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This is a long story but it is loaded with info.



Our Travels during our 25 years


     Recently both the Explorer RV Club office and I have received several questions from new RVers requesting details about travel to the south and what is involved to be a Snowbird. Specifically they inquired how to find campgrounds, what to expect at the border, medical coverage required plus a barrage of general concerns. Well, we’re happy to relay that crossing the border in an RV between Canada and United States of America generally continues to be hassle-free. The following info should put the fears of Newbie’s to rest and act as a review for seasoned RVers.

    John and I have been Fulltiming Snowbirds for the past 25 years. As a result we’ve crossed the border in an RV well over 100 times. Important points of what we have learned are highlighted below.  

     All RVers must now carry a ‘PASSPORT’ – fees are less than a $100. – good for 5-years. Applications are available from any local Post Office. Service is faster if you appear in person at a Passport Office than it is when using the mail. Try to apply early because delays do occur. A ‘NEXUS’ card works similar to a Passport. However the new embedded ‘Provincial Drivers Licence’ may function well for those driving across the border, but they will not allow a return by air in an emergency. A Passport or a Nexus card is a necessity to travel by air.

       CHILDREN too should have a Passport, but there are provisions in place if a group of juveniles cross the border on an excursion. Most important, when children are travelling with only one parent or with you when they are not your own, be sure to carry a letter of permission from the (other) parent(s) or guardian(s) – include what actions you’re authorized to take in a medical emergency.  

     Limit FOOD – diseases that prohibit certain foods change by the day. Rules too continuously change, but red meat, chicken, citrus – even eggs and potatoes can be questioned at times – pet food too. Non restricted food and necessities required for personal RV use are generally never questioned. 

     As a result, John and I choose to cross the border without meat of ANY kind in our freezer. Our first stop in the USA is at a Wall*Mart Supercenter. We do carry some canned food and some frozen meals for emergencies – both packaged in the USA – no guarantee these may not be on the watch list when you cross.

      PET FOOD may also be questioned because of ingredients referred to as 'by-products'. It’s not wise to stock up with a winter supply. However many times such food is never questioned.  NOTE:  I’ve been told that unopened packages or cans of Pet Food clearly marked 'MADE IN USA' may not be confiscated; but I can’t verify that fact.

      For an accurate description of what food is allowed - call US Customs officials at 1-703-526-4200 – listen to prompts and press 3 for a 5-minute voice message and/or ‘0’ to talk to a real person or (if in USA, call 1-877-CUSTOMS). The voice message spells out details of what you can and cannot take across the border. This list changes constantly, so no one rule applies.

       NOTE 1: Many Gov’t phone numbers frequently change without notice.  

        NOTE 2: Those with specific questions can call the Cdn customs check-point you plan to use (obtain # from 411) and ask for the phone number of the agents in USA. For direct access to a customs agent for general info – call 1-506-636-5064 (St John, NB) or 1-204-983-3500 (Winnipeg, MB).



*** Take off Sunglasses so the agents can see your eyes.*** Use the ‘car lanes’ unless your mirrors are extra wide and you can’t drive thru. If that’s the case, it may be wise to park and discuss where to cross with an agent.  Many crossings points now include a wider ‘RV Lane’. Try to avoid the ‘Truck Lanes’.

*** When asked where you are from – always relay your official home address you have established for taxes, census, voting, provincial medical, drivers licence etc. 

*** Answer only questions asked – never volunteer additional information. General details are already on their computer once they search your licence plate.

*** NEVER relay you are a Fulltimer, OR that you’ll be working in the USA – even as a volunteer to build Habitat for Humanity houses, or to present a seminar like I do.

*** Follow the rule to be in your home country longer than you visit another country each calendar year – at times agents use your travel year i.e. 20 Oct 2010 to 20 Oct 2011.

*** A new request from agent’s last April – they wanted registration for both vehicles. 

*** One more new question from agents; “When were you last in the US?”

*** Carry Rx’s in original containers – ensure each is clearly identified complete with comprehensive pharmacy labels. If you use syringes, be sure to carry evidence of their usage. If possible, use the same suggestions for your Pet Rx meds too.

*** Emergency repairs are allowed but although one new tire replacement may be accepted, all four may be suspect – expect to pay taxes and possible duty for extras.

