Guide to Cross Border Shopping for Canadians

Niagara Falls & Buffalo USA

For many of us living in the Greater Toronto Area taking a short drive to the border in search of bargains is quite common. For me, I have to admit I make my way across several times a year. I’ve been asked by many what the big deal is? Where do you go? How can you stand waiting at the border? I’ve heard it all. But for me getting across the border is not as challenging because I know where to cross. So for those of you who want it, here is a cross-border shopping guide just for you!

Cross border shopping tips canada gateway Niagara falls

Cross Border Shopping Tips for Canadians

Stopping Along the Way to the Border

My favourite stop between Toronto and Niagara Falls is the Gateway Niagara Information Centre located off the QEW exit 74 Grimsby (Casablanca Blvd). Casablanca Avenue is kind of easy to remember and the centre has everything you need Washrooms and Tim Hortons! The Tim Hortons & Washrooms are open 24 hours per day except on Christmas Day. There are also some other fast food restaurants open between 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM.

This Gateway Niagara is a great place to stop to assess the border wait times at each of the Buffalo/Niagara Falls border crossings.

Border Crossing Tips

Travel from GTA to Niagara Falls/Buffalo New York

Most cross-border bargain hunters go from the Greater Toronto area across the QEW to Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. However, I prefer to plan my trips to totally avoid this bridge. Queenston-Lewiston’s Border crossing is one of the most commonly used because of its direct access to the Fashion Outlet Mall on Military Drive. The line-up at this border can start up very early in the morning and have you waiting over an hour to cross the border. The interesting part about this border being the most popular is that it is the smallest of the three border crossings you can choose from. So I just don’t get why more people haven’t figured out the other two bridges are worth the try!


Check the BorderTimes App on your iPhone or at the Canada Border Services Agency website

Before you get to the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge exit on the QEW, you may want to check the wait times at the border. For iPhone users, you can do this through the BorderTimes app available on iTunes, for all others try finding them at the Canada Border Services Agency.

Get a Nexus Card

I have to say that if you travel to the US a few times a year – either for cross-border shopping or any other trip – GET A NEXUS CARD! It is $50 for five years, and once you get through the pre-screening process, you can whiz through security checkouts and use the Nexus lanes at the border crossings. The catch is – EVERY person in the car must have a Nexus to use the designated lanes. Having my Nexus card has made things easier and saved me lots of time – however, it is important as a Nexus card holder not to lie (see below) about your purchases when passing through. It’s about the honour system when you are a Nexus holder – you have to claim your purchases every time, but it will save you time getting through security lines at border crossings and especially at Pearson Airport.

A Word to the Wise – The Facts About the Three Buffalo/Niagara Border Crossings

The Queenston-Lewiston Bridge has the least amount of lanes of the three bridges. If you have your heart set on starting your day at the Fashion Outlets and then making your way to Boulevard Mall or Walden Galleria, then you may want to hit the Rainbow Bridge in Downtown Niagara Falls as it will be faster than Queenston. On your way home if you are ending in the Walden Galleria area head for the Fort Erie Peace Bridge and avoid the traffic back to the Queenston and Rainbow bridges which tend to get busier at the end of the day. As you can see below the other two bridges are much better equipped at handling tourist volume than Queenston.

Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, Queenston, ON/Lewiston, NY

  • No Pedestrian Crossing
  • Number of Customs inspection lanes
  • Into the U.S., seven car lanes. Four truck lanes.
  • Into Canada, six car lanes. Three truck lanes.
  • Tour bus lanes are designated.
  • Duty-Free Shop on site

Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls, ON/Niagara Falls, NY

  • Bike and Pedestrian Crossing Permitted.
  • No commercial trucks
  • Number of Customs inspection lanes
  • Eighteen car lanes into the U.S.
  • Fifteen car lanes into Canada.
  • Tour bus lanes are designated.
  • Duty-Free Shop on site

Peace Bridge, Fort Erie, ON/Buffalo, NY

  • Bike and Pedestrian Crossing Permitted.
  • Into the U.S, Eleven car lanes. Seven Truck Lanes.
  • Into Canada, Fifteen car lanes. Five Commercial lanes.
  • Tour bus lanes are designated.
  • Duty-Free Shop on Site.

