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All Things Shipping | Sep 24, 2020

Shipping to Canada from the US: Tips and Requirements

Shipping to Canada from the US: Tips and Requirements

Branching north into Canada can be a great opportunity for US e-commerce merchants. E-commerce sales in Canada have been steadily climbing, and according to one study, are estimated to hit $33.3 billion (USD) in 2024. So, whether you’re planning to start shipping to Canada in the near future—or you’d just like to refine your existing international shipping practices—it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the different requirements and responsibilities that are expected of US businesses shipping into the country.

Shipping to Canada: The Basics

US sellers have a number of different service options when it comes to shipping to Canada. Yet, with so many choices comes the potential for confusion. Let’s start with some basic questions.

Is There Anything I Can’t Ship to Canada?

Short answer, yes. Shipping to Canada is subject to both prohibitions and restrictions. Prohibited items include goods such as alcohol, furs, ammunition, and collectible coins, among other things. Shipping restrictions control—but do not outright prohibit—the shipment of other goods as well. For instance, drugs and medicines can be shipped into Canada, but they must comply with Canadian law.

For more information, check out the USPS’s full list of Canadian shipping restrictions.

What Paperwork Do I Need to Ship Into Canada?

All shipments into Canada must include customs documentation, with the exception of shipping envelopes weighing less than 16 oz. (although some restrictions may apply). You can find blank customs forms on shipping providers’ websites (here are FedEx’s forms, for example), or a shipping software solution can help in pre-filling the relevant forms for you. Depending on the shipping provider you use, you may be able to submit your customs information online via EDI (UPS) or ETD (FedEx). You can also complete your forms online via USPS.  

The specific customs forms you’ll need to complete will vary based on your shipment type and shipping partner, but may include:

  • Bills of Lading (BOLs)
  • Commercial Invoices (CIs)
  • Canada Customs Invoices (CCIs), for commercial shipments valued over $2,500CAD
  • Manifests or Cargo Control Documents (CCDs), which are sometimes required if you’ll be shipping more than one package at a time (as in the case of contract customers shipping via Canada Post)
  • Proof of Delivery (POD), if this isn’t handled directly on the BOL
  • Electronic Export Information (EEI) forms, which replace the former Shipper’s Export Declaration (SED) form for controlled exports
  • Import permits, for items that fall under Canadian Other Government Department (OGD) regulations
  • NAFTA Certificates of Origin, if your goods are NAFTA-eligible

High-volume e-commerce shippers may also find this guidance from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) helpful. 

What Will It Cost to Ship My Packages to Canada?

Shipping costs vary based on the delivery service you use and are just one cost component when it comes to shipping to Canada. Beyond shipping costs, duties, taxes, tariffs, and other fees must be paid on most goods imported into Canada, with a few exceptions.

Duties, Taxes, and Tariffs

Goods sold into Canada may be subject to duties and taxes, including:

  • Goods and Services Tax (GST)
  • Harmonized Tax (HST), which combines both GST and provincial taxes in some Canadian provinces
  • Provincial Sales Tax (PST), for provinces not covered by a harmonized tax 
  • Quebec Sales Tax (QST), a taxation scheme used in Quebec province

Here is a full list of applicable tax rates by province can be found. Exceptions to the GST, according to the CBSA, include:

  • Items valued at $20 CAD or less, excluding intoxicating beverages, cigars, cigarettes, manufactured tobacco, publications where the supplier is required to register under the Excise Tax Act, and goods that are split into multiple shipments to get under this limit.
  • Gifts from family or friends who reside outside of Canada, that are valued below $60 CAD. These gifts must be sent personally and be explicitly labeled as a gift.

Sellers should confirm that their shipments meet current CBSA exemption guidelines; accidentally (or intentionally) mislabeling shipments as exempt items or gifts can result in penalties. Tariffs may also apply to the mailing of goods containing components manufactured outside of the US.

Fees

Beyond duties, taxes, and tariffs, US shippers may encounter a number of different fees when shipping into Canada. 

