Importing From Canada to US: Key Tips for Success

A semi truck with trailer approaching the US/Canada border.
Learn the essentials of importing from Canada to U.S. with this in-depth guide. Take advantage of expert advice on documentation, duties, and regulations
September 27, 2023
Last Modified: February 2, 2024
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Importing from Canada to US might seem like a straightforward task, given our close ties and extensive trade relationship. However, it’s not always a walk in the park. The maze of U.S. customs regulations can trip up even seasoned importers. Before you attempt to import goods from Canada into the U.S., it’s important to know what hurdles to expect and where to look for guidance.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) still adheres to strict regulations for goods imported from Canada to the U.S. on any route. Goods must clear customs, and proper documentation is essential. Duties or tariffs may apply depending on the product. CBP compliance ensures smooth entry and avoids costly delays.

Are you curious about shipping goods from the great white north into the USA? Join us as we review the basics of importing from Canada, how to choose your commodities, and what fees you can expect to encounter.

Basics of Importing From Canada to US

A cargo ship passing underneath a bridge crossing an inlet. The ship is used for importing from Canada to US.

Trade between Canada and the U.S. has been fruitful for decades, marking a relationship built on trust, quality, and mutual benefit. 

There are numerous advantages to importing goods from our northern trading partner, such as: 

  • Geographic proximity
  • Similar quality standards 
  • Favorable trade agreement

With that being said, the rewards of successful importing hinge on your ability to navigate the often-complex process. This means clear, compliant importing practices are essential. Let’s explore further.

What Does the U.S. Import from Canada?

Canada offers a smorgasbord of products that appeal to the American market. So many that in 2022, Canada exported over 450 billion dollars worth of commodities into the United States. 

The lion’s share of that price tag belongs to the following goods.

Top Three Imports From Canada to the U.S.

CommodityValue in USD
Petroleum and mineral-based fuels$163.53 billion
Non-tramway or railway vehicles$45.67 billion
Nuclear reactors, boilers, and associated machinery$29.57 billion

Source: tradingeconomics.com

In addition to these highly sought-after goods, Canada also supplies the U.S. with almost any other commodity you can think of, including:

  • Precious stones and metals
  • Wood and lumber
  • Animals
  • Foodstuffs
  • Cereals 
  • Electronics

Basically, Canada’s available exports are vast and varied. If you’re an aspiring business owner in the U.S. importing from Canada, choosing what you want to bring into the states is a matter of researching customer demands and choosing merchandise with which you have experience.

How Can I Import Goods from Canada to the US?

A view of the Ambassador Bridge spanning from the US to Canada with Canadian and American flags in the foreground.

Importing goods from Canada into the U.S. might seem daunting initially, but with a well-laid-out roadmap, you can navigate through the process confidently. 

To help ensure a smooth import journey, start by following the import requirements listed below.

  • Have an Active Importer Number. This is an identifier assigned by CBP, which you can apply for here. If you don’t have one, you can use your Social Security Number or Employer Identification Number.
  • Get a Customs Bond: For any shipment valued at more than $2,500, you’ll need to register a customs bond with CBP. This ensures that all duties and taxes are paid once the items arrive.
  • Obtain a Pre-Arrival Processing System (PAPS) Number: If your merchandise will be brought in via truck, a PAPS number will be necessary to allow CBP to process your shipment as it crosses the Canada border.
  • Prepare Import Documents: This includes your bill of lading and a commercial invoice, which details product value, purchase details, and terms of sale. You’ll also need a packing list that specifies the contents of each shipment package. 
  • Arrival of Goods: Once your goods arrive at a U.S. port, they’ll be inspected by CBP. Ensure you’ve arranged for the goods to be transported to their final destination post-clearance.
  • Maintain Accurate Records: For a minimum of five years, keep all import-related records. This includes purchase orders, shipping documents, and payment records. It’s crucial for potential audits or verifications.

If you’re concerned about errors in the aforementioned process, working with a customs broker can save you a world of stress. Their expertise ensures you’re always in compliance with changing regulations.

Importing From Canada: Customs and Regulations

A cargo vessel approaching British Columbia.

U.S. customs and regulations can be complex, even when your goods come from a relatively close supplier like Canada. Understanding these rules is crucial to ensure your imports get across the Canadian border without any problems. 

The following list contains the standard regulations from CBP governing the import process.

  • Find Your Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) Codes: Every product you import is categorized under a specific HTS code. CBP uses these codes to assess duties. It’s essential to accurately classify your goods to ensure the correct duties are levied once they enter the states.
  • Country of Origin Marking: CBP requires imported items to be clearly labeled with their country of origin. This ensures consumers are well-informed about where their products come from. For goods imported from Canada, they must typically be marked “Made in Canada” or a similar indication.
  • Special Regulations: Most commodities have unique regulations that must be followed during the import process. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces guidelines for the importing of consumables and medicines. Be aware of these product-specific regulations for your goods.
  • USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement): As of July 1, 2020, the USMCA replaced NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). With a USMCA certificate of origin, many goods imported from Canada may qualify for preferential duty rates, but they must meet specific criteria. It’s essential to check if your goods qualify and adhere to the regulations stipulated under USMCA.

