Exporting to the United States
Table of contents
Exporting to an international market can be an exciting way to expand your business. The United States (U.S.) is one of the first places that many exporters choose because of how close and similar it is to Canada. This guide will give you an overview of the most common regulations and requirements for exporting to the U.S.
Preparing to export
When you are preparing to export there are several points to consider.
Do you have:
- The time and staff resources?
- Enough production capacity?
- The necessary cash flow?
- Competitively priced services or products?
- The necessary cultural and language skills?
- A reliable distribution network?
Do you know:
- The market readiness of your product or service?
- Your target market and competitors?
- Your fit with the new market?
- Foreign regulations and tariffs?
- Transportation and shipping costs?
Before you start exporting, read the following guides and tools to learn the basics.
Both the Trade Commissioner Service and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) have guides to help you understand the general exporting process. You can get information on:
- Assessing if you are ready to export
- Export planning
- Finding your target market
- Reporting requirements
Getting ready to export guide
Read about the fundamentals of exporting and how to develop your market. Some of the topics included in this guide, created by Ontario's Ministry of International Trade, include:
- Frequently asked exporting questions
- Developing your export plan
- An overview of NAFTA
- Building export success
Getting ready to export guide
Understanding your target market
Market research is an essential part of export business planning. It is important to obtain information about potential export markets and develop an export marketing plan.
You can start by researching:
- Economic profiles
- Intellectual property protection
- Political and legal aspects
- Trade agreements (NAFTA)
- Culture and consumer patterns
- Transportation and communication systems
- Risk assessment
- Currency/inflation rates
When you have done the research on these and other issues that may have an impact on your product or service, you can make an informed decision about exporting.
Writing an export plan
Businesses that have identified a specific product or service to export and targeted a particular geographic market should ensure that they have a well developed export business plan.
Writing an export plan
The following resources can help you research and identify export markets:
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) Advisory Services
You can get customized advisory services for the complex challenges you face every day as a Canadian entrepreneur, including assistance with market research, export planning and globalization.
Contact the BDC:
BDC Advisory Services
Access Canada's official source of news and advice on trade, export and investment opportunities around the world. Entrepreneurs who want to learn about competing, partnering and prospering in the global marketplace can subscribe to this e-magazine.
New Exporters to Border States program
You can learn the basics of exporting to the U.S. by taking part in a 2-day program offered by the Government of Ontario. The New Exporters to Border States program (NEBS) take place four times a year, and includes a site visit to one of the border crossing points.
New Exporters to Border States Program (NEBS)
Methods of selling
There are different ways to sell your products or services to the U.S. Each method of selling has its own costs and advantages. Choose the method that best suits your business, and consider how you will receive payment, handle returns, provide service and repair, ship products and manage competition.
Some methods of selling to the U.S. include:
- Taking orders from customers at trade shows or directly through e-commerce (online)
- Selling through a representative on a commission basis
- Forming partnerships with other retailers or distributors who will sell your products
You cannot sell directly to customers while you are in the U.S. unless you have a work permit, are a dual citizen or hire a U.S. citizen to do the selling. However, Canadians can travel to the U.S. to attend trade shows or business meetings, perform market research, and negotiate contracts without a work visa.
For information on the regulation for selling products within the U.S., contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS).
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Customs & regulations
It is your responsibility to meet the regulations and documentation requirements for any goods you export to the U.S. Depending on the type of product you export, there may be specific testing, permit or labelling requirements. Make sure you know what documentation and regulations will apply to your products before you export.
You can contact Pro Bono Ontario’s free legal advice hotline to enquire about getting help with your everyday civil legal needs (no family law or criminal law). The service is generally aimed at those who cannot afford a lawyer.
Note that service is not guaranteed and you will be asked questions as part of the qualifying process, such as the amount of personal income earned by your household, your name, postal code and age range.
Contact Pro Bono Ontario’s Free Legal Advice Hotline:
You can also contact the Law Society of Upper Canada's Law Society Referral Service if you have legal questions of a business nature. The service may be able to assist you in finding a lawyer or paralegal, based on your needs.
Law Society Referral Service
Business Number - Importer/Exporter account number
All Canadian businesses and individuals who are exporting on a commercial basis must obtain a Business Number from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
Business number registration
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)
CBSA is the main federal agency responsible for border enforcement and customs services. It regulates the flow of persons and goods across the Canadian border and collects all applicable duties, tariffs and taxes. Through its Border Information Service, a computerized, 24-hour telephone service, you can access information on various customs topics free of charge from anywhere in Canada. During regular business hours, press "2" for business information, and then press "0" to speak with an agent
CBSA has shared responsibility for:
Exports of prohibited and controlled goods
Find out if the product you are exporting is prohibited or controlled. Certain goods are prohibited from entering or leaving Canada or require permits, certificates, labelling or authorization from a federal department before Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will release the goods.
