have to pay the duty and taxes as well as any provincial or territorial levies that apply.

    Contact the appropriate provincial or territorial liquor control authority for more information before you return to Canada. Assessments typically start at 7 percent.

    For Canadians returning after a stay in the US, the amount of personal exemption is dependent on how long the individual was out of the country; the highest exemptions accrue after stays of more than a 48-hours.

    In 2012, Canada changed exemption limits to more closely match those of the U.S.

    Tips for Navigating the Process

    Visitors are allowed to bring into Canada $60 in gifts duty-free per recipient. But alcohol and tobacco do not qualify for this exemption.

    Canada defines alcoholic beverages as products that exceed 0.5% alcohol by volume. Certain alcoholic and wine products, such as some coolers, do not exceed 0.5% by volume and, thus, are not considered alcoholic beverages.

    If you go over your personal exemption, you will have to pay duty on the full amount, not just the excess. But the experts at say, Canadian Border Service Officers (BSOs) "are supposed to arrange things to your best advantage by grouping higher-duty items under your personal exemption and charging the excess on lower-duty items."

    Note that each personal exemption is per person not per vehicle. You are not allowed to combine your personal exemptions with someone else or transfer them to another person. Goods brought in for commercial use, or for another person, do not qualify under the personal exemption and are subject to full duties.

    Customs officials calculate the duties in the currency of the country you are entering.

    So if you are a US citizen crossing into Canada, you will need to convert the amount you paid for your alcohol in the U.S. into Canadian currency at the applicable rate of exchange.

    If You Exceed the Duty-Free Allowance 

    Except in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, if you are a visitor to Canada and you bring in more than the personal allowances of liquor listed above, you will pay customs and provincial / territory assessments. The amounts you are allowed to bring into Canada are also limited by the province or territory in which you enter Canada. For details on specific amounts and rates, contact the liquor control authority for the appropriate province or territory before you travel to Canada.

    A Growing Problem of Alcohol Overconsumption in Canada 

    While there have long been restrictions on the amount of alcohol visitors can bring into Canada, a growing problem of rising and overconsumption of alcohol has raised alarms in Canada.

    Anyone trying to bring in large quantities of cheaper American alcohol, wine and beer might be unpopular at the border. Staying within personal exemption quantities is the safest path.

    Since about 2000 and the release of the Canada Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines in 2011, the first such national guidelines, many Canadians have been on a mission to reduce alcohol consumption across the board. Much research has been done on how harmful even moderate alcohol consumption can be and the serious long-term effects on young adults ages 18/19 to 24, when risky alcohol consumption peaks. In addition, risky drinking is on the rise in other segments of the population.

    High Canadian Alcohol Prices Tempt Importers

    There has been a movement to encourage lower consumption by increasing or maintaining the overall price of alcohol through interventions such as excise taxes and indexing prices to inflation. Such pricing, according to the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, would "encourage production and consumption of lower-strength" alcoholic beverages. Establishing minimum prices, the CCSA said, could "remove inexpensive sources of alcohol often favored by young adults and other high-risk drinkers."

    Visitors will be tempted to bring in large quantities of alcoholic beverages bought in the United States, which can sell for about half the price of such drinks in Canada. But if this is done, well-trained officers of the Canada Border Services Agency will find such goods, and the offender will be assessed duties for the entire amount, not the just excess.

    Customs Contact Information

    If you have questions or need more information about bringing alcohol into Canada, contact the Canada Borders Services Agency.

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    Your Citation
    Munroe, Susan. "Rules for Visitors Bringing Alcohol Into Canada." ThoughtCo, Jan. 22, 2018, Munroe, Susan. (2018, January 22). Rules for Visitors Bringing Alcohol Into Canada. Retrieved from Munroe, Susan. "Rules for Visitors Bringing Alcohol Into Canada." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 23, 2018).