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Import Checklist

There are many confusing steps and various parties in the international shipping process


  • Exporters

  • Freight Forwarders

  • Carriers

  • Customs brokers, steamship lines

  • Communication barriers and cultural differences, and

  • Rules and regulations can slow down your first shipments if not done properly


The basics steps you need to know before importing are:

1. New business Start Up?

2. Identify what type of goods you want to import, and Determine If The Goods Can Be Imported Into Canada

  • Obtain an accurate description of the goods you plan to import or export.

  • Identify the country of origin, manufacturer, and export of the goods.


Next, you will need to determine whether the goods are controlled, regulated or prohibited by any Other Participating Government Agencies (PGAs). PGA regulate commodities relating to their agency (Ex: Health Canada, Environment Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency).

There are many PGAs that are involved in the importation of various commodities. If your goods are regulated, they may require special permits, certificates, licenses, special labeling, or a specific type of packaging (i.e. child resistant) depending on the commodity.

For example, Food Imports require additional licensing and registrations. For more information, please click here.


3. What country are you going to buy from?

Different source countries can yield different import regulations. While the item itself might be cheap to buy, there might be other factors to consider that can affect the cost. Requirements for importing depend on a wide variety of criteria. Research such as whether an item is subject to permit or licensing regulations, eligible for reduced rates of duty, or what documentation may be required can only be determined only if you know the commodities HS Tariff Classification number.

4. Research duties / tax, requirements and documentation

Import duty is determined by the HS Tariff Classification, and most often a percentage of the declared value. Import duty is unique to each product being imported, its declared value, its country of origin, and other factors like anti-dumping legislation and quota controls. Import duty values can be as low as zero or as high as 300% (or more) of the product’s value.

Requirements and documentation can also be determined once you have the HS Tariff Classification. There many participating government agencies involved that could require information:

  • CBSA

  • Canadian Food Inspection Agency

  • Transport Canada

  • Health Canada

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada

  • Global Affairs Canada

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada

  • Natural Resources Canada

  • Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

5. Find the best foreign supplier

  • Check their certifications

  • Align manufacturing and shipping locations

  • Look for expertise in your product type and target market

  • Find out if they can make enough of what you need

  • Evaluate the geopolitical climate


It is always a good idea to meet the supplier and discuss a favorable contract and incoterms.


6. Align with a good Freight and Customs Manager

You already have enough to worry about. Work with professionals that can provide guidance and take care of the complicated research and required actions on your behalf… so you can concentrate on your business.

Importers have many options to communicate import declarations to CBSA. 

  • Hiring a dedicated professional Customs Broker or Trade Advisor, who has EDI electronic access to make declarations to CBSA and other Participating Government Agencies

  • Using a courier or freight forwarders customs brokerage division, who both ships your goods and submits the customs declaration on your behalf.

  • Creating an in-house team as a self declaring importer, that submits it directly from your business to Customs via Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).

  • Doing it yourself; arriving at the port of entry to meet your goods and make the declaration.


A Customs Broker can help you:

  • Obtain shipment and contract documentation

  • Review the prepared documentation for completeness and compliance with customs regulations

  • Prepare and submit a declaration to Customs on your behalf at the port of arrival


Aside from submitting a declaration on your behalf, customs brokers can also help your company reduce costs, improve efficiency, and mitigate risks related to cross-border trade. Most companies who import goods into Canada find that it is far too expensive and time-consuming to travel to the facility or port of arrival and await clearance, prepare a formal declaration, pay the charges due and then anticipate delivery of their product. 

7. Don’t rush, allow time to plan and ship

Do not leave things till the last minute as this might add unnecessary cost, and always consider that delays might happen during the process:

  • Goods might not be produced on time

  • The vessel might not sail as scheduled

  • Routes may change in transit

  • Goods might be held up in the Customs process


Be prepared for all this and plan accordingly.


Do your research or consult with a professional to understand the process of importing goods correctly.

International shipping is becoming more and more common, finding the right partners and understanding the process is critical to your success.

What documents will I need?

Please see our Required Documents article for more information. 

Checklist for Importing Commercial Goods into Canada (



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