More than $1 billion in goods passes between Alaska and Canada annually. That includes: 

$596 million

in goods exported to Canada from Alaska

$753 million

in goods imported to Alaska from Canada

If you’re planning to join this critical flow of cross-border commerce, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of moving freight between Alaska and Canada.

Logistically, both regions experience similar challenges: harsh winters and isolated regions with less-developed infrastructure. Additionally, moving freight between Alaska and Canada involves crossing an international border, which comes with its own set of paperwork and procedures.

We’ll show you how to navigate all of these issues to make your next shipment a simple and easy one.

In This Article

How Does Freight Move Between Canada and Alaska?

  • Air Freight
  • Over-the-Road Freight/Trucking
  • Ocean Freight & Intermodal Freight

Cross-Border Shipping Considerations

  • Customs Brokers
  • Cross-Border Documentation

Key Considerations for Shipping Freight Between Canada and Alaska

  • Packaging
  • Paperwork Errors
  • Import Restrictions

How Does Freight Move Between Canada and Alaska?

You’ll have a couple of options for moving cargo between Alaska and Canada. Which mode you choose will depend on the type of freight you’re moving, your budget, your desired timeline, the origin point, and the destination of your freight.

Air Freight

For high-value, time-sensitive shipments between Canada and Alaska, air freight is the best option. Although it can be one of the more expensive modes of transportation, it’s also the fastest.

Additionally, if you need to move freight to the areas of Alaska that aren’t accessible by road, air freight may be your only choice for at least one leg of the journey.

Over-the-Road Freight/Trucking

Even though 82% of Alaska’s communities are not accessible by road, trucking remains a vital logistics mode in Alaska. In fact, 27% of all imported and exported commodities in Alaska move by truck. That statistic jumps to 46.4% when just considering domestic freight, revealing the critical role trucking plays in Alaska.

Over-the-road freight between Canada and Alaska moves over the ALCAN Highway, which officially starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

A variety of Alaska trucking services are available for Alaska–Canada freight, including:

  • FTL (full-truckload) service
  • LTL (less-than-truckload) service
  • Temperature-controlled service
  • Specialized transportation options via flatbed, step-decks, and more

Alaska-Canada Freight Tip: The ALCAN runs through the upper reaches of British Columbia and then passes through the Yukon into Alaska. Severe weather in these areas can significantly alter transit times. If you’re moving freight over the road, be prepared to be flexible, especially in the winter months.

Ocean Freight & Intermodal Freight

A significant amount of freight in Alaska moves by multiple modes, and shipments between Canada and Alaska are no different. Depending on your specific origin and destination points, ocean freight and rail freight are also possibilities for moving Alaska-Canada cargo.

Cross-Border Shipping Considerations: Documentation and More

All of the goods that travel between Canada and the U.S. move under the watchful eyes of two agencies:

Each agency has its own system for reporting arrival of and clearing freight into the country:

  • The CBSA uses its Pre-Arrival Review System (PARS) to allow shippers—or anyone acting on their behalf—to submit their freight documentation prior to its arrival in Canada to improve efficiency at border crossings.
  • CBP uses a similar system called PAPS—Pre-Arrival Processing System, which has similar functionality and goals to those of PARS.

To get a general sense of how these systems facilitate border-crossings, take a look at this sample timeline for a cross-border shipment:

  • The shipper gathers all the documentation needed for the shipment. (More on this topic below!)
  • If using a customs broker, the shipper will notify the broker of their intent to ship freight across the border and provide the broker with the necessary documentation.
  • Once all parties are ready, the carrier takes possession of the freight.
  • Once the carrier knows the timing of the freight’s arrival at the border crossing, they communicate that information to the shipper/customs broker, who enters the appropriate information in PARS/PAPS.
  • When the freight arrives at the border, the carrier reports arrival at the appropriate office.
  • CBSA/CBP agents review the information in PARS/PAPS and the shipment is either cleared or held for inspection.
  • Once the shipment is cleared, the carrier or forwarder will continue moving the shipment to its final destination.

Customs Brokers

When you’re moving goods between Alaska and Canada, hiring a customs broker for Alaska-Canada freight shipments isn’t legally required. You can choose to wade through the CBSA/CBP regulations and requirements yourself.

