Jan 12

Canadian cross-border shopping or “Amazon Canada, get off your high horse and face the facts!”

Like many Canadians I was quite happy a while back when Amazon decided to amp up the canuck version of their store. Imagine that: all the US goodies, well, almost all, now available to Canadians too. And by goodies I’m not only talking about products, but also deals and general prices, not to mention great customer service.
Needless to say that my disappointment is currently reaching new heights, growing from monumental to cosmic proportions. I know, that’s harsh, but it actually matches my initial excitement.I have to say that I am doing a lot of shopping online and mainly on Amazon.com. As mentioned before, great deals and lots of goodies. People were asking me, “Yeah, but what about shipping, taxes, duties, etc? All those defy the simplicity of online shopping.”. Well, NO, they don’t. I will talk about each one later.

Let’s take a quick look at some basic products that we can find in both Amazon stores: Canadian and US. One more thing I need to mention here: I am comparing items in the “TODAY’S DEALS” on Amazon.ca to items regularly priced on Amazon.com.

ASUS 1215N-PU27-SL 12.1-Inch Netbook
   .COM – $419.99         .CA – $620.80

Kingston 8 GB Class 4 SDHC Flash Memory Card SD4/8GB
   .COM – $7.98             .CA – $15.79 (was $33.38)

Eurofelt Indoor Soccer Ball Size 5
   .COM – $17.49            .CA – $28.70

Milwaukee 2691-22 18-Volt Compact Drill and Impact Driver Combo Kit
   .COM – $199               .CA – $229.99 (was $598.00)

Cuisinart CSB-77 Smart Stick Hand Blender
   .COM – $35.24            .CA – $54.99

(prices as of Jan 12, 2012)

These are just a few items selected from the deals section of the Canadian version. With small exceptions, Canadians are charged between 150% and 200% on exactly the same products. I didn’t want to go in the Books, Music, Movies area. You can blame the ridiculous price differences found there on the sharks … ahem, publishers, but that’s a whole different story.

Dear Amazon: NO, we don’t care about what excuses you may have for blatantly overpricing common things, if other US retailers can keep similar prices in Canada as they do back home, so can

you. Just to name one of these: take Costco for example. I know, they’re more wholesale-oriented, but you can always buy one loaf of bread, two pairs of socks or a TV so it qualifies as a retailer too. Their prices closely match US prices on similar items.

Apparently the NAFTA became just a convenient way for redirecting imaginary duty fees towards merchant’s own pockets since many individuals are still not aware that most of the US-Canada trade is duty free. Sure, most items are not manufactured in the US, but I can easily find ones that are and are still heavily overpriced.

The good news for those of us closer the the border is that we can easily satisfy our shopping cravings on the US side of Amazon. Shipping, taxes, duties, gas? No problem and here’s why:

I’ll start with shipping. I’m not sure how many of you are aware of companies that offer services like parcel receiving and mailboxes for Canadian residents. These companies are located in US, many times so close to the border crossings that you can actually walk there after crossing the border. Usually they charge a yearly fee, around $12 and then a fee per package. The one I am using charges $2.50 per received package up to 49lbs. The fee is slightly higher for large parcels.

Here’s how they work: you place your order on any online stores, including Amazon.com and use your name and the parcel company address for shipping. They will receive the package for you and have it available for pick-up. Most of them are open late some days during the week, simply for accommodating those of us with a tight schedule, not to mention that they will also send you an email when you package has arrived. Having dealt with a few of these companies, I was impressed of how friendly their employees are and how open they are to solve any problems you may have related to your shipments. Living in Vancouver myself, I will post here a list of the ones I know in the vicinity of the BC-Washington border:

Point Roberts:


I’m sure there are similar ones along the US-Canadian border all the way to Nova Scotia. I’m happy to give more details related to how they work in the comments, but their websites are doing a great job in explaining all the details.

Now you will ask, what about border fees? Usually, border fees are in fact provincial taxes (PST/HST) and duties (excise tax and GST/HST). For one-day trips south of the border, which includes simply being out for 30 minutes to pick up your package, you are exempt of any fees if the total is below $50. That’s the official version. The unofficial version is that CBSA lately has decided to lax their attitude towards personal shopping south of the border as long as it’s within reasonable limits. That means most of the times they will not send you in to pay taxes for purchases over $100 or sometimes even $200. For more on the official version CBSA has a lot of useful information on their website.

All this will be true as long as, and I can’t stress this enough, you DECLARE everything you acquired outside Canada. It’s really important that you play a fair game and be honest by declaring all items you received and their true value. The border officers are usually very understanding and reasonable persons, as long as you don’t take advantage of this and try to trick them in any way. It’s very helpful to have a printed invoice with you whenever you cross back with your packages.

For larger purchases you most probably need to pay the necessary fees, but I am focusing here on the simple things in life found at the online retailers.

Gas, do I really need to say anything about this? By simply filling half a tank while you’re south of the border will save you between $10 and $15 (at roughly 40c difference in gas prices). That’s more than 100Km worth of gas for the average car. Again I feel the need to mention that, living on the west coast. I may not be familiar with gas prices on the east coast. Still, things can’t be much different there. GasBuddy is a good source of information on this subject.

To those who will say that the hassle is too big and they will stick to paying more at the Canadian retailers, I will respond by saying this: I completely understand this and I have to admit: sometimes I do it too. But most of the times, when I am surfing for a good deal, Amazon.com is my first choice. So far I saved hundreds of dollars this way and I’m not planning to it differently in the future.

Hopefully, Canadian retailers will come out from their fantasy world and realize that high prices can only drive away customers.

I’d be happy to hear in the comments what others do for cross-border shopping, as well as your experiences while crossing the border.

Happy shopping!

About the author

Stefan Goilav

Stefan is a Software techie currently living in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. His interests range from novelty electronics, gadgets to electric cars, racing and ski.


  1. Jon

    I shop at home when prices are at least somewhat close. But those 150-200% or more discrepancies are gouging, pure and simple. There’s no reason the exact same product from the exact same retailer should cost that much more in Canada. For another example, take a look at some price tags in Michael’s some time. “US $15.99/Canada $28.99”–ridiculous.

  2. The Best Online Shopping Store

    Wonderful points altogether, you just won a logo new reader. What might you recommend in regards to your post that you just made a few days ago? Any positive?

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