Taking computer equipment into Canada

It looks like I will be going to Canada for a somewhat extended time (flying in). I wanted to bring my personal laptop and external hard drive into the country. Someone was telling me that the customs officials had the right to seize my property and inspect my computer. I planned to bring my external hard drive with MP3s and movies, etc. Is this likely to be a problem? How likely is it that they carry me in a room with my laptop and make a copy of my hard drive or external hard drive?

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that they have the right to ship me and my laptop to Guantanamo if they don’t like my haircut, but how likely are they to go sniffing around my computer for illegal MP3s and illegal movies (copyright movies - but not illegal as in child pornography - FYI)

I could always attempt to encrypt this information, but if they did go looking this would make me even more suspicious plus not to mention encrypting 130+ gigs of music and movies won’t be easy.

Can anyone share their experiences? I would really like to have access to music and movies while away, but I certainly don’t want these guys sniffing around my computer trying to find terrorist junk only to find my hidden porn stash :).

Both my husband and I have crossed the border dozens of times in the last few years, and I’ve known tons of people who travel constantly in and out of Canada for business with all of their electronic equipment. I’ve never heard of ANYONE going through this, nor have I witnessed any customs officer even asking anyone around me (I confess - I’m nosy. I tend to eavesdrop while in line at customs) Typically at least half of the people travelling around me have laptops - there’s no way that Canada Customs even remotely has the manpower for taking people into a separate room to peruse computer contents.

Seriously, don’t even think twice about it. You should be as worried about them checking it as you would about your local cops randomly pulling you over to peek at your files!

And by the way, what part of Canada? Have you ever been? Hope you have a great time!

Thanks for that JimmyFlair. It is actually for work and I am going near the Montreal area. It’s my first time out of the US so I am pretty excited.

The thing was that my company won’t allow me to take my work computer out of the country so I was going to have to bum one from the company while I am there. And that’s no problem because they have all the software I need. But I am going to want to use the computer for personal things, too like email message boards, music, etc. I would have no access other than the company in Montreal’s computers and I wouldn’t feel comfortable using theirs for this purpose.

Unless they suspect you’ve got kiddie porn on there I can’t imagine them even looking.

Assuming you have no convictions for anything of that nature, and no convictions of any felonies, you should have no problem.

As JimmyFlair mentioned, the really don’t have the manpower to go through every computer that comes into the country.

Okay, great. I should be fine. I am not felon, and I don’t have any past convictions. I just have never traveled outside the US, and I didn’t know what they may do.

It’s not Canada that ships people off to Guantanamo Bay.

Seriously, I’ve heard of laptop confiscation and cellphone snooping only with respect to entering the States. If Canadian border authorities are doing this, I’d really like to know.

Well, there certainly have been cases of people arrested at the boarder because they had child porn pictures on their hard drive. Cite.

Be careful, that’s all. Your computer may be checked. I imagine this is true in most democratic societies though.

Oh, maybe I was confused. I assumed it would be US officials checking me out before I crossed into the Canadian border. Unless Canadian officials are present at every airport that has planes that fly into Canada.

This is the story they were talking about. It’s not just laptops, but anything that may contain electronic data, and would be upon returning to the US, and done by US Homeland Security.

That’s really interesting. I am going to research this go some more. That article makes it sound like he was completely selected at random. If they are doing that, then I certainly won’t risk bringing my external drive (it has over 30k MP3s). But what are they going to do if you are caught with MP3 anyway? Call the RIAA? I mean, child pornography is certainly a step up from copyright material so if they found his stuff they would certainly report him. But some guy with music and videos? I don’t know that they would care. But then again, this is business and it would be terribly embarrassing to go through this in front of coworkers on a new project.

I don’t think anything of any copyright status would be questioned. We’re only now coming to grips with file sharing laws in Canada. And besides, legally if you own the original you are allowed to own a copy. Just don’t have any child porn. Apart from that, you should be perfectly OK.

And yes. Random checks are exactly how these things are uncovered.

Ah, they do. They are called Canada Border Services Agency.