*** Everyone should subscribe to an ERS program that is solely designed for RVers.

*** Recently some RVers had to exit their fifth wheel while it was x-rayed with a special machine. while crossing the border.  They had to stand outside and when the x-rays were developed they were allowed to leaving.  Technology is changing. Just be prepared

*** Sniffer dogs are common at the border. They walk beside RVs during inspections.

*** Canadian Driver Licenses are legal in the USA as is your Canadian Insurance.

*** If you are transporting expensive ‘toys’ in your RV, it is wise to carry the bill of sale with you – not for heading south, but for your return to Canada.

NOTE: SEARCHES do occur. but very seldom.  Your RV is nothing more than a suitcase at the border. If a search happens you will be expected to repack all storage pods just like you do if your bags are searched at an airport. You may also be asked to leave your RV during the search – it is possible to ask for two officials to inspect together. If they are busy, expect to wait for an extended period.  If you feel you have been mistreated, ask how to access the second and third level – there is a chain of command for complaints at the border, Completion of the entire process could continue after you leave. Some RVers are uncomfortable leaving their valuables behind during a search; so they pack them in a small case to take with them. Of course officials will want to inspect these as well.

*** Be certain to buy Out-Of-Country HEALTH INSURANCE before you leave. It is also recommended to buy Out-Of-Province medical as well.  Sanderson’s Travel Insurance (see info in the RV gazette) is a great place to start, but many RVers shop different companies to find one that applies to individual health concerns. Contact me for additional options.

*** I DECLARE booklet explains in detail what you can bring home.

*** Presently on return to Canada after 24-Hours ---$50.00; after more than 48-Hours--- $400.00 and  over 7-Days it goes up to $750.00. See Exact explanation of what you can bring home  Since these figures may change check it out.  It is not possible for persons to join allotments together to cover large purchases but children do have allotments as long as the purchase is for items for their benefit.


NOTE: Additional Tobacco/Alcohol quantities are permissible if you agree to pay costly extras (duty – plus taxes).  I once poured 4-litres of wine down the drain because the duty was so high. 

     ALCOHOL (one of the following)...

          1.14 litres/40 oz of alcohol;

          OR 1.5 litres/53 oz of wine;

          OR 24-beer (12 oz/355 millilitres – maximum of 8.5 ltr)

NOTE: Home made wine may/may not be allowed. It will be up to the agent.



    TOBACCO (All or any of these are allowed if are over 18)...

          200 cigarettes;

         AND 50 cigars or cigarillos;

         AND 7 oz – loose tobacco;

         AND 200 tobacco sticks.


NOTE 1: Possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence.

NOTE 2: Pepper spray, Mace and/or any spray that can be used against humans is considered a weapon in Cda – only rarely will the agent ask if you have any. 


     PET TRAVEL – Pets are welcome in most parks – even exotic species.  See reference to a complex Pet Story in the Sidebar. Campground Directories also list parks where pets are/are not accepted. Vets and Pet Stores are located everywhere. RVers should carry a recent ‘Statement Of Health’ from your vet – also request a 3-yr rabies shot (w/expiry date); two months before your trip.  See Also Travel with Pets


     RECEIVING MAIL in Canada is no different than in the USA, but mail does take longer to navigate across the border. Family, friends or a business can look after your mail, however we subscribe to an annual PO Box at a UPS Store. The staff will forward our mail when we request it for a small fee plus postage. Through an RV Club, we also have a USA Mail Forwarding address set up. Forwarded mail by Air Mail from USA to Canada usually takes from 7-10 days, but we allow for 14 – 21 when possible.  Although occasionally; Air Mail from Canada to USA has taken up to 23-days to reach us. Now when we send mail south to north we use ‘Global Priority Mail’ in the USA - (slated for 4-7 business days). From north to south ‘International Express Post’ in Canada uses a similar time frame – again, we allow 7-days. Express Post within Canada is similar to Priority Post in the USA and takes the same amount of time – 3-days.


