Cross Border Shopping from Toronto: Buffalo, Erie, Rochester

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Eastview Mall in Rochester is a popular destination for cross border shopping, photo Matthew D. Wilson
Eastview Mall in Rochester, photo Matthew D. Wilson

Cross border shopping has been a favourite pastime of Torontonians for decades! I remember crossing the border to shop with my office colleagues in Niagara Falls, New York over two decades ago. We were in the U.S. for only three hours and each of us did a bit of shopping, but none of us declared any of our purchases. The border agent became suspicious and asked us to pop open the trunk where he discovered a full set of Mikasa dishes, a raincoat, a frying pan and a set of baseball cards. The agent overlooked most of our purchases as they were minimal, but ordered the person who had bought the set of dishes to pay duty on them. Things have changed in 20 years, but you still don’t want to mess with border agents.

Eastview Mall in Rochester is a popular destination for cross border shopping, photo Matthew D. Wilson
Eastview Mall in Rochester, photo Matthew D. Wilson

Each State Charges Different Sales Tax

The Canadian dollar has been hovering around .75 USD for the past year. This doesn’t make it very advantageous for Canadians when you are paying in US dollars, but the allure of shopping in the U.S. easily overrides that. There is so much more selection to choose from and if you shop carefully, you will score some great deals, even when you factor in the exchange rate. You also want to take into account how much sales tax you will pay in the U.S. The sales tax on clothing and shoes varies from state to state. In Pennsylvania, the 6% sales tax is exempt on most clothing and footwear while New York’s state tax is 4% sales tax and city or county tax is an additional 4%. In Michigan, the sales tax is 6%.


Convert Your Money in Canada

Before you visit the U.S., convert your money in Canada to U.S. dollars. You’ll be able to shop around for the most competitive rates in Toronto either at your bank or at smaller foreign exchange services, which tend to offer more attractive rates than banks.

Use Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fees

If you are going to use a credit card instead of cash, try and use a credit card with no foreign transactions fees. Many Canadian credit cards charge a foreign exchange rate of  2%-3.5% in addition to a foreign transaction fee of approximately 2.5%.

Let’s have a look at some popular shopping malls in the U.S. that are relatively close to the Canadian border and within 2-6 hours of Toronto.

Walden Galleria, Cheektowaga, NY

The Walden Galleria is a really popular shopping mall with Torontonians since it is located in nearby Buffalo, NY. The over 180 stores include Macy’s, JCPenney, Michael Kors, Williams-Sonoma, Hugo BOSS, Anthropologie, J.Crew, Free People, Vans, ZARA. There’s an indoor karting track, a movie complex, and various restaurants including The Cheesecake Factory and Tim Horton’s. Walden Galleria is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Toronto.

Eastview Mall, Rochester, NY

Although many Torontonians head to Buffalo for cross border shopping, the Eastview Mall in Rochester NY, is another viable option. Rochester is 123 kilometres or about a 70-minute drive from Buffalo. You’ll find stores including Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, J.Crew, L.L. Bean, Target, Best Buy, Von Maur, Apple, JCPenney, Anthropologie, Sephora and Williams-Sonoma. You can travel to Rochester via the Thousand Islands Bridge or cross at Niagara Falls.


Millcreek Mall, Erie, PA

Millcreek Mall is located in Erie, Pennsylvania, which is 90 minutes (148 kilometres) west of Buffalo, New York. With approximately 180 stores including Macy’s, JCPenney’s, T.J. Maxx, DSW, Boscov’s and Pandora, this mall features mid-scale stores for family shopping. The kids can also enjoy the entertainment section of the mall that feature bowling and other games. Be sure to drop by the Customer Service booth to pick up a coupon for an extra 10% off. Keep in mind also that you won’t pay sales tax on clothing in Pennsylvania and footwear.

