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Canada vs. Mexico Cross-Border: 5 Differences Shippers Need to Know

The U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders are two of the busiest land crossings in the world, with over 63,000 trucks crossing those borders every day.

Whether a truck is hauling freight over the U.S.'s northern or southern border, the shipping process is fairly similar:

  • All goods are subject to the same trade agreement (USMCA)
  • The freight will have to clear customs and border patrol
  • Shipments require careful coordination between shippers, freight providers and customs brokers

But it isn't exactly the same.

There are a few key differences every cross-border shipper should know.

5 Differences Between Canada & Mexico Cross-Border Shipping

1. The Mexico carrier market is twice as fragmented as Canada’s.

Mexico sits at the crossroads of two continents, which has encouraged the development of a robust transportation and logistics industry.

But, similar to the U.S. truckload market, the Mexico market is highly fragmented — there are about 178,000 for-hire carriers in Mexico, and over 80% of Mexican carriers operate fleets of one to five trucks.

By comparison, Canada has about 88,000 trucking companies.

Though it's still fragmented, the Canadian truckload market is more manageable for U.S. shippers to navigate, especially since the language and cultural barriers are lower, and the level of technology is generally higher.

The cross-border Mexico market is especially difficult to navigate, as there are multiple drivers and often multiple carriers involved in a single border crossing.

Related: How to Choose a Cross-border Mexico Freight Provider


2. Almost all shipments crossing the Canada-U.S. border are through-trailer.

When importing to or exporting from Mexico, transloading — where freight is transferred from one trailer to another at the border — is a common practice.

With cross-border Canada, transloading is very rare; most shipments are through-trailer, where freight stays on the same trailer the entire time.

Why is that? 

At the Mexico-U.S. Border

To haul freight in the U.S., a Mexican driver needs a B-1 visa.

A vast majority of Mexican carriers do not have B-1 drivers. Because of this, a U.S.-based carrier will usually do the actual border crossing.

While many Mexico trucking companies have a partner organization in the U.S. which allows for through-trailer service, it isn't enough capacity to move all that freight across the border.  

Though transloading adds some logistical complexity to a shipment, it does open up a lot more capacity options. 

At the Canada-U.S. Border

Though they do need special licensing, Canadian drivers do not need a B-1 visa. Compared to Mexican drivers, it is easier for them gain access to pick up and deliver cross-border freight in the U.S. 

As such, a vast majority of cross-border Canada shipments are not only through-trailer, but hauled by the same driver. 

Typically, more drivers (and carriers) are involved in a Mexico cross-border shipment.

Canada: 1 driver
Mexico: 3 drivers


3. Carriers do not carry cargo insurance in Mexico.

Despite the high incidence of cargo theft, Mexican carriers are not required by law to carry cargo insurance, and the vast majority do not.

There’s little incentive for carriers to buy insurance because they are liable for a very small amount regardless of the cargo’s value, if a shipment is stolen or damaged.

Canada is a different ballgame.

Canada-domiciled carriers, much like U.S. carriers, are required to have minimum limits of third party liability and cargo insurance.

Related: Learn how to avoid the 5 risks of shipping in Mexico


4. Clearing Canadian customs is a smoother process. 

Customs clearance is an unavoidable part of international shipping.

Compared to Canada, the process in Mexico is more complex for a few reasons.

  • There are often more manual tasks and physical paperwork, as the level of technology and internet connectivity is lower.
  • The language barrier is more significant. 
  • There needs to be a Mexico and U.S. customs broker (for Canada, only the importing side needs a broker).
  • There are more drivers, and often more carriers, involved. 
5. Crossing the Mexico-U.S. border usually takes longer. 

An average Mexico-U.S. border crossing typically takes two to three hours, but can go up to five or more depending on traffic.

At the Canada-U.S. border, it is usually less than an hour. Why is that? 

We have already covered how multiple drivers (and sometimes trailers) will move a shipment over the Mexico-U.S. border, but there are a few other reasons the process takes longer.

There are less crossing locations. 

The Canadian border is much longer (look at a map). There are 76 border-crossing points, compared with 22 on the southern border.

There is more cross-border traffic. 

Of the 63,000 trucks that cross in or out of the U.S. every day, 55% of them go over the Mexico-U.S. border.

There is more congestion at the busiest border crossing.

The border crossing in Laredo, Texas, is the busiest in North America. More than 4.6 million trucks crossed at that point of entry last year — 36% of all truck traffic.

Comparatively, the busiest port of entry between Canada and the U.S.  is Detroit, Michigan, with about 2.7 million truck crossings last year, or 25% of all truck traffic. 


Cover Both Borders with Coyote

Shipping freight across borders can be complicated. The best way to make it easier? Working with an experienced, reliable cross-border provider.

No matter where you're shipping in North America, or what borders you're crossing, Coyote can help.

Whether you're shipping full truckload, intermodal or LTL, you can trust our expertise and coverage.

Learn more about our cross-border capabilities