However, hiring a customs broker will save you a significant amount of time—and hassle. A good customs broker will help you gather the necessary paperwork, double-check it for accuracy, and submit it on your behalf. Any errors in your submissions, including tiny typos, can mean border delays. Rather than risking your cargo’s timeline, it makes sense to trust it to a professional.

Your customs broker can also keep you up to date on any changing regulations and recommend systems to improve efficiencies where border-crossings are related.

Selecting Your Customs Broker

  • If you choose to hire a customs broker to assist with sending freight to Canada, that broker needs to be based in Canada. The opposite is also true: If you want help sending freight into the U.S., you’ll need a customs broker based in the U.S. Some customs brokers employ teams that work on both sides of the border. If you’re moving freight in both directions, it can pay to choose a firm with this capability.
  • Ask your freight forwarder or carrier for a recommendation. They often keep a list of trusted partners they’ve worked with in the past.
  • CBP and the CBSA also maintain lists of permitted/licensed customs brokers. (That said, in our experience, a referral can help you find the right broker faster!)
  • Make sure you leave enough lead time to get a customs broker up to speed. Don’t expect to contact a new customs broker on a Monday and send your shipment on Wednesday. Instead, start the process of working with a new customs broker as soon as possible. Once you’ve established a relationship, ask how much lead time they need. Trying to rush the process can lead to errors or timing issues at the border.

Cross-Border Documentation

Every shipment that crosses the U.S.–Canada border must be accompanied by the proper paperwork. A customs broker can tell you exactly what paperwork you’ll need for each shipment you send. (Another perk of hiring a customs broker, rather than doing it on your own!)

Just to give you an idea of the type of paperwork Alaska-Canada freight can require, shipments must include:

  1. A Bill of Lading – Generally provided by your carrier or freight forwarder. A bill of lading includes all the details of the shipment, including what goods are being moved, the identity of the shipper, and the contact information for the consignee (the party that will receive the shipment).
  2. A Certificate of Origin – Required of all shipments in excess of $2,500 USD and used to calculate any potential duties.
  3. A Customs Invoice/Canada Customs Invoice – Details the transaction between the exporter and the importer, including information such as the selling price, total weight, and commodity types.

Additional documentation may be required, depending on the type of freight you’re shipping.

Read more on the CBSA website or the CBP website—or talk to your customs broker.

Key Considerations for Shipping Freight Between Canada and Alaska

Finally, let’s cover three common stumbling points that importers/exporters may encounter while moving freight between Alaska and Canada—so you can avoid them, too!

Think Through Your Packaging

Freight moving between Alaska and Canada can travel thousands of miles before reaching its final destination. If your cargo moves through several different modes of transportation, it will get loaded and unloaded several times before reaching its destination.

Strong packaging is essential for Canada-Alaska freight. Palletize or crate your freight wherever possible to protect it for the journey. This is especially important for LTL freight, which is subject to more handling. By investing time and energy in proper packaging, you’ll ensure your freight arrives at its destination in perfect condition.

Check Your Paperwork Carefully

Paperwork errors are one of the most common reasons that shipments get held at the border between Canada and the U.S. If your bill of lading and your commercial invoice don’t match, for example, your shipment may get pulled over for further inspection.

Your customs broker will help to spot errors before they get entered in PAPS/PARS. However, it’s a good idea to do your part, too, by reviewing all your paperwork carefully before you pass it to your customs broker.

Be Aware of Import Restrictions

Both Canada and the U.S. maintain lists of items restricted from import into their respective countries. Make sure you review these prohibited and restricted items before planning your shipment:

If you have any questions, this is another area in which your customs broker can be absolutely invaluable. They can help you research any commodities you’re considering importing/exporting to ensure they comply with current customs regulations.

Simple & Easy Canada–Alaska Freight Shipments

Extreme weather, isolated origin and destination points, and customs issues can all potentially make a Canada–Alaska freight shipment a little tricky. However, with the right knowledge—and the right experts by your side—your next shipment between Alaska and Canada can be both simple and stress-free.

Looking for a partner for your next freight shipment between Alaska and Canada? We’ve moved freight all over Alaska—and all over the world. We’d be happy to add ease to your next cargo shipment. Just reach out to get started, and one of our experts will be in touch.

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