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Moving to Canada With U-Haul U-Box

I share useful tips and tricks I've stumbled across to help save time and money, especially when you're moving.

Shipping moving boxes across Canada

Shipping moving boxes across Canada

U-Haul's U-Box

Those who have seen my other articles on U-Box will know I move around quite a bit and generally found U-Haul’s U-Box to be a great solution.

In 2009, my fiancee and I moved from Pittsburgh to St. Louis. This was our first experience with U-Box, and we were quite impressed with them. In 2011, we moved from St. Louis to Boulder and decided to use U-Box again. We ran into a few wrinkles along the way, but overall I was still left with a positive impression. I decided that the folks at the local U-Haul locations were great, and the folks in U-Haul Central were generally clueless.

Fast forward to 2012. This past August, we moved to Canada for my fiancee’s PhD program. This was our third move in three years, and the convenience of U-Box was just too good to pass up. We likely would have saved some money had we rented a trailer and hauled everything ourselves, but with the prospect of being stuck going 55 mph for over 2,000 miles, not to mention the added stress of dealing with a trailer in general, we decided the extra cost was worth the convenience.

However, despite my mostly glowing reviews in the past, this experience was, at best, an exercise in patience. At worst, it was just plain trying, and I kept getting the impression that U-Haul didn’t really know what they were doing.

An Important Tip

Create a "Goods to Follow" list of everything in your U-Box and get it stamped at customs when you enter Canada. You will need this later in order to receive your box.

Getting the U-Box and Entering Canada

Things started out very smoothly. At the end of July, my fiancee and I went down to the Boulder U-Haul to set up our reservation since I’ve had issues with their online reservation system in the past.

They dropped our box off Saturday morning, and we finished loading it that day. They even provided us with free moving pads, which we put to good use (the pads just need to be clean and accounted for when returning the box, or they charge $6 each).

As we loaded our box, we also created our goods to follow list, which is necessary for bringing your belongings into Canada duty-free. It’s basically an itemized list of everything that’s in the box and the estimated value. You don’t need to list every single object-- “5 boxes of clothes,” “3 boxes of books,” etc. is sufficient. Large and/or expensive items should be itemized; however, electronics should include a serial number.

When we finished, we had some difficulty contacting U-Haul to pick up the box due to the Boulder U-Haul being extremely busy. They eventually picked it up without issue after we were already on the road. We also discovered they forgot to charge us for the delivery and trailer, which was a nice surprise.

On the morning of our third day of driving, we entered Canada. We lucked out and were the only ones in the immigration office at the time, so our paperwork was processed quickly. My fiancee received his study permit, and I received my work permit. Lastly, we presented our goods to follow list. The border agent looked it over, gave us an E460 form since we’re temporary residents, and stamped everything with her seal of approval.

Customs Paperwork and Getting the U-Box Shipped

In retrospect, I wish I had started the shipping process as soon as we arrived at our destination. However, we weren’t able to move into the apartment we found until September 1st, and given that this was only the beginning of August, I figured we had some time.

So on August 10th, I called up U-Haul to find out what needed to happen to ship our box to Canada. After getting transferred a couple of times, the U-Box Office sent a message to the Boulder U-Haul with instructions to call me back.

I ended up missing the call from Boulder U-Haul, but the assistant manager also sent me an email with the information I needed, which quite impressed me. In order to ship my box to Canada, I needed to do two things:

  1. Email the assistant manager with a copy of my driver’s license and proof that I’m allowed to be in Canada (in my case, a copy of my work visa and passport)
  2. Contact U-Haul’s regional office to fill out the appropriate customs paperwork.

I tried calling the number he provided to reach the regional office, but several unreturned messages later, I decided this was not the right number. I called up U-Haul’s 1-800 number again, and several transfers later, I finally got in touch with a “U-Box One Way Coordinator”. She emailed me a customs form called a “Personal Effects Accounting Document” to fill out and email back.

U-Haul's Customs Form

Fill out whatever forms U-Haul tells you to, however they tell you to. Its just more red tape on their end. The only forms that are actually important are the ones you received from customs when you crossed the border.

Under the “Description of Goods” section, I put “same as E460” rather than listing everything again. However, under the section “Classification Type”, I was given four choices for specifying my residency status: Former Resident, Beneficiary, Seasonal Resident, and Settler. As a temporary resident on a 4-year work visa, I called up the U-Box Coordinator again to find out what I should select. She wasn’t sure and suggested I contact customs.