For example, take the handling fees and customs brokers’ fees assessed by postal services or courier companies. For these, Canada Post charges a handling fee of $9.95 CAD per dutiable or taxable mail item. Other carriers may assess their own fees as well.

Who Pays for These Obligations?

Generally, duties and taxes can be paid by the sender, recipient, or a third party. Shipping partners commonly offer senders the option to select who will be responsible for the payment of customs duties and/or taxes. If you plan to assign responsibility to a third party, you’ll likely need to specify their payment account number when executing your shipment. Further, keep in mind that, if recipients or third parties fail to pay duties and taxes, you—as the sender—may still be responsible for them.

Regarding payment of Canadian sales taxes (GST, HST, PST, and/or QST), be aware that, although Canadian consumers are ultimately responsible for the payment of these taxes, you may be required to collect and remit them directly to the Canadian government.

For instance, if you ship more than $30,000 CAD of goods into Canada over a four-quarter rolling period, you may need to obtain a Canadian Business Number and register to collect taxes directly. You may also need to register if you “have a nexus” in Canada; for example, if you have a Canadian bank account or conduct any local advertising. There are a few exceptions to these guidelines. Companies selling into British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec may be required to register for and remit PST, regardless of size. Sellers of zero-rated supplies, on the other hand, may be exempt from tax collection requirements.

Regardless of whether your business collects duties, taxes, tariffs, or fees directly—or if it passes them on to buyers—what’s important is that you’re upfront with buyers on your policies and expectations. Clearly state on your website’s product pages, checkout flows, and help desk or support sections which party will be responsible for each fee. If possible, converting fees to CAD before checkout will help buyers understand the full cost of a purchase in order to avoid confusion and frustration.  

Canada Shipping Provider Options

The following Canada shipping service options are provided as a starting point only. Please consult each provider’s requirements and restrictions to ensure your shipment qualifies for the individual services described here.

Also note, that this list is not comprehensive. Other Canada shipping options are out there and may be appropriate for your shipping needs.

USPS and Canada Post

USPS shipping to Canada is a great option for light parcels under 3 lbs. However, be aware that USPS is not a door-to-door provider in Canada. USPS mailings are handed off to Canada Post upon entry into the country. 

Popular Service Offerings

Global Express Guaranteed Priority Mail Express International Priority Mail International First-Class Mail International
1-3 business days 3-5 business days 6-10 business days Delivery times vary

UPS

Along with FedEx’s International Ground service, UPS Standard Delivery is a good choice for mailing parcels greater than 3 lbs in weight, as they offer fast service and can guarantee delivery dates in many cases. 

Popular Service Offerings

UPS Worldwide Express Plus UPS Worldwide Saver UPS Worldwide Expedited Shipping UPS Standard Delivery
Next business day Next business day 2 business days 3+ business days; from 48 contiguous US states only

FedEx

Like UPS’s Standard Delivery service, FedEx’s International Ground to Canada service is a good choice for less-urgent shipments for which you still need the certainty of day-definite delivery.

Popular Service Offerings

FedEx International First  FedEx International Priority FedEx International Economy FedEx International Ground to Canada
1-3 business days 1-3 business days 2-3 business days 2-7 business days

DHL Express

DHL Express offers a suite of next-day offerings that can reach major Canadian business centers as early as 9:00 am on routes that guarantee next-day delivery.

Popular Service Offerings

DHL Express Worldwide  DHL Express 9:00 DHL Express 12:00
Next business day Next business day; before 9:00 AM Next business day; before 12:00 PM

No matter how you choose to handle your Canadian shipping requirements, don’t think of this as a “set it and forget it” decision. Regularly re-evaluate the providers and delivery services you use to ensure you’re successfully balancing both expenses and customer experiences.

Shippo can help you streamline both domestic and international shipments—and save you money in the process. 

Sarah Rickerd is a Michigan-based freelance writer covering business, marketing, and technology topics. She is also the owner of Content Conquered, a B2B-focused content marketing consultancy.

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