A lot of people don’t declare food when they’re coming home or travelling to other countries. Don’t lie — I know you do this! Maybe you forgot about that doughnut you bought at the airport, or you want to bring home some fun foreign snacks for your friends. Both of these things are fine, but you have to remember to declare them when you go through customs. People often assume that you don’t need to declare foods that are allowed (like candy or coffee), or that certain foods are allowed when they’re not (milk and meat). But just because you’ve never been caught bringing back sausage, or because you declared a chocolate bar once and were told chocolate bars are fine doesn’t mean you don’t need to declare these things. If you are coming back from a trip and bringing food back with you, you must declare it.
But why should I declare it, you ask? No one cares if I bring this turkey* back into Canada! BECAUSE FINES! BECAUSE THE ENVIRONMENT! BECAUSE MAYBE THERE IS SOME KIND OF TURKEY VIRUS GOING AROUND. And because of the most compelling reason (for me, anyway) — the people at the border will harass you for the rest of your life. And if you have a NEXUS card, they’ll take it away.
* You can actually bring a turkey into Canada from the US. But only one turkey. Not two! JUST ONE. And you have to declare it, of course.
I’m specifically talking about travel to/from Canada, but other countries have similar laws, so definitely investigate throughly if you’re planning to bring food into any country because you can also face fines or worse. (FUN FACT: It’s illegal to bring gum into Singapore!)
But back to Canada.
As it says on the CFIA website: Travellers are required, by law, to declare all plant, animal, and food items they bring into Canada. This includes items related to plants, animals and food, or their by-products. Even though these items are allowed into Canada, you still must declare them on your declaration form.
In case you missed that, YOU MUST DECLARE ALL FOOD. All. Food. Do you have a package of gum, one bag of tea, or a granola bar? Declare it. Chances are that it’s allowed, but you still need to declare it.
I think that a lot of people are guilty of not declaring food because they don’t want the hassle. But it’s usually pretty painless and you’ll be waved through unless you have something prohibited. If you want to avoid the hassle completely, it’s simple: don’t bring food with you.
Here’s some of the main points from the CFIA website.
ALLOWED BUT MUST DECLARE:
MAYBE ALLOWED (also must declare):
If you’re coming from anywhere but the USA, then the rules are more restrictive. The following things are not allowed from non-US countries.
If you’re travelling or connecting to the US, the rules are similar. Don’t bring meat or milk. You can read more about the American rules here. But as with Canada, ALL FOOD MUST BE DECLARED. If you’re departing from a major Canadian airport, you will go through US customs preclearance, so be prepared. If you are coming back to Canada and connecting through the US (for example, flying from France to Chicago to Toronto), you will have to clear both American and Canadian customs and must declare the food to both.
I know that you’re probably like, whatever, my sausage or plant isn’t hurting anyone, but invasive alien species are costing Canada billions of dollars every years. (More about that here.) It’s gross and irresponsible to bring these things into the country.
Not to mention, if you don’t declare your food and are caught, the food will be taken away, you can be fined (up to $1300 per item) or prosecuted, and you can look forward to extra interrogation on future trips. From the CBSA website (and this isn’t specific to food items, it’s about not declaring anything that you’re supposed to declare):
A record of infractions is kept in the CBSA computer system. If you have an infraction record, you may have to undergo a more detailed examination on future trips. You may also become ineligible for the NEXUS and CANPASS programs.
Isn’t that fun? In case you don’t think this is real, here’s a Flyertalk thread where someone forgets to declare a single apple, gets fined, and has their NEXUS taken away.
Since I’m a NEXUS member, I always travel without food and make sure to empty my bag of any gum or mints before I head to the airport. I usually don’t bring food back with me, but if I do, I either declare it at the NEXUS/Global Entry kiosk, or go through the regular lane.