So I called the customs office in Trenton and explained the situation. It turns out that the form U-Haul provided was not the right form for me as a temporary resident. It also turns out U-Haul is not supposed to be handing out those forms anyway. They are only supposed to be filled out at the border by a customs agent.

Since U-Haul seemed insistent that I fill this form out, the customs officer suggested I just leave the “Classification Type” section blank. She also said when I go to clear the box with customs after it entered Canada, to just bring my stamped E460, and I would be fine.

Not wanting to leave the form blank, the U-Box Coordinator eventually had me check the box “Seasonal Resident” and add a note that I’m on a 4-year work permit. I finally emailed this to the U-Haul Coordinator as well as the manager and assistant manager at Boulder U-Haul, along with a scan of my driver’s license, passport, work visa, and stamped E460 form plus goods to follow list.

On August 14th, the U-Box Coordinator confirmed the paperwork was complete, and I assumed everything was good to go.

On August 17th, I wondered when the box would ship, so I emailed the U-Box Coordinator and U-Haul Boulder Manager/Assistant Manager asking for an update.

Bringing Food Into Canada

It is legal to bring food into Canada for personal use. It may seem like they have a ton of restrictions, but really they just want to make sure you aren't bringing in any diseases, pests, or invasive species.

If you want to play it safe, you can certainly exclude any food items from your U-Box. If you do decide to bring in food items, make sure you declare them by listing them explicitly on your Goods to Follow list and any other form customs give you.

We brought in some dry pasta, flour, brownie mix, tea/coffee, some spices, and a few canned goods. Customs never raised an eyebrow, neither when we entered Canada nor later when I cleared our U-Box with them.

On August 20th, I received this cryptic email from the manager of the Boulder U-Haul. It appeared to be an internal email he forwarded from the U-Box Coordinator without any further explanation or context:

The customs form is missing her residency status chosen. Please ask her to correct and choose one of the boxes. If none apply please ask that she write this information and explain her status. Also the inventory list still shows the food items. have these been removed from the box? We are unable to ship until this has been done and we have received corrected paperwork.

Regarding the paperwork issue, I was quite sure I filled out the residency status as the U-Box Coordinator instructed and emailed it along with everything else. In any case, it was simple enough to resend.

But the food items? This had me extremely distressed. First of all, this was the very first time I had heard of any restriction of the sort. Not to mention the food items had already been cleared through customs on our goods to follow list without issue. Second of all, given that we were now in Canada and our box was still in Colorado, it wouldn’t be exactly easy to remove them.

Fortunately, I have family in Boulder, so I called up my dad to see if he could go talk to someone at the Boulder U-Haul face-to-face. He also suggested I send all parties involved an email asking for clarification on the issue, which I did.

He called me back later that afternoon after talking directly to the U-Haul Boulder Manager. It turns out, as of that morning, everything with the box was fine and good to go. My dad’s impression was that, while it is legal to bring food into Canada for personal use, it is not legal to do so for commercial use. As a result, some companies will not ship any food to Canada, so he guessed the problem was that U-Haul needed to find a different shipper. As for my email, I never received a response.

On August 22nd, I again started wondering when the box would ship and gave U-Haul another call. I spoke to a representative at the U-Box central office, and she explained it can take several days to work out the schedule and shipping route. Fair enough, given that this was going to Canada, so I tried to be patient.

On August 23rd, I received a call from someone from U-Haul confirming my delivery address. I asked her when the box would ship, and she informed me that the estimated delivery date was September 4th. Great!

On August 24th, I received a call from the U-Haul Boulder Assistant Manager to go over the shipping costs. I was pleased to hear that the shipping cost matches what the online quoting system gave me, even though I didn’t use it to make a reservation. He also promptly fixed a billing issue where I was being charged a late fee on the U-Box rent, yet never received the initial bill, and was also getting doubly charged for insurance. Points for customer service there. As this was a Friday, he told me the box should ship on Monday the 27th. Again, great. At this point, I was happy.

Clearing the U-Box With Customs

On August 31st, I received an automated email saying my box had shipped. I was a little worried, since I was told it should have shipped the 27th, but hoped their system was just slow.