A clear understanding of these regulations and close adherence to CBP guidelines will ensure your importing process remains hassle-free. 

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How Much is Import Tax From Canada to USA?

HTS codes are used to determine the duties and taxes due on an import transaction. This can be expressed as a percentage of the overall cost of the products or a set value per weight. There is no flat percentage that can be used to easily calculate all import duties from Canada to U.S. 

This is one of the most important reasons that we recommend working with an experienced broker during the import process. Brokers are experienced with the nuances of import taxes and can ensure that you don’t over or underpay at the border.

What is the Duty Limit for Canada to USA?

The term “duty limits” can show up as you research the import process. For those new to importing and unfamiliar with the term, it may seem to imply a maximum duty amount per transaction. This is not the case.

Duty limits on imports from Canada to the U.S. are only applicable to items intended for personal use, such as alcohol purchased at duty free shops. Generally, the limit is $800, at which point even personal use items will incur duties. Duty limits do not apply to importers intending to re-sell merchandise from Canada. 

Import Fees from Canada to U.S.

Several cargo containers stacked up at a port.

When importing goods from Canada to the U.S., it’s essential to understand the various fees associated with the process. Beyond the duties levied on certain goods, a range of other charges may apply, all of which can impact your overall cost. 

Let’s break down these fees to provide a clearer picture:

  • Brokerage Fees: These are fees charged by a customs broker, if you choose to work with one. They cover the cost of facilitating customs clearance for your merchandise. The fee can be a flat rate or a percentage of the goods’ value. They cover services like document preparation, transactions with CBP, and ensuring compliance. 
  • Freight Charges: Depending on your mode of transportation (air, sea, rail, or truck), you’ll incur some amount of freight charges. These fees cover the transportation of your goods from Canada into the U.S.
  • Cargo Insurance: While optional, cargo insurance protects your goods against potential damage or loss during transit. The cost depends on the value of your shipment and the coverage terms.
  • Warehouse & Storage Fees: If your goods need to be stored in a warehouse before distribution or during customs clearance delays, storage charges will apply.
  • Terminal Handling Charges: These fees cover the handling of cargo at terminals, whether it’s an airport or seaport. It includes loading, unloading, and moving goods within the terminal.
  • Demurrage & Detention Fees: Demurrage fees apply when your cargo remains at the shipping terminal longer than the agreed free time. Detention charges kick in when the shipping container is kept longer than specified.
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Provincial Sales Tax (PST): While these Canadian sales taxes aren’t usually applied to U.S. imports, Canadian suppliers might include them in the price. As an international buyer, you can often apply for a refund.
  • Miscellaneous Charges: Depending on the specific nature of your goods or the details of your shipping agreement, there might be additional fees. Always request a breakdown of costs from your broker or freight forwarder.

Being aware of these fees ensures that you aren’t caught off-guard by unexpected expenses. Proper budgeting and understanding of these charges will enable you to factor them into your product pricing, ensuring that you remain profitable and competitive in your market.

Do I Need a Customs Broker to Ship From Canada to the U.S.?

Semi trucks lined up at the U.S and Canada border.

Strictly speaking, you don’t have to hire a customs broker to import shipments from Canada into the United States. You don’t have to hire a Sherpa to scale Mount Everest, either. However, expert guidance will give you a greater chance of success in either venture.

Customs brokers facilitate a smooth and problem-free import process by:

  • Staying Up to Date on CBP Regulations: The ever-fluctuating nature of import regulations leaves a lot of room for error when filling out paperwork and calculating duties. 
  • Arranging Transport: Most brokers work for or with logistics companies. This puts them in a position to arrange for your purchase to be picked up and brought across the border.
  • Becoming the Importer of Record: In this capacity, brokers take over the responsibilities of filing and signing documentation on your behalf. Considering the numerous documents required to import commodities to the U.S., this can be a huge boon to the importer. 
  • Letting You Focus on Your Business: The profession of customs brokerage exists because it’s a job unto itself. Trying to tackle it solo will take precious time away from what should be your main focus: growing your business. 

There are several other benefits of working with a customs broker. No matter what commodities you mean to bring into the country, a broker can be the difference between a seamless transaction and delays from CBP detention and inspection.

Importing From Canada to U.S. With USA Customs Clearance

The possibilities of profit when importing from Canada are enticing, and with the right broker by your side, you can take advantage of these opportunities. 

At USA Customs Clearance, we have years of experience with CBP as well as Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Our team of experts can ensure that your merchandise crosses the border without incurring fines and penalties resulting from inaccurate paperwork and filing.

Look to us for:

Call our knowledgeable team of customs brokers at (855) 912-0406 or contact us through the site today. We’re here to take the guesswork out of getting your shipment from Canada to the United States.

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