Can I pick up and deliver a load in the US as a Canadian Driver?

cabotage rules for truckers

Ever hear that question?  I have, it is actually quite common as carriers look for ways to increase revenue and freight heading north of the border often slacks off leaving carriers scrambling for work.   Here is the scenario, a dispatcher looks at the load boards and sees some pretty tempting high paying loads but it is point to point in the US, they do think about bidding on it because it looks so tempting.  Yet, should they?  Is it legal?  What might happen if the driver is caught?  Are there any rules?    Yes there are rules, you’re talking about Cabotage Rules. The legal issue is about immigration and where your legally allowed to work  and a customs related one in regards to the vehicle.

Normally a Canadian can only run US-CAD or CAD-US as this is not deemed “working” in the United States. (Same rules apply for our American friends up here in Canada).   The rules do allow some movement of equipment like empty trailers or bob tailing tractors within the country to pick up another load, but when all is said and done you are only able to move goods within the stream of international trade.


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If as a Canadian you’re not legally allowed to work in the United States and you do get caught inter-stating you will likely be deported, truck, trailer and cargo seized, and never be allowed to return to the United States again. US Immigration is pretty strict on this.


Basic Cabotage Rules are:

  •   The goods must be entering or leaving the United States, and remain in the stream of international commerce.
  •   Cargo that has its origin and final destination within the United States generally moves in the stream of domestic, rather that international commerce. The mere fact that goods originate from a foreign source does not make such goods “foreign” for purposes of immigration laws. The goods must remain in the international stream of commerce – once they have come to rest they assume a domestic character.
  •   A driver bringing goods from Canada or Mexico may transport those goods to one or several locations in the United States, and may pick up goods from one or several U.S. locations for delivery to Canada or Mexico, but the driver may not load, haul, or deliver a cargo that is both picked up and dropped off at a destination within the United States.
  •   The entry of the driver must be for the purpose of an international movement of goods.
  •   Drivers may not engage in any activity that qualifies as local labor for hire.
  •   The burden of proof remains with the driver to establish eligibility for entry.

Should you inter-state?  No.  Yes I know of carriers who have done it for “years” and never had a problem, yes they went through scales all the time doing it.  The problem is the guy at the scale more than likely doesn’t care all that much.  This is not to say the next scale enforcement officer won’t.  Every officer you meet along the way can report you to US Immigration for breaking Immigration Law, including Border Guards.

I also know of drivers who were caught, arrested and can never visit Disney Land again because of it.

US Cabotage Rules

Canadian Cabotage Rules

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