Source: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications/pub/rc4161-eng.html#P003

Source: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications/pub/rc4161-eng.html#P005

Source: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications/pub/rc4161-eng.html#P014

Layman interpretation - If you inform Canadian authorities, or they find out on their own, the computer belongs to your employer and/or you are using it for business purposes, you may have to pay duty on it. If you don’t inform them and they find out on their own, good luck.

Never, ever assume that border authorities of any country would not care about anything and everything you bring into their country. You are a prospective guest and you must play by their rules. The onus is upon you to know the rules before you ever enter their country.

Whoa. Wait a second. Laptops are transported over the boarder by just about all business folks these days. There’s absolutely no checking regarding the personal transportation of said hardware. Been there: Done that. Just watch out for whatever is on your hard drive, etc. That’s what you need to be concerned about. Don’t sweat the hardware.

True enough; I had a grapefruit confiscated a couple of years ago at the border. I wouldn’t worry about the computer, either, though; we go across the border and back every year with a laptop, digital camera, cellphones, etc, and they never even ask us about these things. This year was the most extensive search we’ve had - we had to open our trunk and they looked in it. Course, we always drive over; flying could be different.

One of the worst things about the US Homeland Security’s new policy (per the link I provided above) is that if they want, they can keep your laptop, Blackberry, portable hard drive, whatever, for days if they think it’s necessary. So it’s not just “take it in the back room and make a copy” if they get the idea that it requires more analysis. I suspect that anything encrypted (whether for business purposes to keep a lost laptop from turning up company secrets and/or being a nice resource for identity thieves, or for your own purposes at hiding your porn/your bombmaking tips) would really get their attention in this fashion.

Slight correction on this particular interpretation - the key word in that phrase is “import”. That means that duty is only applicable if the goods in question are being brought in from abroad for the purposes of business (ie. they are not personal gifts) and will be remaining in Canada.

So, for example, if the OP was bringing in some laptops to be used by the Canadian office, duty would be chargeable, since those are goods which are being imported to Canada and which will be used in a trade. However, if the laptop is returning with the OP at the end of his stay, then duty is not chargeable.

I’m working on a project with a dozen US-based consultants who are flying in and out with their work laptops/Blackberries/PDAs/etc etc on a regular basis, and we’ve yet to see any of them get slapped with duty for their equipment.

A few years ago, I drove into Canada heading for a meeting in Toronto. The border guard asked me what I had with me other than my personal clothing. I replied that I had my personal computer with me. My lord, you would think that was a new-fangled term I used right there.

Him: Your what?
Me: You know - my personal computer - my PC
Him: You have a computer with you?
Me: Yes - my notebook PC
Him: Oh. OK.

<whew> I thought my car was going to get strip searched for a minute there.

Since then, my answer to that question has been “no”.

I think a lot of people still consider PC/personal computer to be a desktop computer, rather than a notebook/laptop. I’d be confused too, if someone told me they were traveling with their “personal computer”!

To the OP: Since you are flying into Montreal, you will be facing Canadian customs once you get to the airport in Montreal. You won’t have to go through customs in the US, but you will go through security at your departure airport, and that would be the TSA, not any Canadian officials involved at all. You don’t go through security in Montreal on arrival; just go through customs, pick up your bags, and walk on out.

When you leave Montreal, you will go through airport security, which would be Canadian Air Transport Security Authority agents, and then, since you are going to the US, you will go through US customs. Montreal-Dorval airport has American custom agents on-site for pre-clearance, and these are TSA employees. The good thing about this is that once you land in the US, you can just grab your bags and go!

Enjoy your trip!

About fifteen years ago, I worked for a company that was exhibiting at a trade show in Toronto. Part of the exhibit included a desktop computer and monitor. In order to import it from the US, I had to get clearance from someone at Ontario Hydro.

Well, the nice Canadian Customs officer will hand you a card to present to the security folks upon leaving the secure area. On that card will be a coded message as to whether or not you’ve been selected, by choice or by random, to have your belongings gone through.

Somehow when I was younger I seemed to always be the randomly selected one: not so much now. About 5 years ago driving from Vermont to Quebec I got the royal treatment though. They didn’t search my computer, but did make me power it up for them. PITA experience.