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We’ve all run into those great online deals that are only available if you have a US shipping address, or US stores that don’t ship to Canada. Even stores that also have a Canadian site may offer far better pricing for US customers. Of course, if you have a helpful friend or family member who lives on the other side of the border, they may be willing to help you out and forward packages, but not everybody has access to this option. If you’re not one of those lucky few, you still have some options.
Cross the Border
If you’re located close enough to the border to make a trip across feasible, it can be a great way to gain access to US stores and sales. You’ll still need to know a few things about shopping across the border.
Here are some tips:
1) Currency Exchange Fees
Making purchases in US Dollars means you’re likely to be subject to fees associated with currency exchange. You may find anywhere from 1-6% of your purchase price added on in fees. The same is true with credit cards and ATMs. So how to cut this expense? One option is to use cash, converted before you leave Canada. This is a good idea in particular because there can be no hidden fees to add on later. You’ll know exactly what the transaction costs up front. There are also a few credit cards that offer waived foreign transaction fees. If you do a lot of international shopping, this might be the best way to go. Be sure to do your research though, since some cards may have higher interest rates or other fees to offset this service.
2) Duty Free Limits
Customs Duties can eat up your savings, so be prepared for these fees and calculate them in when figuring out what an item is going to cost. The good news is, if you stay overnight you may be able to avoid some of these costs. If you’re out of the country for at least 24 hours, you’ll get a $200 personal exemption per person. Stay away for at least 48 hours and this bumps up to $800 per person. This means, if you bring a friend, the two of you could split the cost of an inexpensive hotel room and score up to $1600 worth of discounted merchandise by spending a long weekend in the states!
3) Fill Your Tank
One way of maxing out your savings while visiting the US is to plan to fill your gas tank while you’re there. As of this writing, the average cost per litre is $0.92 CAD in the US as compared to $1.21 here at home.4 Don’t be put off by the prices you’ll see on gas station signs, which might seem shockingly high at first. Remember that they’re priced per gallon, rather than per litre, so in addition to converting the currency, you’ll need to convert to metric. The savings is typically about 20-25% off though, well worth taking advantage!
4) Ship It to the Border
Check prices and plan ahead for your trip if there are specific items you’re looking for. You might find better deals online than in US shops. If this is the case, it might be best to purchase them in advance and have them shipped to the border. There are several companies just across the border whose primary purchase is to receive and hold packages for Canadians to come pick up. Other companies (like the UPS store) routinely handle packages for US customers who may not be available during the day to receive their goods. Most of the time these package handlers will charge a flat fee per package received, so if you’re going this route, try to group your items into as few shipments as you can.
5) Timing is Everything
Purchasing items in the US can be a great way to save, but it’s even better if you time your trip to coincide with major US shopping holidays. You’ve likely heard about Black Friday in the US, where crowds go crazy for rock bottom pricing on gifts, toys, and electronics, but there are excellent sales on smaller holidays too. Labor Day, Columbus Day, Independence Day, and others offer discounts on goods that are often significantly steeper than Canadian holiday sales. Be sure to check a US calendar and see what big sales may be coming up before you plan your trip.
But what if you don’t live near the US/Canadian border? There are options out there for you too. Many companies specialize in package forwarding for international shoppers. For a fee, they’ll receive your packages at a physical US shipping address (not a PO Box, as many sites do not ship to those), then forward them on to you at your home or office.
Be sure to do your research thoroughly. Some may charge high fees for their service, while others can be quite reasonable. Be aware that it’s not unusual for shipments to be delayed at customs, so if you have a close time table, you might want to look into local options instead. Also, unless the forwarding service includes taxes and duties, you’ll have to pay these fees when you receive your goods.
By Holly M, Contributing writer