After years of waiting while the border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my husband Ben and I drove our Thor Chateau into Canada for an epic road trip in the summer of 2022. In August, we headed north from our home base in Montana into Alberta, Canada. We used the Coutts Port of Entry, located northeast of Cut Bank, Montana.
Ben drove the Chateau and I followed in our chase car. Given its location, Coutts is not as busy as some other border crossings and it took less than 30 minutes for both of us to be on our merry way north to Calgary. We simply answered a few questions about our travel plans and showed our passports. Our rig was not searched. Our dog was with us but we were not asked about his vaccination records, although we did have them on hand.
After 3 weeks, we crossed back into the U.S. using the Osoyoos Port of Entry. There were only a handful of other cars using that crossing and we were back in the States in a matter of minutes after showing our passports. Now I know that crossing the border doesn’t need to be a nerve-wracking experience—and I’m already looking forward to our next trip.
Dreaming of a trip north or south of the U.S. border, but not sure how crossing into a different country in an RV works? Here are some tips to help RVers have a smooth border crossing.
How to Prepare an RV for Border Crossing
First, map out your route and identify the port of entry location(s) you will use. Crossings near major cities can have long wait times during holidays, weekends, and rush hour, so be sure to add in some extra travel time. Check current wait times here.
Make sure you have all of your paperwork in order before you head out on the road, including:
- A valid passport or another proof of citizenship document (check the specific rules for Canada and Mexico) for everyone traveling in the RV. Make sure they aren’t due to expire during your trip.
- A valid driver’s license.
- Proof of insurance and registration information for all vehicles (don’t forget the tow car or truck pulling your trailer).
- Your RV’s license plate number (you may be asked for it if it’s blocked from view).
- If traveling with dogs or cats, bring their rabies vaccination records.
- If traveling with children who aren’t your own (even if they’re your grandkids), bring letters of consent from the parents that say it’s okay for you to take them across the border.
If you plan to work from the road, research your internet and connectivity options ahead of time. Frankly, I was surprised at how difficult this was. We ultimately relied on a Verizon mobile hotspot and found that some Canadian campgrounds also offered (truly fast) internet for a fee.
What to Expect at the Border
Depending on which border crossing you use, you may experience a wait. Be patient. Practice proper etiquette when interacting with border agents. Be polite and cooperative, turn down any loud music, and don’t use your cell phone. Take off your sunglasses and use the correct lane for RVs.
Expect to be asked some basic questions when you cross the border, including “Where are you going?” “How long are you staying?” and “Do you have anything to declare?” Answer honestly and directly.
Note that Canada and Mexico have different border crossing rules and procedures. Below are a few important highlights.
- Try to wait until you cross the border before loading up on groceries, but declare any food you do have to the agent. Canada has strict rules against bringing in houseplants, fresh fruits, or vegetables that could introduce invasive species or animal and plant diseases.
- Canada discontinued its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for travelers at the end of September 2022, meaning that visitors no longer have to use the ArriveCAN app to show proof of vaccination.
- Here’s one big difference between RVing in the U.S. and Canada: In most parts of the country, campgrounds are the only place you can legally park your rig overnight. Boondocking isn’t a thing there, so book your campground reservations early for popular destinations. Fire permits are required for having a campfire at national park campsites.
- Remember that speed limits are posted in kilometers per hour, not miles, in Canada. You should also know how tall your RV is in meters to ensure it will fit under low clearance overhangs or bridges.
In addition to the documents outlined above, you’ll need to fill out some additional paperwork to RV in Mexico, including:
- FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple), Mexico’s tourist visa, which can be obtained online or in person when you enter Mexico.
- Mexican liability insurance is required for all vehicles in addition to your normal vehicle insurance and can be purchased in advance or once you enter Mexico.
- Notarized permission from your bank to drive in Mexico if your RV is financed by a loan and the bank is listed on your registration form.
- A TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for both your RV and tow vehicle, if traveling outside the “Free Zone.” Learn more about this from the U.S. State Department.
- Check height and size restrictions for the border crossing you plan to use.
Stay safe by checking the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory outlining recommended areas to avoid due to crime or kidnapping risks. Practice good common sense and secure your belongings to prevent property theft. Make a photocopy of your passport and driver’s license just in case.
Mexico also posts its speed limits in kph, not mph. Mexico’s roads have a reputation for being tough on RVs. Learn about the Green Angels, a government-paid bilingual crew that patrol roads to help motorists in need. Add their 24-hour, toll-free number (1-800-987-8224) to your phone contacts in case you run into an issue.
You should also avoid drinking the tap water. Invest in a filter for your RV if you don’t want to rely on bottled water.
What Not to Bring
Canada and Mexico each have slightly different rules about what you can’t bring with you. Below are some things to avoid.
- Fresh produce
- Guns and ammunition
- Cannabis products
- More than $10,000 in cash
- Mace or pepper spray
- Alcohol and cigarettes—while they are technically allowed, you may not want to bring either in order to avoid the hassle of declaring them and potentially having your rig searched.
Here is Canada’s full list of restricted items.
- Fresh produce
- Guns and ammunition
- Illegal drugs
Here is Mexico’s full list of restricted items.