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What US Truckers Need to Know about Driving in Canada

Jan 24, 2018
Truckers in the Pacific Northwest can expect to be called on to drive into Canada or Mexico. The proximity of Canada to much of the US indicates frequent border crossings are possible, and truckers willing to make those crossings will find they have a way to enhance their income. Your CDL driving school may have covered some of the key aspects of border crossings. But that information may have been from a few years ago--so this article will cover some of the current key points.

Key points on US/Canada Trucking

  • The United States and Canada are major trading partners within the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 2016, $544.0 billion in freight was carried to and from Canada, and trucks carried 60.1% of that freight.
  • Vehicles and parts are the single largest commodity carried by truck across the US/Canada border in 2016--in both directions.
  • Even a single DUI can be a bar to your entry into Canada, although there are some ways to work around this requirement.
  • Do not attempt to bring a firearm into Canada, especially handguns--that’s a general rule. While it’s not a blanket prohibition, it’s a better policy just to not try.
  • Make sure you know well ahead of time who your customs broker will be, and make sure you are in contact with them. Check with them at least two hours before you reach the border to make sure all paperwork is in order.
To enter Canada, you will need to be working with a Canadian customs broker.


Willingness to travel long-haul generally means that a trucker will make more money. Willingness to cross the border into Canada can cement your reputation as a willing trucker. If you can obtain a FAST pass, you will save time--and therefore money--at the border. FAST North Cards speed the process of crossing both the US/Canadian and US/Mexican borders (note that FAST South does not help at the Canadian border). Most dedicated FAST lanes are in New York, Michigan, and Washington State--which is convenient for truckers in the Pacific Northwest. As long as every link in the supply chain is certified under the Customs Trade Partnership against Terrorism, the processing of your cargo at the border will go more quickly. Membership in the partnership means the entity is considered low risk. They implement security measures to ensure the security of the cargo. Enrollment in the FAST pass program is done on-line, and a requires a fee of $50. As you work through CDL driving school in Tacoma, you can check on FAST Pass inclusion in your hiring by a company--maybe even add it to your interview.

Commercial Driver Registration Program

The CDRP program is a Canadian program also designed to speed low-risk carriers and drivers across the border. Canadian citizens and permanent residents are eligible, as are those from the US as long as they meet visitor requirements.

If you are a registered driver working for an approved carrier, you may be able to clearing CSA-eligible goods quickly--as long as importer, carrier, and driver have been preapproved.

CSA (the Customs Self-Assessment Program) in Canada streamlines the process.

Carriers must meet a number of qualifications. A central qualification is the dispatch system--the carrier must own and control their own dispatch system, and can demonstrate they track and record all details of each shipment.

Drivers must, of course, comply with all laws and carry all personal identification required. You may only have registered drivers in the vehicle with you. Non-registered passengers will delay your border crossing.

Drivers entering Canada may bring personal items with them. These items are subject to the following restrictions:

  • Declare all goods, including those purchased at a duty-free shop..
  • Do not import controlled, restricted, or prohibited animals, plants, or goods.
  • Follow the limits for alcohol and tobacco.
  • Do not bring in controlled, restricted, or prohibited weapons--firearms included.

CDRP clearance can also be part of your hiring process. Talk with your placement people at your CDL driving school in Washington State.

Firearms and crossing the border

The easy answers is--don’t try. Canadian law is very strict on firearms. Many truckers will reasonable carry a handgun with them for safety purposes, but even the most responsible of gun owners must be careful when crossing the border.

One of the biggest causes of trouble happens when people forget they have a gun in the truck. We get so used to things that we forget they are there. Failing to declare a firearm will land you in a pot of hot water. Be aware of all things while driving, including the fact that there’s a gun on board.

If you do try to bring firearms in, limit the number to three. Complete the non-resident firearm declaration form, and pay the $25 fee when you first cross the border.

Note that handguns are considered “restricted firearms”. To bring a restricted firearm into Canada, you will need to obtain an Authorization to Transport a handgun from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. To do so as a non-resident with the non-resident declaration form, you will need to call 1-800-731-4000 to obtain the ATT.


If you will be crossing into Canada frequently, you can apply for a Possession and Acquisition License. This license lasts for five years. To obtain a PAL, you will also need

The process from start to finish seems to take around 3 months.

Canadian Hours of Service

The regulations for hours of service for truckers in Canada are different than in the US. You will need to be aware of both sets of regulations to drive safely and legally in Canada. Different rules apply north of latitude 60° North (in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut).

The Canadian hours of service are:

  • No more than 13 hours of driving in a day, and no driving after 14 hours of on-duty time in a day.
  • The driver must have an off-duty period of 8 consecutive hours before driving again, either after the 13 hour driving-day or the 14 hour on-duty time.
  • No more than 16 hours may pass between the end of one 8-hour off-duty time and the beginning of the next 8-hour off-duty time.
  • Drivers must take at least 10 hours of off-duty time during a day, include the consecutive 8 hour period.
  • Other daily off-duty time may be taken in blocks of 30 minutes, and at least 2 hours may not form part of the 8-hour period required.
  • Up to 2 hours of daily off-duty time may be deferred to the following day, provided at least 20 hours are taken over the two days, the time is not part of the mandatory 8-hour periods, the total driving time is not 26 hours over two days, and the deferral is noted in the log.
  • There are some detailed instructions for splitting time in a truck with a sleeper berth or when part of a team of drivers--see sections 18 and 19.

Driving Cycles

In Canada, carriers are allowed to select one of two driving cycles. Work with your carrier to determine the best one for you and your shipment. Both cycles require 24 consecutive hours of off-duty time every 14 days, subject to resetting the cycle.

  • Cycle 1--the driver may be on duty no more than 70 hours during a period of 7 days.
  • Cycle 2--the driver may be on duty no more than 120 hours during a period of 14 days, and no more than 70 hours of on-duty time without 24 consecutive hours off.
  • Resetting Cycle 1--the driver may end a cycle with 36 consecutive hours of off-duty time.
  • Resetting Cycle 2--the driver may end a cycle with at least 72 consecutive hours of off-duty time.

Wrapping Things Up

Driving in Canada is pretty much like driving in the US. Apply all the skills and knowledge you learned at your CDL driving school in Washington, and you’ll be fine.

This guide should help you brush-up on what you need to know to make sure you drive successfully on Canadian highways. Being open to crossing the border will enhance your career and your income.