Business - Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What documents do you need from the vendor or exporter of your shipment?

The vendor or exporter (the person or company that sold you the goods) should give you a sales receipt or invoice that describes the goods in detail and shows the purchase price.

The vendor or exporter should also provide you with a certificate of origin so the goods may qualify for lower duty rates, such as those outlined in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or the Canada-Israel Free Trade, Agreement (CIFTA).

For details, see Tariff Treatments.

What books and records do you have to keep?

As an importer, you have to keep books and records to substantiate what goods you imported, the quantities, the prices you paid, and the goods' origin. You have to keep records in Canada, in either paper or electronic format, for six years following the importation of the goods. If you want to keep your records outside Canada, you have to get our written approval.

Even if a customs broker carries out customs activities on your behalf, you should also keep the records on your premises. As the importer, you are responsible for all records on reporting, releasing, accounting for, and paying for goods, as well as any later adjustments.

For more details, see Memorandum D17-1-21, Maintenance of Records and Books in Canada by Importers.

What is a carrier?

A carrier is the person or company who transports your goods. As the importer, you can be your own carrier. Your carrier can bring your goods into Canada by air, highway, marine, rail, or international mail.

What records does your carrier have to keep?

Your carrier has to keep records at the place of business in Canada for three years after the year it transported your goods to Canada. These records can include charts of accounts, trip logs, movement history reports, and bills of lading. They may include paper documents or those stored electronically. Carriers can keep these records outside Canada if they receive written permission from us.

Where will we process your shipment once it arrives in Canada?

We process most shipments at the border point (e.g., highway border, rail border, international airport, seaport, or customs mail centre). We can process and release international mail only at the three customs mail centres across Canada. However, you can choose to have us release the goods at an inland office, which is a customs office not located at the border.

For example, your shipment arrives at Fort Erie, Ontario, but you want us to release it in Toronto. In this case, after your carrier reports the goods at Fort Erie, it must have posted security with the CBSA to carry them to one of the approved inland Toronto sites.

Only carriers who have posted security with us (bonded carriers) can transport non-duty-paid goods between points in Canada.

Is the office an alternate service site?

We process commercial goods for some of our smaller service points at nearby larger offices, called hubs. You can forward your release documentation directly to the hub by facsimile or electronic transmission, or the warehouse operator can do this on your behalf. Once we make a release decision, we will transmit this information immediately to you or the warehouse operator, who will then release the goods to you. For more details on alternate service, call the CBSA's BIS and speak to an agent.

What are the service hours at Canada Border Services Agency customs offices?

There are 22 customs offices that offer commercial service 24 hours a day. Others provide commercial service from 8:00 a.m. to midnight, and others are only open to release commercial shipments during regular office hours (e.g., 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.).

If you are importing goods that you need to use immediately in production or manufacturing, you may benefit from releasing your shipment during off-peak times. During off-hours, traffic congestion and waiting lines for counter service are reduced. Therefore, we should be able to release your shipment more quickly at that time than during busier periods.

You can get more details on office hours and peak-period traffic patterns from your nearest customs office. To locate your nearest customs office, please call our Border Information Service (BIS) line.

What is the difference between duties and customs duty?

Duties include any duties or taxes levied under the Canadian Customs Tariff, the Excise Tax Act, the Excise Act, or the Special Import Measures Act. Customs duty includes only the duties prescribed under the Canadian Customs Tariff.

Who prepares your customs documents and presents them to the Canada Border Services Agency?

Carriers provide us with the appropriate documents to report the arrival of your shipments. The transportation mode determines what type of reporting document the carrier must use.

As an importer, you also need to submit release or accounting documents, which you can either prepare yourself, or hire a customs broker to do on your behalf. In this document, when we refer to you, we are talking about you as an importer or your customs broker in all matters except the reporting of goods by the carrier. For more information, see Accounting for Your Shipment.

What is a customs broker? What do brokers do?

We license customs brokers to carry out customs-related responsibilities on behalf of their clients. A broker's services include:

You will have to pay a fee for these services, which the brokerage firm establishes.

Brokers do not work for the federal government-they are not federal public servants.

As the importer, you remain liable for all duties owing until either you or your broker pays them. This applies regardless of whether or not you paid the amount to your broker.

How can you determine in advance what duties you will have to pay on your shipment?

Before your shipment arrives, we can assist you in determining the duties you will have to pay on the goods. It is important that you have a thorough description of the goods and know their value and origin. We can also give you advice about the appropriate valuation method, tariff classification, and tariff treatment. You can also request an Advance Ruling or a National Customs Ruling on tariff classification, origin, marking or valuation.

You can contact us by calling the CBSA's BIS line and speaking to an agent. The agent will refer you to a staff member who specializes in these matters.

For information on rulings, see:

All commercial goods you bring into Canada are subject to customs duty and the goods and services tax (GST), unless they are exempt or free of duties. Regardless of the currency you use to pay for your goods, you must always convert the value of the goods into Canadian funds to determine the duties payable.

Depending on the goods or their value, some other charges or taxes may apply, including excise duty on alcohol.

Anti-dumping duty and countervailing duty

Under the Special Import Measures Act, we impose countervailing duties on imported goods that cause injury to Canadian industry through subsidies in the country of origin. We may also assess anti-dumping duties on goods you import into Canada at prices that are less than their selling price in the country of origin. For additional information, refer to the brochure called The SIMA Self-Assessment Guide as well as Memoranda D14 and D15 series.

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