     CB’S AND CELL PHONES work great for International use. However it is more economical to subscribe to a US cell phone plan if you plan to travel extensively in the USA.  There are many great plans to choose from: from data packages to T-Mobile cell plans - simply search for the best option to fit your needs You will require an American address for billing purposes. We have been with Verizon for 8+ years. To use your USA cell phone package in Canada, be sure to apply for a Canadian ‘rider’ to be added to your ‘one-rate – no roaming style’ plan – it’s usually an inexpensive option. Most Canadian/USA cellular companies have International agreements  for voice calls with all larger cell carriers in both countries – however on some plans roaming fees can add up. We simply feel a USA cell plan offers many more benefits for much lower outlay.


     INTERNET – US/Cdn cell companies such as Verizon or Bell, sell ‘Internet Sticks’ or ‘Aire Cards’ for computer high speed.  These work wherever a cell does. But the contract does not generally travel across the border, so you’ll need a separate one to use in the country where you’re travelling.  Yours may not allow the contract to be put on vacation, which means you could end up paying for two plans.  Limited usage begins at 500kb.  FYI Many RV parks feature WiFi but the service is still spotty at best. John and I use an easy to set-up ‘ Internet Satellite Dish’ – contact me for details. For convenience we recently added ‘Tethering’ access to our Verizon  cell phone while in the USA. Service can be ‘by the month’ or stop and start – ‘on demand’. Roaming is very costly to use this system in Canada but it is a great supplement to park WiFi systems.


     SATELLITE TV – ‘Express Vu’ and ‘Star Choice (Now Shaw Direct)’ are popular with RVers.  However there is NO support with EXPRESS VU. If they know you are using their system south of the border Bell will cut you off. In the extreme southern stopping spots we also lose 20-30 channels that the Bell satellite footprint will not bring in.  STAR CHOICE (Shaw Direct) on the other hand will function all the way to South America and support is available. We recently switched to Shaw but set-up is a bit more complex due to the oval dish. So far we are happy with it.



One Cdn Imperial gallon equals 4.546 litres – 

one U.S. gallon equals 3.785 litres.  


An easy formula to convert Gas/Fuel... 

“ US cost X 3.78 (litres per US gal) X $1.xx? (daily 3-digit conversion rate)=Cdn$”.



     Year after year many RVers return to their favourite utopia in the sunny south. Although for those new to this lifestyle and those of us who like to move around; determining where to go each winter can become a major decision.  The choice is so vast and deciding where to spend three to six months of our valuable RV travel time away from the cold does take a bit of planning.  Some RVers just point their RV and stop when it does – others like us prefer to prepare for what’s ahead.


     Those searching for warm weather should try to stay below the horizontal plane of Orlando, Florida – east to west. Many places above or near this line can be quite cool in January and February – depending on the elevation, the low temp levels vary. Frequently over the winter in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, we put up with 2-3 chilly weeks. Those venturing to beach areas such a South Padre Island, TX, should be aware the wind may be fierce in the valley as well as in other snowbird destinations – blowing sand is not beneficial to RV paint surfaces.  Winter 2008/09 wind was not a huge problem.  The incredible white sugar sandy beaches on the Florida Pan Handle are a joy to visit – in November or in March.  This area too can be cold quite cold during January and February.  San Antonio, Texas, Branson, MO and many other hotspots are quite hypnotic in the late fall and early spring; but very cold during mid winter months.  It is much the same in the southwest – if warm weather is important find a spot as far south as you can go.


     RVers leaving or arriving in Canada during cold winter climate will find a number of campgrounds en route closed for the season. No real problem because Truck Stops such as Flying J  (w/separate RV parking in front of restaurant), TA Truckstops of America and many others welcome RVers to rest overnight.  Most Wal*Mart’s (stores are listed in back of a W*M Atlas) plus some Cracker Barrel Restaurants also allow ‘sleep stops’.  Other than at a Truck Stop it’s wise to always ask permission, because some county bylaws prohibit overnight RV parking. NEVER ‘set-up camp’ with chairs, BBQ and unnecessary slides etc., nor should you stay for extended days. Reference security – ALWAYS park with your door facing the cameras and the people – not the grassy area. NOTE: We place the ‘FOB – w/alarm’ from our car keys along with our cell phone by our bed for emergency contact. 


