Black Friday: 4 things you probably don’t know about buying from the U.S.
Many Canadian shoppers have studied at length the question of how to get the biggest bang for their U.S. bucks.
For those physically travelling across the 49th parallel, money-saving strategies include things like staying overnight to maximize duty-free allowances and filling up the tank with cheaper U.S. gasoline. For those buying online, there are resources such as the Amazon price comparison tool by Canada’s CrossBorderShopping.ca website, where consumers can look up product prices on both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.
But here are a few things that might be news even to consummate cross-border shoppers.
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A growing number of U.S. retailers let you shop in Canadian dollars — and you don’t have to worry about any extra costs
Shopping on U.S. websites without busting your budget or breaking the bank usually requires a fair bit of math. You’ll need to convert the price of each product into Canadian dollars to figure out what you’re actually paying. But what your finally tally will be once you add in duties and taxes is anyone’s guess. Even the online calculator provided by the Canada Border Services Agency cautions that the tool provides only an estimate of what you might be facing.
Another dilemma is whether you’ll be able to return items bought in the U.S. and recoup any duties you might have paid. Not all U.S. retailers accept international returns. And recouping duties for returned items is a notoriously bureaucratic nightmare.
Luckily, a growing number of popular U.S. retailers are now offering Canada-friendly websites that eliminate the guesswork.
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Take L.L. Bean for example, the Maine-based maker of the famed duck boot and other outdoor clothing and gear. The company has a Canadian website where customers can see prices in Canadian dollars that include taxes and duties.
The final price is guaranteed, explains Lila Snyder of Pitney Bowes, the company behind L.L. Bean’s Canadian site. Through a service called Borderfree, Pitney Bowes is handling payments, shipping and customs processing for retailers who want to reach out to international customers.
For Canadians, it means an easier way to shop for U.S. products and brands that aren’t available north of the border. The list includes Target, Macy’s and Barney’s New York site.
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Borderfree estimates the cost of duties upfront and makes sure everything listed on Canadian sites can actually be shipped across the border, Snyder said Global News. They also handle returns. When you ship something back, Borderfree refunds the duty up front, Snyder said.
But what about prices? While selection is a major reason why Canadians shop in the U.S., the other is the ability to save. And those who physically cross the border can avoid both duties and taxes if they stay within personal exemption limits.
Snyder said the retailers with Borderfree set their own prices. Still, she added, “because we’re offering more efficient logistics, [customs] clearance and payment services, this sometimes allows stores to offer more attractive prices for Canadian consumers.”
Making it easier to sell to Canadians may be paying off for consumers in other ways, as well. L.L. Bean, for example, has free shipping to Canada on orders over $50. Barney’s New York offers Canadians free duties and complimentary expedited shipping for orders over US$400 ($530).
Borderfree also has its own consumer-facing portal where Canadians can see a complete list of retailers using the service and can shop, store their payment information for express check-out at all member stores and track shipments placed through multiple sellers.
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You don’t have to pay duty on goods made in the U.S. or Mexico
If a product you’re buying for personal use is clearly labelled as being made in the U.S. or Mexico, you don’t have to pay duty on it — and you can thank NAFTA for that.
In case you’re wondering, NAFTA is still a thing. The new United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which Canada, the U.S. and Mexico signed earlier this year, has yet to be ratified and was never going to come into force in time for this holiday season.
This means that, for now, the old rules apply. When you stay in the U.S. for longer than 24 hours but less than 48 hours, you can claim goods of up to $200 without paying duties and taxes. For stays longer than 48 hours, the threshold is $800.
If you’re bringing items home the same day, having goods shipped to you by mail or spending more than the exemption amounts, you normally have to pay both sales taxes and a duty rate that depends on the product. The good news, though, is that if you’re buying something made in the U.S. or Mexico, you only have to worry about the sales tax.
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But there is a new surtax on U.S. products
The not-so-good news is that the U.S.-Canada spat over steel and aluminum tariffs means that some cross-border shoppers may face a 10 per cent surtax on some U.S. goods. And while Ottawa’s retaliatory measures mostly target industrial goods made of aluminum and steel, they also include a number of consumer products like kitchenware, tablecloths and sleeping bags (the full list is here).
Still, you only have to worry about the surtax if you exceed your duty and tax exemption limits.
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There’s a better way to get U.S. cash
Using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees may be the most convenient way to shop across the border. As rate-comparison site RateSupermarket.ca notes, not only will paying in U.S. dollars cost you considerably less, but you’ll also earn rewards for your spending. Still, if your credit card doesn’t fit the no-free description, or you’d rather not face the temptation of paying with credit, cash is your best friend.
Most Canadians know they’ll get a better exchange rate if their convert their loonies before crossing the border. But what’s cheaper still — usually — is relying on a foreign exchange dealer. You can spot dealers close to you using Google Map, and they’ll usually have a website listing their exchange rate.
If you’re contemplating a large purchase, travel blogger Barry Choi says the cheapest option for Canadians who need to exchange large amounts of money (over $2,000) is Knightsbridge Foreign Exchange.