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Cross Border Shopping for Canadians Guide – Buffalo/Niagara Falls NY

Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls

Open daily Monday through Saturday 10 am to 9 pm and Sunday 11 am to 6 pm.
Open Easter Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.
Closed on Thanksgiving Day
Closed on Christmas Day
Hours may vary on holidays

Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls is just minutes from the Falls, International Bridges and Casinos. Take I -190 North to Exit 22 south then make a left onto Factory Outlet Boulevard. Popular Outlets to note Coach Factory Outlet, Cole Haan Outlet, Burberry Outlet, Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall’s, Lindt Chocolate and much more. Visit their website here for all the information.

For more details about other stores in the Fashion, Outlet Mall Area visits our post : More Cross-Border Shopping Tips for Canadians – Fashion Outlets Area

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Walden Galleria Mall

HoursMon-Sat | 10am – 9:30pm, Sunday | 10am – 7pm

Walden Galleria is easy to reach from all directions.

  • Peace Bridge – Rt.190 S to N.Y.S. Thruway East (I-90E), Exit 52E (Walden Avenue)
  • Rainbow Bridge – Rt. 190 S across Grand Island bridges, to Rt.290 E, to N.Y.S. Thruway West (I-90W), Exit 52 W – Follow Galleria Drive
  • Lewiston-Queenston – Rt.190 S, past Niagara Falls area, across Grand Island bridges, to Rt. 290 E, to N.Y.S. Thruway West (i-90W), Exit 52 W – Follow Galleria Drive

Walden is not an outlet mall but a popular one due to its size and the following stores and restaurants. Cheesecake Factory, Macy’s, JC Penny, Lord & Taylor, American Eagle Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret and more. Visit the mall’s website for details.

For more information about Walden Galleria mall visit our post: Cross Border Shopping Tips for Canadians – Walden Galleria Mall, Buffalo

Boulevard Mall Area - Trader Joes shopping store nearby

Buffalo’s Boulevard Mall

Monday-Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., *Boulevard Mall is closed Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving & Christmas (UNLIKE the WALDEN AND FASHION OUTLETS which are open on Easter Sunday.)

Located at the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard (US Route 62) and Maple Road in Amherst, New York. Take Interstate 190 to Interstate 290 East, Exit on Niagara Falls Boulevard South, travel 1 mile to the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Maple Road

The appeal of this mall is not its size or the dining and shopping options, but its location. If you don’t want the crowds and chaos of the massive Walden Galleria, this is a smaller mall with similar stores. It is also located on Niagara Falls Boulevard close to the Niagara Consumers Square (which is like a Canadian Smart Centre type outdoor mall). You will find some cross-border shopping favourites like TJ Maxx, Dots, Target, Walmart, and Wegmans.

If you are in the Boulevard Mall area be sure to check out: Is it Really the Best Donut? A Road Trip to Paula’s Donuts in Buffalo

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Buffalo’s Elmwood Village

If you’d like a more scenic shopping experience that is not a huge U.s. Mall but a quaint shopping village you may want to swing by the Elmwood Village a charming community like shopping experience similar to St. Jacobs in Ontario. Small shops and boutiques line the street and every Saturday from 8:00 am – 1:00 pm there is a Farmer’s Market.

An in-depth look at all the great Cross Border Shopping spots for Canadians in the Niagara Falls, Buffalo New York area.

Off the Beaten Path Cross Border Shopping in the Buffalo Area

City of Buffalo New York Amazes with A Growing Buzz of Change

Escape Your Cross Border Shopping Routine with Village Shops in Buffalo

Williamsville Village New York Another Cross Border Shopping Destination

East Aurora Village – Escape Your Familiar Buffalo New York Shopping Spots

Where to Stay – Dream Travel Approved Hotels

I have stayed at some hotels in the Buffalo Niagara area. Located in downtown Buffalo which is a 15-minute drive from Walden Galleria.

