All You Need to Know about Importing from the USA to Canada
By Mario Cywinski | August 31, 2007
With the Canadian dollar on a 30 year high, and existing price gaps left over from the days of a weak dollar, buying equipment in the US is becoming an attractive proposition for Canadian small businesses.
Comparing prices between a Canadian product and an American product may provide a way to cut costs. With the North American free trade agreement (NAFTA) as part of the equation, any products produced in North America do not contain duties.
However, importing from the US is not without its risks. For starters, if a product is not completely manufactured in North America it may have high duties and taxes. What's more, some manufactures have US only warranties which are voided if the product is in another country.
To help you take advantage of the opportunities, yet avoid the risks, we researched the pros and cons of cross border importing. Here is what we found.
The Ins and Outs of Cross-border Importing
The first thing to consider when importing goods is how you are going to get them into Canada. Your have a few options, starting with bringing the good in yourself.
In simple terms the steps you need to take are: declare the goods as you cross the border, wait for the goods to be released by customs, find out how much duties and taxes you must pay, and finally you need to pay the duties and taxes in the allotted time.
However, importing is a complicated topic. Canadian customs has over 30 different type of legislation is in place regarding importing and exporting good in Canada. Not all these are easily accessible and many are hard to understand.
"Over 20% of the products imported into Canada have some type of special rules. These include food products, automobiles, guns, appliances, explosives, lumber, electrical motors, to name a few," said Larry Hahn, Director Regulatory Affairs Livingston International Inc.
Hahn recommends that importers check with customs or a customs broker to see if any special licenses, certificates or other requirements apply to your products before you import them.
Jackson Wood from E-customs strongly recommends using a customs broker.
"There's no easy way to list all the steps that must be taken," said Wood. "Using a broker allows the importer to focus on more important issues, like growing their customer base or dealing with internal organization."
If you ship through a large company like the United Postal Service (UPS) or FedEx they will automatically take care of duties, taxes and levy a brokerage fee payable upon delivery. Smaller and lesser known brokers can also assist you; you can locate them through the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers website.
While duties and taxes you will pay are fixed, the cost of brokerage fees can vary.
Many factors are at play in determining the amount of brokerage fees to be paid. Some of these may include: value of the goods, amount of duties and taxes, volume of the goods and the amount of transactions.
"Custom brokerage fees, are based on considerations such as volume and value of the goods imported into Canada," said Richard Bourque, Vice-President and General Manager , International Freight – Ontario, Schenker of Canada Limited.
"The rates for goods entering Canada vary depending on the commodity, and Duty and GST is calculated based on the value for duty (CDN Dollars). The shipper would only affect the duty rate if the goods are from certain countries where preferential tariff agents are in effect," said Neil Ferrey, ICECORP Logistics / ICECORP Customs Brokers.
The best thing way to get a good estimate of the cost is to contact the Canada Border Service Agency or a fully licensed Canadian Custom Broker.
All major customs brokers such as UPS and FedEx offer online shipping calculators, which will allow you to estimate the cost of importing.
One other thing to keep in mind is if the product you are importing qualifies for NAFTA you may be able to reduce the duties and taxes you are paying.
"Goods from the US may be eligible for entry into Canada under the terms of NAFTA and be entitled to a free or reduced rate of duty," said Michelle Criger from the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers (CSCB). "If the goods qualify for NAFTA, and are valued at $1600.00 CDN or more, the exporter must provide a formal NAFTA Certificate of origin. For goods valued at less than $1600.00 CDN, an informal statement regarding NAFTA eligibility can be provided."
Importing Cars and Computers
For many, importing a car from the US is an interesting proposition because of the lower cost. However there are many factors other than price that need to be kept in mind.
Firstly, not all cars are allowed in Canada, so you to find out if that car you are considering qualifies. You can check this by visiting the US Vehicle admissibility page at: http://www.riv.ca/english/html/us_vehicle_admissibility.html.
You also need to consider whether the car meets Canadian automobile standards, such as having the speedometer in kilometers (KM). If not you will be provided a temporary permit that gives you 45 days to bring your car up to code. Otherwise you will not be able to license the car in Canada.
Finally, if your car was not manufactured in the US or Mexico it will face duty fees. These fees can be very high and might offset the savings of buying the car across the border.
More detailed information on this can be found at the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) or the Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation Directorate, Transport Canada.
Importing electronics from the US is an even more attractive proposition, simply because of the cost differences between the two countries.
Pricing out a notebook computer on Dell's US and Canada websites reveals the gap in pricing. The Dell Precision M4300 is a performance notebook for small business. We created our own notebook on both the US and Canadian sites and found that the US model costs $1666 before taxes, while the Canadian model costs $2318. That's a $652 difference after currency conversions.
However, large computer companies make it difficult to purchase equipment from another country, which is where many people will turn to sources like eBay. If you choose to import something from an eBay seller or a small company, it is extremely important for you to research the seller and confirm that they are trustworthy.
This is one area where things can get risky for importers. There is a wide spectrum of companies that produce products that can be imported. Some will honour warranties throughout North America, while others have warranties that are exclusive to the US and will not be honored in Canada.
"People need to do their home work regardless what they are importing to understand if there are any restrictions or limitations," said Hahn. "In the case of purchasing a car many North American manufactures will not extend their warranty to Canada and other companies do. Need to ask the dealer. Also some dealerships are not allowed based on their dealership agreement with the manufacture that they can sell a car for export."
Chrysler, Acura-Honda and Mazda do not transfer their US warranties over to Canada if the owner moves, so the owner would need to drive to the US in order to repair his/her vehicle. Audi-VW, Toyota-Lexus, BMW, Ford, and Volvo on the other hand do honour their US warranty in Canada.
"Audi and VW cars bought in the US and brought to Canada can be repaired at any Canadian Audi-VW dealer, they are repaired under VW's North American Warranty," said Remi Lobo, VW Service Advisor for Agincourt Autohaus Inc.
Some manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz have a limited warranty if the car is registered in Canada, and may need the car be brought up to Canadian standards by a certified dealer to qualify for the warranty. More details can be found at: http://www.apa.ca/template.asp?DocID=253 .