Great Lakes Crossing, Auburn Hills, MI

The largest outlet mall in Michigan, Great Lakes Crossing is located in Auburn Hills, a suburb of Detroit. Great Lakes Crossing includes regular and outlets stores such as Aldo Outlet, Aldo, Banana Republic, Banana Republic Factory Store, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Burlington, Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Company Store, Clarks Bostonian Outlet, Coach, Coach Factory, Columbia Factory Store, DKNY, Gap Outlet, Guess Factory Store, Hugo Boss, Hugo Boss Factory Store, J. Crew, J. Crew Factory, Kate Spade, Kate Spade New York Outlet, Michael Kors, Michael Kors Outlet, Naturalizer Outlet, Nike Factory Store, Skechers Outlet, Swarovski, Talbots Outlet, T.J. Maxx, True Religion Outlet, Vans, as well as movie theatres and a play area with a carousel and Legoland.

Twelve Oaks Mall, Novi, MI

Twelve Oaks Malls is a popular Michigan mall for cross border shopping. Located in Novi, Michigan, just 30 minutes (46 kilometres) from Detroit, this shopping mall features over 180 upscale stores including Nordstrom, Macy’s, Coach, Michael Kors, Williams-Sonoma, Pandora, Kate Spade, Vera Bradley, BCBGMAXAZRIA, Swarovski and Sephora. Sales tax in Michigan is 6%.

How Much Can Canadians Bring Back from the U.S.?

If you visit the U.S. for cross border shopping and stay for less than 24 hours, you cannot claim any of your purchases. That means you’ll have to pay duty on the goods you have purchased in the U.S. when you cross the border back into Canada. If your stay is between 24 and 48 hours, you can claim CAN $200 worth of exemptions, and after 48 hours you can claim CAN $800 worth of exemptions. Be sure to keep all of your receipts. If you exceed your exemption, you will have to pay HST of 13% on all your purchases.

You might be interested in reading, “5 Tips for Saving Money When Visiting Niagara Falls“.

 

25 COMMENTS

  1. I love this, but the other way! I visited a college friend in Lackawanna years ago, and I loved crossing the border to spend the day in the Eaton Centre in Toronto! Is it still there? There are some items not available in the states, and that is what I prefer!

    • You don’t have to pay duty on purchases $200 and under if you stay for more than 24 hours, but yet it would be great if we didn’t have to declare them at all! Cheers, Lori

  2. I”m actually traveling to Canada for my first time and this is some great information. I’m suffering from the fear of the unknown lol.

  3. About 10 years ago we took a vacation to Niagara Falls and came back to the US on Canada Day. We couldn’t believe how many Canadians were leaving, but I think many of them were probably coming into the US to go shopping. We always drive by Walden Galleria when we go to visit my inlaws and one of these days I’m going to stop and shop there.

  4. That sounds like a lot of fun! I’m right in the middle of the United States, so I haven’t been able to do any border shopping. It’s good to know all of the laws though for those who do! Thanks for sharing.

  5. My brother lives in Canada with his family and we’re planning to visit them soon. I had no idea about those so thank you for sharing all the info.

  6. Really interesting read. I’ve never lived by a border so this is “border-shopping” culture is quite fascinating. I once crossed the border from Canada to the US by car and you are right, you don’t mess with the border agents!

  7. We can see the US border from our driveway, so we cross a lot. We have Nexus so we can cross without any delay. It’s worth it for us to cross even just to buy gas.

  8. I used to live in Seattle and many residents crossed Canada to shop. I’ve never done this, it sounds like a great idea.

  9. Cross shopping sounds really fun! We did cross-driving there before way back in year 2000 – went to Niagara Falls, then to Buffalo, NY and then to Toronto to watch the Phantom of the Opera- all in one day! I had a blast! 🙂

  10. It is great that you wrote about this topic. No trip is ever complete without shopping and at least now I know what to expect when it comes to paying sales tax and when you are required to pay duty tax. I will have to remember that.

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