    It’s never a smart idea to overnight at quiet peaceful remote highway rest area. They are not the safest place to sleep. One other point all RVers should be aware of – to run your furnace, you do need to be plugged into a receptacle or run a generator.  If not, the blower will deplete your batteries. During cold climates some RVers pull into a hotel/motel parking lot – usually for a small fee hotels/motels will allow you to plug into the car electric boxes. 


     Every RVer should carry one of several available 4” International Campground Directories such as Woodall’s or Trailer Life, plus the Explorer RV Campground Directory as well as local state and provincial directories available from Tourist Bureaus. These pinpoint large, small, popular, out of the way and/or little known campgrounds.  They’re easy to read – we only update ours every couple of years.

      Look for a winter getaway in a specific state or area – with features that appeal to your desires. Remember you are shopping from a distance, so ask many questions. If you find a campground you think you may like to stay at, request they send you a promo package.  While talking to tourism of any state, be sure to ask for a travel guide, a map and camping info. Also inquire about National Parks, State Parks and BML (most BML are no cost/low cost dry-camping areas w/o hook-ups). Economical annual permits are available for extended stays.


    All RVers should join one or more RV Clubs such as the Canada’s Explorer RV Club, FMCA (motorhomes only), Good Sam, Escapees, plus others. Take part in their annual Rallies/Conventions and sit in on the informative seminars. Discount Clubs like Passport America (join through Explorer RV Club)-50%, Happy Camper-50%, Recreation USA 10% and/or 25%, etc. help to stretch your camping dollars. FYI most member parks do have blackout time periods when they do not honour discounts. However by staying more than 4-nights per year, discounts earned will cover your annual dues’ – camping savings begin with future stops. Information gleaned from RV Club magazines and the fellowship gained by attending Club Rallies or joining Chapters is what makes this lifestyle so enjoyable.






     John and I recently discovered the wonders of CASINO CAMPING HOT SPOTS.  Many Casinos offer discounts to members of various RV Clubs – parks are beautiful complete with every amenity as well as easy access by foot or by shuttle transport to the Casinos. RV Park rates are very reasonable. Those who don’t wish to be in the RV Park can also overnight in the parking lot.  Several books are published highlighting Casino locations in the USA.  If travelling in Canada, Google ‘Casino locations for a specific province’ and contact the individual casino for their overnight RV parking procedures.


     SUN RV RESORTS  PARKS - are located in south Florida (8) and south Texas (3).  For  winter of 2010/11 they offer very economical monthly rates  (except Feb) of $189 + $60-$100 resort fee – which covers hydro costs.  Check their website for details. These are great parks and a perfect spot to spend a week or a month while you look around. 


     John and I do not travel with a GPS – we have been doing this for so long that old habits take a long time to change.  However a few years ago we discovered the trip planning site of  This easy to use website provides an individual ‘TripTic’ with distances in miles and/or km plus step by step directions to your destination.  Route is more accurate if you request short distances – such as a normal day’s drive from Ottawa to Trenton – rather than a complex route from Vancouver to Toronto or Ontario to Florida etc.

   Now its time to pack your RV and head out to have some fun. Most of all, travel safe and stay away from those ‘Gaters (shredded tires)’ and ‘Orange Barrels (construction)’. It is time to enjoy this Freedom Lifestyle as a Snowbird. P&J


 Additional Links to this story

USA Guidelines for minors

Passport  800-567-6868 / 819-997-8338

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)  CONTACT: (West) 1-888-732-6222 or 1-604-666-9240; (Central) 1-800-835-4486 or 1-416-661-3039; (East) 1-877-493-0468 or 1-514-493-0468.

USA Customs - 

All about Residency and Med Insurance

Pet Travel story\TraveltoUSA-pettravel.htm


Flying J Truck Stops 1 800 438 3537

Sun RV Resorts. –

Excellent Planning Tool –

Links to Discount Camping Clubs –  






 Additional Contact RECAP As of Sep 2010


General Canada Info - who to contact -1 800 OCANADA.

Canada Tourism/Customs - 1 204 983 3500


The Passport Canada website  or call (800)-567-6868 or (819)-997-8338 answers many Frequently Asked Questions.

USA Customs Website

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)  controls imports of animal hides, insects, hunting trophies, live birds, fruit, vegetables and live plants. All such items MUST be declared when entering Canada. Call - Central (800)-835-4486 (1-416-661-3039); Western (888)-732-6222 (1-604-666-9240); Eastern (877)-493-0468 (1-514-493-0468). 


