Just about any good may be imported into Canada by anyone, subject to compliance with certain conditions imposed by the federal and, sometimes, provincial government(s). The people who actually enforce all these conditions at the border are the Border Service Officers. However, they will not be able to give you specific information until you tell them what kind of things you wish to import, and from what country. Here is an idea of the kind of conditions we are referring to:

  • is the article prohibited entry into Canada? This covers a narrow range of goods prohibited under annex VII of the Customs Tariff, e.g. hate literature and pornography. It also covers goods that we in Global Affairs Canada keep out pursuant to international sanctions.
  • is the article allowed in only under the authority of an import permit? That is also when Global Affairs Canada comes in: by virtue of the Export and Import Permits Act, we control imports of textiles and clothing, steel, wheat, barley and their products, supply-managed farm products (dairy, chicken, eggs, turkey), firearms and suchlike, and a few miscellaneous items. These are all found on the Import Control List.
  • is the article subject to some other federally-imposed condition? For example, goods for retail sale have to comply with labeling laws; motor vehicles have to meet emission control standards; food and agricultural products have to pass the necessary health and sanitary checks. Customs can usually advise you on this, but you can refer to the useful telephone numbers list below.
  • is the article subject to some privately-certified standard? For example, all electrical appliances and equipment must be certified by a recognized certification body before they can be sold in Canada. Consult the list of certification bodies accredited by the Standards Council of Canada and consult the Canada Border Services Agency web site or contact Code Authorities in Canada to establish whether your product is subject to testing or certification requirements in Canada.
  • is there a provincial rule to comply with? For example, imports of liquor, wine, and beer require prior authorization from the appropriate liquor commission before Customs will clear them.
  • most goods imported are subject to customs duties (imposed under the Customs Tariff) and the GST; both these are collected by Customs at the time of importation and levied on the landed value of the goods. Customs also collect anti-dumping and countervailing duties on a few goods that have been found to be sold under unfair conditions.

As for how to go about importing, you will need to inform yourself about a great many things: how to make contacts abroad, how to assess the merchandise, how to negotiate delivery and payment contracts, how to make payments abroad, how to get the freight shipped, how to clear Customs, how to store the goods, how to distribute them in Canada, how to deal with defective or sub-standard goods, how to get payments from clients in Canada…

Some of these questions are standard to all small businesses, and the Entrepreneurship Centre can probably help you. Some exploratory calls to customs brokers or freight forwarders will amply repay your time and effort. We expect the Canadian Importers’ Association can also help you find your way.

Like anyone setting up a new business, you will find that there are quite a few ropes to be learned. We hope this material will at least point you in the right way. We wish you success in your endeavors.

The trade offices abroad of Global Affairs Canada might be able to offer you some support in making contacts. The local embassies or consulates of the countries from which you might be importing should also be consulted for list of suppliers.

  • The Government of Canada is geared towards helping importers and industry in general. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) deals with importers across the whole range of imported goods.
  • In order to import commercial goods into Canada, it is recommended that you register with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to obtain a business number.