Hotel Review: Lofts on Pearl, Buffalo NY

Hotel Review: Embassy Suites Buffalo, New York

Hotel Review: Courtyard by Marriott A Digital Hook Up in Buffalo’s Canalside

If you would like a more rustic getaway, I highly recommend the Roycroft Inn. Located about a 30-minute drive outside of Buffalo, next to the cute little town of East Aurora, New York, this is a lovely little shopping village with cafes, bakeries, fashion, antique shopping and more.

Hotel Review: Roycroft Inn, East Aurora NY a Historic Charming Treasure!

Other Things to Do in Buffalo

An Entertainment Getaway in Buffalo New York

Is it Really the Best Donut? A Road Trip to Paula’s Donuts in Buffalo

The Artistic Side of Buffalo a Tour of the Burchfield Penney Art Center

Fun with Trains at The Buffalo History Museum

Buffalo Bites Food Tour – Taste the Flavours of Elmwood Village

Snow Day in Buffalo! An Affordable and Fun Girls Getaway!

Crossing the Border Home to Canada

How much can I bring back with me? Personal Spending Limits. –Updated to 2012 numbers

Good news for Canadians as the limits are changing as of June 1, 2012.

Outside Canada for 48 Hours or More

  • up to CAN$800 worth of goods
  • 1.5 litres of wine or 1.14 litres of liquor or 1.14 litres of wine and liquor, or 24 cans or bottles of beer
  • 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or cigarillos, 200 grammes of manufactured tobacco and 200 tobacco sticks

Outside Canada for 24 Hours or More

  • up to CAN$200 worth of goods
  • tobacco or alcohol cannot be claimed in this exemption

Less than 24 hours

  • You do not qualify for an exemption and must pay taxes and duties on all of your purchases.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA Exemption)

Don’t get excited this means that goods made in Canada, U.S. or Mexico are subject only to HST. If you exceed your personal spending limit as outlined above you are subject to paying HST on your purchases. But beware. Just because you are buying it in the states doesn’t mean it was made there. For clothes imported from China or elsewhere you may be subject to a duty of 18 percent in addition to the HST charges. This depends of course if the customs officer is a total jackass. Most of the time if you exceed your limits you will pay HST – groceries are usually exempt in my experience.

Lying at Your Risk

There was one time I crossed the border to get an iPhone with my brother before they were available in Canada. We crossed spent the $400 bucks and crossed back. Thankfully we chose, to be honest, claiming our purchase. I mean we were across the border for literally an hour it looked a bit suspicious already. We were told to park to the left at the Customs office and take a yellow slip inside. They took our driver’s licenses and typed in the info and then we were sent to a cashier where we paid the HST.

Upon leaving, we still had our yellow slips (an important point because if they take your sheet, you are free and clear) as we were heading back to our car one of the customs agents said can I see your slip, and we said sure, and she asked us to open the trunk. The two apple bags were resting comfortably in my empty trunk; she took the slip after rummaging through the bags and sent us on our way.

The car next to us was a mom, with three screaming kids getting yelled at but a customs officer as to where the receipt was for an item he was waving in front of her. There were like six customs officers digging through her trunk, under the spare tire, in the car, under the seats any crevice, they could find. She was totally busted!

I realise now that they bust you after you go into the office and make your payment. They catch you in the lie! Personally, I have always just told the truth and let fate or the customs person make the decision whether to tax me or not. Sometimes you get away with a big purchase sometimes you don’t it is all part of the cross-border shopping experience.

What happens if you get caught?

Well, your purchases may be confiscated, and you may have to pay a fine to get the goods back. You may also face prosecution and worse off the border security has the right to seize your car and fine you to get it back. Worse yet, you will be entered into the Canada Border Services Agency system which will black flag you for up to six years. Crossing the border may never be the same for you again!

Happy cross-border shopping Canada!

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