NOTE: Government Phone numbers and websites constantly change – these were correct at publication.

Meat allowed changes by the season...

Pet food may also be questioned because of the ingredients referred to as 'by-products'. So do not stock up on a winter supply 

NOTE:  I was told that  Unopened packages or cans of Pet Food clearly marked 'MADE IN USA' will probably be OK & NOT be confiscated.

As usual fresh produce especially CITRUS may not be allowed and/or confiscated.



As a result we always travel with no meat of ANY kind in our freezer,  Our first stop in the USA is a grocery store. We do have some USA canned food and some American packaged frozen meals for emergencies.

 IF YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC QUESTION IT IS WISE TO MAKE A CALL TO THE NUMBERS ABOVE and maybe to the border you plan to cross at.

There is a chain of command at the border. If you feel you have been mistreated ask how to access the second and third level of authority. Completion of the entire process could continue after you leave. 

Another option if you have valuables you don't wish to leave inside, why not pack them in a small case; ask if you can take them out of the RV with you --- of course officials will want to inspect them as well HOWEVER This is a bit unusual so you may wish to clear it with the border officials where you plan to cross before you take this step

It is not necessary to list all items in your RV (although it is a good idea for insurance purposes) but if you have expensive 'toys'---(cameras, jewelry, computers etc.) on board you can stop at customs and register them with a customs wallet card. OR another option is to carry the original bill of sale on board to prove you had them before you crossed the border.

There is also a limit to the dollar amount of gifts ($60.00 Cdn) you are taking across the border, but this too can change often.  Although gifts sent to the USA (less than $60.00 Cdn) do not count against your allotments -- gifts carried across do count.

Buying products at border duty free shops allow duty-free purchases within the allotment.  Overages will be charged duties and taxes.  

Emergency maintenance is not usually assessed duty or taxes; but extra maintenance may be; although one replacement tire is considered an emergency --- replacing all four may not qualify.  Keep your maintenance receipts to show to the official at the border.  We were asked to pay tax for a replacement fridge but never emergency repairs, even expensive ones but we always report them along with receipts.

NOTE: If you every have a question you can call the border centre of your planned crossing and  ask for an explanation. Ask if the official will share his badge number (some will share it and some will not) for verification later in case there is a discrepancy of what you were told.












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Vehicle Insurances

Of course it is common knowledge that no one should drive without Insurance on your vehicle.

A Canadian Drivers license is accepted as legal in the USA  as is your Canadian Insurance.  The reverse is also true for USA visitors

Every driver should also subscribe to ERS (Emergency Road Service). If you have an RV, be certain to subscribe to one that services RV's.  Your policy should include unlimited calls; unlimited miles for transport to service for your unit; and most of all two trucks if possible. Leaving your towable unit unprotected on the side of the road while your tow vehicle gets service is not a good idea. The cost of one service call from recovering keys locked inside the car; or to replace a tire or to be towed to service will more than pay for your policy.  All you do is sign and drive with these policies and they generally cover travels in USA and Canada.  Most provide emergency service for two motorized and one towable unit, coverage for extra vehicles is generally available.

Be certain to include contents insurance on your unit.  The 10% vacation coverage by your home owners policy is OK during your travels, but if you leave your unit on vacation someplace while you return home, your unit is not covered.  

Last point is --- if you must store your unit while you return home, search for a park with a secure storage facility.  This way park staff can look after your unit when you are not there.  Early in our travels (we were still working) John and I made the mistake of storing our unit in a private storage area while we returned to Canada.  Since no one was looking after it in our absence when we returned three months later, all appliances had been removed during a prolonged robbery. The 'invaders' knew we were away plus security - we felt it was an inside job,  For certain a busy park setting would have been more secure .  Take care and Happy Travels.

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RV WebLinks  Updated May 2014: Meet Your Hosts;   Getting Started;  Articles;  

Destinations-(Canada, Mexico, USA);     

Many Recent Updates - Advice and How To;

 Book Nook;  (As of Oct 10) RV Shows;   Travel to Canada: 

Travel to USA; (Oct 10);   Q&A;   Contact UsSite ContentsGallery

Picasa Web Albums