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. We suggest, therefore, that you call your regional office of CBSA or the national toll free number at 1-800-461-9999, on which you may hear recorded messages on all sorts of import topics. In order to import commercial goods into Canada, it is recommended that you register with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to obtain a business number. In addition, you might also consider contacting the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters at 416-595-5333 for more information on international trade. You could also contact your local Entrepreneurship Centre about the help they can give to people setting up small business. The Ottawa-Carleton inquiry number is 613-560-6081 or the Canada Ontario Business Service Centre toll-free number is 1-888-576-4444.
The trade offices abroad of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) might be able to offer you some support in making contacts; a list of Trade Commissioners is available from our InfoCentre service 1-800-267-8376. The local embassies or consulates of the countries from which you might be importing should also be consulted for list of suppliers.
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 DFAIT keep out persuant to international sanctions.
is the article allowed in only under the authority of an import permit? That is also when DFAIT 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 farmproducts (dairy, chicken, eggs, turkey), firearms and suchlike, and a few miscellaneous items. These are all found on the Import Control List. If you wish to import a textile or clothing article, call 613-996-3711 for information about how to get an import permit. If you wish to import an agricultural good on the Import Control List, call 613-995-8104. For steel, call us to get a permit on request, or call any customs broker. For endangered species and their products, call the Canadian Wildlife Service 613-997-1840. For information about firearms, call 613-992-0478.
is the article subject to some other federally-imposed condition? For example, goods for retail sale have to comply with labelling 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 SCC Web site or send an e-mail to email@example.com 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 learnt. We hope this material will at least point you in the right way. We wish you success in your endeavours.