But sure enough, September 5th rolled around, and no box. I called up U-Haul again and they confirmed it shipped the 31st and had the new delivery date of September 11th. No one could tell me why it was delayed, since the only information they had were the notes entered into my account. Aggravating, but not much I could do at that point.

On September 12th, I finally received an email from my U-Box Coordinator from earlier that said my U-Box had arrived at the bonded warehouse. At this stage, the box would be held at the bonded warehouse until I showed up with my customs paperwork and cleared everything with customs. The email provided a contact at the warehouse, so I called him up. I asked him about my U-Box and he had no idea what was talking about.

I called up my U-Box Coordinator and told her what happened. After investigating, she emailed me back, explaining that the driver completely missed the warehouse and had to turn around. The box was now due to arrive late that evening.

On September 13th, I called up the bonded warehouse again figuring the box should be in. It had indeed arrived, but the contact at the warehouse informed me that U-Haul had lost the customs paperwork, so he could neither accept nor release the shipment. He also seemed quite concerned with the significant costs involved with him receiving this unexpected shipment.

I sent another email to my U-Haul Coordinator. She quickly wrote back that U-Haul will take care of all these costs, so I don’t have to worry there. The driver was also working out the issue with the paperwork and she would let me know when the issue was resolved.

The Bonded Warehouse

After your U-Box enters Canada, it will be held at a "bonded warehouse" within 50 miles of your delivery address. Once it arrives, you will have around 24-48 hours to arrive at the warehouse with your immigration documents and clear everything with customs (after that, they start charging you $150 a day). Once your box has cleared, notify U-Haul and they will arrange for your box to be delivered to the final U-Haul location.

On September 14th, I finally received an email that I could go clear the box at the bonded warehouse (a different warehouse this time--I have to wonder what happened at the first one). I called up the new contact and was pleased to find he knew exactly what was talking about, so I informed him I’d be right over.

When I arrived at the office, he photocopied my passport, work visa, and stamped E460 list and faxed it along with the shipping paperwork to customs in Trenton. About 15 minutes later, customs called us back and asked me some basic clarification questions (yes, the contents belong to both my fiancee and I, we’ll be here four years, no we don’t have any weapons, etc…). He also faxed me another form, a simple check list (asking if I have any weapons, animal products, or other questionable items). The warehouse worker faxed it back for me, and a few minutes later, customs sent over the final form with their stamp of approval.

As soon as I got home I called up my U-Box Coordinator to tell her everything was cleared and good to go. She said she would try to get the box delivered to the Kingston U-Haul that afternoon instead of Monday, which would have been great. But while I’m sure she did try, for whatever reason the box didn’t make it the Kingston U-Haul until Monday the 17th.

Final Delivery of the U-Box

Finally, on the afternoon of September 17th, I called up the Kingston U-Haul and was happy to hear they finally had the box. Thinking this ordeal was finally over, I asked how soon they could deliver. But the stars had aligned against me because the manager was out of town for a meeting, and they couldn’t deliver the box without him. Apparently, there must be two people at the U-Haul office at all times for safety reasons, and without the manager, they were only two.

At last, on September 19th, the manager called me as soon as he got in and set up delivery for that afternoon. After over a month, my fiancee and I finally received our furniture, and we lived happily ever after—at least for the next four years until we moved again.

Though after this experience, we will seriously be considering alternative options next time. After three moves in as many years, selling everything off, so we don’t have to lug it around anymore is looking better and better.

Final Thoughts

My impression throughout all my experiences with U-Haul is that the employees are actually quite helpful, despite issues with U-Haul’s organization. Even with all the problems with my latest move, I still found that to be true.

The Assistant Manager at the Boulder U-Haul fixed my billing issue with hardly two words from me. And despite some lack of communication early on, my U-Box Coordinator was prompt in responding to my emails about the delivery issues. Even the representatives at the U-Box office, while they could only tell me what was written in my account, seemed very understanding when I told them my situation.

On the other hand, though, at times, this made my situation all the more aggravating. I really wanted to yell at someone about all these problems, yet no one I spoke to was directly related to the issue. When talking to someone who can only relay information, yelling at them certainly isn’t going to help any (and as a relayer of information myself at work, I know what it’s like to have an unhappy customer on the line).

But rest assured, after this fiasco, I will definitely be writing to U-Haul customer service. They seriously need to get their act together.