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Home » Traveling Musician » Getting Merchandise Across Borders

Getting Merchandise Across Borders


by Robert Baird, President Baird Artists Management (BAM!)

Travelling across the US/Canada border requires declaring to a customs officer what you are bringing with you. Personal items are exempt from duties and taxes. Bringing in goods or merchandise makes you an “importer” and you will definitely have to declare any items you intend to sell. Here is a recent letter:

Dear Crossing Borders,
My husband, an AFM member, will be traveling to the United States, once by air and then by car at a later date. He would like to take merchandise with him. He believes by air it’s a problem, especially departing from Winnipeg. Is that true? Then he’ll be travelling by car into Washington State from British Columbia. Would that be a problem? We are thinking about sending the merchandise by mail or getting our distributor to send merchandise to the locations instead.

We do have options, but we do have merchandise here that he could take. Which is the best way?

Goods to Sell

By far, the easiest way to sell merchandise in a foreign country is to have the merchandise manufactured and paid for in that country. In this way, you will avoid taxes or duties on importing goods, but obviously, this may not be practical for a number of reasons.

Merchandise crossing the Canada/US Border generally falls into two categories: goods valued at less than $2,500 and goods valued at more than $2,500. The former is known in the US as an “informal entry of merchandise” and the latter a “formal entry of merchandise.” Both Canada and the US categorize imported goods in this way.

There are basically two ways of dealing with getting merchandise across borders: carry it with you or send it ahead of time.

Carrying Merchandise Across a Border

If your goods are valued at less than $2,500, you can have them processed at your port of entry; if they are worth more than $2,500 you will need to use the services of a customs broker to get the goods cleared into the country. At any rate, you will need to have the following: a description of the merchandise, quantity of goods, manufacturing cost, manufacturer, selling price, and country of origin. You should also bring invoices/receipts from the manufacture of your merchandise. Leave merchandise boxes open for customs inspection.

Providing NAFTA Certificate of Origin (B232) and Canada Customs Invoice (CI1) forms (available from will help smooth the importation process of getting merchandise across borders. There are sometimes minor fees (merchandise processing fees, truck fees) imposed at the port of entry for importation of goods valued under $2,500.

Sending Merchandise Across a Border

Rather than carrying goods across the border, you might opt for shipping them. Depending upon the circumstances (quantity of goods to be shipped, weight of goods to be shipped, deadlines to be met, etc.) you would most likely choose between the postal service in your country or a parcel/courier service.

If you utilize the post office, you will be required to attach a customs declaration to your package. This declaration will describe the goods being shipped and their value (the manufacturing value, not the selling price). Again, depending on the particular goods being shipped there may be duty or taxes due when the package arrives.

If you utilize a parcel or courier service, they will assist you in attaching the correct form(s) and will often act as a customs broker to ensure the passage of your merchandise across the border, and then bill any brokerage, taxes, and/or duty charges back to your account.

Getting Promotional/Giveaway Merchandise Across a Border

Often, artists crossing a border will have merchandise they intend to give away as a promotional item. If this is the case, then this merchandise should be listed on a separate commercial invoice and valued at the cost of manufacture. In addition, such items should each be clearly marked “Promotional item—not intended for resale.”

As ever, honesty is the best policy and it would be foolhardy to try to get your merchandise across a border without declaring it. At the very least, your goods could be held up at the border, or even worse, refused entry.

If you need information on getting merchandise across the border at specific ports of entry you can find contact information for US Ports of Entry here: and Canada Border Services Agency locations here:

—Please send your questions and concerns to me at: While I cannot answer every question here, I will feature as many as I can, and I promise to answer every e-mail I receive.

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