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NAFTA: Doing business with Mexico and the USA

Region: Ontario Answer # 665

Foreigners doing business in Canada

Previous Agreement: NAFTA

The North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) has made it faster and easier for many business people to gain temporary entry to Canada for business purposes. American or Mexican citizens who want to enter Canada to trade goods, provide services, or participate in investment activities may be eligible for entry to Canada under NAFTA.

Applicants must qualify in one of four categories of business people. The four categories are:

  1. Business visitors,
  2. Professionals,
  3. Intra-company transferees, and
  4. Traders or investors.

All business people covered by NAFTA are exempt from the need to obtain approval by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). This means Canadian employers do not need to have a job offer approved by ESDC to employ an American or Mexican business person.

Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)

Beginning March 15, 2016 Foreign nationals from visa-exempt countries entering Canada by air, including those transiting through Canada, will require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travellers with a valid visa. Entry requirements for those coming to Canada by land and sea have not changed.

An eTA is electronically linked to the traveller’s passport and is valid for five years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. Applications for eTA’s are done online on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website, and in most cases the authorization will be issued immediately after submitting the online form.

If you need an eTA, it is recommended that you apply for it when you plan your trip, as opposed to waiting until you are ready to travel. As well, you must travel to Canada with the passport you used to get your eTA. If you require an eTA, you can only apply for one person at a time. For example, for a family of three, you must complete and submit the form three times.

Applicants who receive their study or work permit on or after August 1, 2015 will automatically be issued an eTA along with their permit, while those who received their permit before that date will have to apply for an eTA.

Business visitors

Business visitors are people who plan to engage in business activities. They have no intention to enter the Canadian labour market, and the source of their remuneration remains outside Canada. Business visitors will be asked to provide evidence that they will engage in international business activity. Business visitors do not need a work permit.


Professionals are people who plan to engage in a business activity at a professional level in a designated profession. A list of designated professions is available from Canada Immigration Centres or Canadian visa offices. Professionals must be qualified to work in their occupation, and they must have pre-arranged employment with a Canadian organization. There is no limit on how long a professional may remain in Canada, as long as they have a valid work permit and their employment is still temporary.

Intra-company transferees

Intra-company transferees are people who are employed full-time by an American or Mexican organization, in a managerial, executive, or specialized services position for at least one year and who are being transferred to Canada, to provide managerial, executive, or specialized services to the same or relayed organization in Canada. In general, intra-company transferees may not stay in Canada for more than seven years as a manager or executive, or for more than five years as a specialized employee.

Business visitors, professionals, and intra-company transferees who are American citizens can apply to enter Canada at a Canadian border or airport, if they do not have a criminal record, medical condition or prior violation of Canadian immigration law that would bar their entry into Canada.


Traders and investors

Special rules apply to traders and investors. Applicants in this category must apply for a work permit at a Canadian Visa Office, High Commission or Consulate. Applications are not accepted at Canadian ports of entry. Once the entry requirements are met, there is no time limit on how long traders and investors can remain in Canada.

Business people who are covered under NAFTA must still meet the general immigration requirements that govern entry to Canada. For example, people with certain medical conditions or a criminal record may not be allowed to enter Canada.

If your spouse and children satisfy the general entry requirements, they may accompany you, but they cannot work or study in Canada without the appropriate work or study permit.

If you need to extend your stay in Canada, you can apply for an extension of your work permit at any time before your work permit expires.

American or Mexican business people who plan to enter Canada temporarily under NAFTA can obtain more information from an immigration lawyer.


Canadians doing business abroad under NAFTA

NAFTA has also made it easier for Canadian business people to gain temporary entry to the United States or Mexico for business purposes. Canadian citizens who want to trade goods, provide services, or participate in investment activities may enter the United States or Mexico under special NAFTA immigration rules.

Canadians doing business abroad must qualify in one of the same four categories as people who are entering Canada from the U.S. or Mexico to do business here. They must also satisfy the same general health and security requirements.

In general, Canadian citizens who apply for admission to the United States as a business person do not need a visa. Business visitors, professionals, and intra-company transferees can apply to enter the United States or Mexico at a port of entry, if they do not have a criminal record, medical condition or prior violation of U.S. immigration law that would bar their entry into the United States.

NEW Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

On July 1, 2020, the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) entered into force replacing NAFTA. In the U.S., this new agreement is known as the U.S. – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA). This information is currently under review.

Temporary changes due to COVID-19

Due to the current pandemic, the Government of Canada has implemented temporary changes to various immigration programs and procedures. For the most up-to-date information, visit canada.ca.

Get help

For more information about doing business under NAFTA, visit Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. To find foreign consulates and embassies in your province, click here.

A criminal record will delay, and can even prevent you from getting your immigration status. To erase your criminal record, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

For legal advice and assistance, contact our preferred Immigration experts, Bright Immigration Consultants .

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