The import market is fiercely competitive, and to win, you have to play by the rules. In 2023 alone, Canada processed 19.9 million imported goods and 107.7 million courier shipments – by September. And because so many imported goods are processed, the Canadian government has mandated a whole series of regulations.

Canadian customs regulations achieve several goals: they protect the country’s economic interests by applying duties and taxes to ensure fair competition, safeguard public health and safety by limiting or prohibiting certain imports, and ensure environmental protection by restricting harmful goods. These regulations also help importers clear customs smoothly, avoiding delays, fines, and other business-breaking penalties.


Key Customs Regulations You Need to Know

In Canada, the importer is responsible for reporting and accounting for its imported goods to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and making sure they comply with the following regulatory requirements.

Restricted and Prohibited Goods

The importation of certain goods, such as firearms, plants, animals, and certain food products like produce and nuts, is subject to restrictions in Canada.

Other goods cannot be imported into Canada at all. These include:

  • Hazardous waste and certain chemicals
  • Products made from endangered species
  • Obscene materials
  • Counterfeits
  • Goods produced by forced labor
  • Used mattresses and certain used vehicles
  • White phosphorus matches
  • Hate propaganda, and items promoting sedition, and treason

The CBSA provides a step-by-step guide to help importers determine whether their goods are subject to special rules or conditions. For more detailed information on prohibited products, check out Memoranda Series D9, Prohibited Importations.

Additionally, the Export and Import Controls Board monitors the import and export of controlled goods like sugar, softwood lumber, weapons, munitions, and nuclear materials.

Import Documentation Requirements

Now that you know what you can and cannot import, you need to make sure you fill out the right paperwork so that your imports clear customs. Doing so also ensures proper identification of your goods and the correct application of taxes and duties. 

Here’s a breakdown of the main documents you need to prepare:

  • Commercial Invoice: This is a business document issued by the seller to the buyer detailing the sale of goods. It includes information relevant to the sales transaction, such as identifying details, a description of the goods, unit and total value, and currency used. For imports worth over CAD$2,500, a Canada Customs Invoice (CCI) is required instead.
  • Bill of Lading (BOL): The BOL is a legal document that acts as evidence of a contract between the shipper and the carrier. It serves as a receipt for the cargo and proves ownership of the goods, detailing quantities, packaging types, and special handling requirements if necessary.
  • Import Declaration: This is an official document submitted to customs authorities by the importer (or their broker) to declare the goods being imported. It includes details required by customs for processing the shipment and assessing duties and taxes. This information may overlap with, but can also go beyond, what’s included in a commercial invoice.

Duty and Tax Obligations

Importers need to be aware of the duties and taxes applicable to their goods to ensure compliance and avoid penalties. The value of duty is based on the price paid to the vendor in Canadian dollars on the date of direct shipment, as supported by a receipt or sales invoice. 

You also need to check if your goods are subject to GST, excise tax, or excise duty. GST at 5% is payable on most goods upon importation, except for non-taxable items such as prescription drugs, medical devices, basic groceries, and agricultural goods, which are listed under Schedule VI and Schedule VII of the Excise Tax Act. For reference, excise taxes apply to items like automobile air conditioners and certain vehicles, while excise duties cover products like tobacco and alcohol.


Canadian Customs Compliance Best Practices

Here are seven best practices to ensure smooth customs compliance in Canada:

  1. Prepare thoroughly: Obtain your import/export business number from the Canada Revenue Agency, and make sure all required documentation, such as invoices, packing lists, and certificates of origin, are complete and accurate. 
  2. Classify goods correctly: Use the correct Harmonized System (HS) codes to generate the correct 10-digit tariff classification number for your goods, found in the Canadian Customs Tariff
  3. Report your goods: All commercial goods must be reported to the CBSA, whether transported personally or by a carrier. The carrier, CBSA, or courier will notify you shipments worth over CAD$3,300 arrive. For a fee, postal or courier services will handle delivery and customs documentation of shipments valued at CAD$3,300 or less. Remember, to keep records of your import documents for six years; non-compliance can result in monetary penalties.
  4. Use technology: The Canadian Automated Import Reference System (CAIRS) allows importers to submit data electronically, reducing paperwork and speeding up the clearance process. It also helps ensure that all required information is submitted accurately.
  5. Stay updated on regulations: Staying informed via the CBSA website helps you adapt quickly to changes and avoid compliance issues. 
  6. Partner with a customs broker: Brokers like Clearit can ensure compliance with CBSA regulations and handle any issues that arise during the import process. They can also provide valuable advice on optimizing your import operations.

Ready to Clear Customs Like a Pro?

Knowing the ins and outs of Canadian customs regulations can transform your import process. Staying updated on regulations and adopting best practices, such as accurate preparation, proper classification, duty payment, and using technology like CAIRS can streamline your operations and give you a cross-border competitive edge. 

Clearit can help you comply with these regulations, ensuring your import process stays on track. With our expertise, you can avoid costly setbacks and keep your operations running smoothly.