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Starting an Import Business

What You Need to Know About Importing Into Canada

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How to Start a Business in Canada

Importing to Canada

Image (c) DC Productions / Getty Images

You've been on a buying trip and collected unique items that you want to sell in Canada. Or, without even leaving your desk, you've discovered a more inexpensive source of supplies for your business out of the country. Starting an import business is the next logical step.

This "mini-guide" to importing into Canada will get you started.

1) If you don't already have a business, you will need to start a business before you can start importing into Canada. See:

2) Get a business number.

A business number registers you for an import/export tax account with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Do I Need a Business Number? tells how to get one.

While you are registering for a business number for an import/export account, you should also register for your GST, corporate income tax and payroll tax accounts if you need them. (You will definitely need to register for the GST as well as for importing/exporting. GST (6%) is payable on most goods at the time of importation.)

3) Get the information you need about the goods you're going to import.

Besides having an accurate description of the goods you plan to import, you also need to be sure that they can even be imported into Canada. This Step-by-Step Guide to Importing from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) gives details on how to find out if the goods you want to import are prohibited or restricted.

4) Calculate how much duty and tax you will have to pay.

To do this, you need to know:

  • the tariff classification;
  • applicable tariff treatment;
  • rates of duty; and
  • tax payable when importing goods.

The tariff classification is a ten digit number used to determine the rate of duty payable when importing. You can find both the tariff classification number and the rate of duty by consulting the Customs Tariff.

The "tax payable when importing goods" refers to GST, excise tax and excise duty (which may or may not apply to the goods you wish to import).

The Step-by-Step Guide to Importing from the Canada Border Services Agency gives details on all of these and an example of how to calculate duties and taxes.

5) Get a Customs Broker.

While this step is entirely optional, many small businesses find it convenient to hire a customs broker to facilitate the import process. A customs broker will obtain and prepare the customs release documents needed by the CBSA, arrange payment of customs duties and taxes, obtain the release of imported goods and generally make it easier to navigate the customs maze.

6) Place your order with your chosen exporter (also known as the shipper or vendor).

Besides shipping the goods, the exporter is responsible for getting the documentation together for sending the goods to Canada:

  • Packing list - Prepared by the exporter, this describes the goods in detail.
  • Bill of Lading - Issued by the exporter to a carrier, this describes the goods to be shipped, acknowledges their receipt and sets out the contract for the goods' transport.
  • Commercial Invoice - The document from which you pay the exporter.
  • Canada Customs Invoice - A document used to declare your good to Customs when importing into Canada (Sample Canada Customs Invoice)
  • Certificates of Origin if necessary - These verify where various materials and parts originated and are necessary for goods eligible for favourable tariff treatment under particular trade agreements.

These documents are given to the carrier. Note that if the value of your shipment is less than $1600 CAN, you don’t need a separate Canada Customs Invoice as well as a Commercial Invoice – as long as your Commercial Invoice has all the necessary details for declaring your good to Customs.

You will also want to be sure that your chosen exporter is able to comply with the requirements for the Marking of Imported Goods and Canada's Labeling Requirements (Canada Competition Bureau).

7) Choose a carrier to transport your goods.

The carrier is responsible for preparing a Cargo Control Document. This document (also known as a manifest or waybill) is prepared from the exporter’s Bill of Lading and is used to report the shipment to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Cargo may also be reported through the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system.

If the value of your shipment is less than $1600 CAN, you will be notified by Canada Post or by the courier company that has forwarded the shipment when your shipment arrives.

If the value of your shipment is over $1600 CAN, you will be notifed by your carrier, by the CBSA, or by courier company.

The CBSA may choose to inspect your shipment.

8) Obtain the release of your goods.

To get your goods released, you can either present a full accounting and pay all duties or get your goods released prior to the payment of duties.

Presenting a full accounting means to have all your paperwork present and in good order. The B3-3 Canada Customs Coding Form is the main accounting document you need to fill out. For instructions, see the CBSA's Importing Commercial Goods Into Canada - How to complete Form B3 when importing commercial goods (RC4229).

You will also need:

  • Two copies of the Cargo Control Document (CCD), which will be provided by your carrier.
  • Two copies of the Canada Customs Invoice (or the commercial invoice that contains the data).
  • A paper copy of all import permits, certificates, licenses, or required documents from other government departments and agencies or an electronic copy for EDI participants with other government departments.

For more information on how to get your goods released prior to the payment of duties, see the CBSA's Memorandum D17-1-5: Section 2 – Release.

So there you have it. You've successfully imported your goods into Canada and are ready to get your new import business up and running!

You will find more information on importing on this website in the Importing section.

For more information on starting a business, visit the Starting a Small Business section.

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