Importing and exporting

Region: Ontario Answer # 236

If you plan to import or export goods for commercial purposes, there are several regulations and procedures you must follow. Starting and running an import/export business involves many legal decisions that will affect you now and in the future. To get help, call a lawyer now.

The following is a general overview about the requirements for importing and exporting goods to Canada.


Business Number and import / export account information

All businesses that want to import goods to Canada on a commercial basis must obtain a Business Number (BN) from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and also complete the Import/Export Account Information form. These forms are available online from the CRA website. CRA will use your import-export account number to process customs documents. It is a good idea, therefore, to register for your account before you try importing goods into Canada, thereby avoiding delays and confusion at the border. For more information and registration forms, visit Canada Revenue Agency.


Identify imports and their value

Importers must know what items they are importing and the country of origin of the items. They must also provide CRA with an invoice that shows the value of the goods they are importing. CRA will then classify and value the goods according to an international description and coding system, called the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System. Canada’s Customs Tariff is based on this system.

The Government classifies imports to compile trade statistics and to determine whether any conditions apply to the imports, such as prohibitions, quotas, anti-dumping, countervailing duties, NAFTA provisions, or other preferential tariff treatments. If any of these conditions apply to your imports, it may affect the quantity of goods you are allowed to import. There are about 21 main classifications of imports with further classifications within the main headings. You can obtain detailed information and lists of the classifications from Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The CBSA also offers advance rulings for tariff classification, which provide binding, written advice as to the classification of a product. This can be very helpful to determine before you go to the trouble of trying to import something only to have it refused at the border.


Depending on the goods you plan to import, you may also require an Import Permit. Controlled substances such as textiles, clothing, agricultural products, and footwear will require a permit. The Export and Import Controls Bureau of Global Affairs Canada can help you determine what permits and documents you will need.

Government programs

You may also be eligible to participate in a variety of government programs or services for importing businesses, such as pre-clearance programs, and duty deferral.

Also, it is advisable to consult with CBSA. Their Electronic Commerce Client Requirements Document provides information about business and system requirements for multiple import and export programs. For more information, refer to Canada Border Services Agency.

Importing goods to Canada for the first time can be a very daunting endeavour. Importers may choose to hire a customs broker to represent them in their dealings with CRA, and to give them advice on the procedures and requirements. Only customs brokers who have been licensed by CRA are authorized to account for goods and pay duties and taxes.



There are a variety of government programs and services that can help you start or expand an export business. The programs and services include training and preparedness programs, trade information, export counselling, trade and statistical information, export financing, and regulations information. You can obtain more information about these services from a Canada-Ontario Business Centre or from the Government of Canada, Business and Industry website.

As with all Canadian businesses, those who export on a commercial basis must obtain a Business Number from CRA. If you export a commercial shipment that is valued at $2,000 or more to a foreign country other than the United States, you must fill out an Export Declaration. If you ship controlled, regulated, or prohibited goods, you must submit a permit or certificate. If you are a registered exporter, you can report goods electronically to the federal government of Canada.

Get help

Starting and running an import/export business involves many legal decisions that will affect you now and in the future. To get help, call a lawyer now.


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