Exporting cultural property
If you plan on exporting objects of historical, scientific and cultural significance you may require an export permit. The Canadian Cultural Property Export Control List identifies the categories of cultural property that require a permit before the object can be exported.
Crossing the border with $10,000 or more?
If you are crossing the Canadian border with $10,000 or more in Canadian funds or its equivalent in any form you have to report this to Canada Border Services Agency. The same applies if you are sending this amount by courier or by mail into or out of Canada, on your own behalf or on someone else's behalf.
Travelling with $10,000 or more?
Goods can enter the United States in one of two ways: Informal entry or formal entry. The following are guidelines to help you determine which entry you should use:
Your shipment enters by informal entry when it:
- Is valued under USD $2,500
- Contains goods that are not controlled or regulated
You do not need a U.S. Customs Broker for informal entry.
Filing an informal entry
Your shipment enters by formal entry when it:
- Is valued at over USD $2,500
- Contains controlled or regulated goods that require Canadian or U.S. permits, certificates or licences
The process for formal entry is complex. You should consider hiring a U.S. Customs Broker to help you.
Filing a formal entry
You will need an Export Permit if you are selling goods that are on the Export Control List. The Trade Controls & Technical Barriers Bureau (TCTBB) of Global Affairs Canada can help you determine if export permits are required and publishes brochures and Notices to Exporters that are available free on request.
Contact the Export and Import Controls Bureau:
TCTBB - Export controls
You may also need U.S. licences or permits for specific products including:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
Animals and animal products
Meat and meat products
Plants and plant products
- Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives
Firearms and ammunition
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Artifacts and cultural property
- U.S. Department of Energy
Petroleum and petroleum products
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Fish and wildlife
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Medicines, narcotics and certain drugs
Milk, dairy and cheese products
Fruit and nuts
For more information, visit the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.
You must follow U.S. labelling guidelines for products that are being shipped to and sold in the U.S. Items must be marked with the country of origin, and some may require product testing. Check with the appropriate U.S. government agency to get the guidelines for your products, and consider hiring an American export broker to help you export.
Examples of products with specific U.S. labelling requirements include:
There are quotas and labelling regulations for exporting clothing and textiles to the U.S. Visit the Federal Trade Commission for more information on the requirements for textiles.
Before you export food products, submit your food or beverage product label to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure it meets their labelling standards.
FDA - Food labelling guide
Export Controls On-Line (EXCOL)
EXCOL is a user friendly web-based application where you can submit applications for export permits and certificates, as well as request amendments and print selected permits in your office.
Export Controls Online (EXCOL)
Canada Tariff Finder
You can use this free online tool to check the tariffs for a specific good in a foreign market, including the U.S. The tool focuses on countries where Canada has a free trade agreement in place and compares tariffs between export markets.
Canada Tariff Finder
Standards Council of Canada
The goods you export to the U.S. may be subject to U.S. or international standards. The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) offers businesses a number of specialized standards and standards-related information products online such as:
- Standards Alert! – notification of new and revised Canadian and international standards
Contact the Standards Council of Canada:
Standards Council of Canada
A large part of the exporting process involves getting your goods to their destination. This means not only arranging for the physical transport of your goods- by ship, land or air - but also completing paperwork and complying with laws and regulations set out by authorities in the target country. For example, you will generally need to label shipments with the following information:
- Details of origin
- Details of destination
- Transit instructions
- Details for the buyer (consignee)
- Dimensions and weight
- Serial number and invoice number
A freight forwarder or customs broker can help you make shipping decisions based on your needs and advise you on packing guidelines for the U.S.
Freight forwarders and customs brokers
Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS)
You will need an HS number to identify your products. The number is based on an international six-digit 'root' with additional digits depending on the type of goods exported. The HS number allows officials around the world to apply the correct duties, taxes and regulations to the products entering their country.
Searching Statistics Canada's Canadian Export Classification database can help you identify the HS code for your goods.
You can use a set of codes called Incoterms to help you and your buyer clarify the costs, risks and responsibilities for shipping goods. These codes are recognized internationally and can help you avoid misunderstandings when you export. Visit the International Chamber of Commerce website for more information.
Incoterms 2010 rules
Duty deferral program
There are custom programs that allow you to defer payments on goods you have imported and will be exporting, under specific circumstances.
Contact Canada Border Services Agency:
Duty deferral program
Some of the programs that are part of the Duty Deferral Program include:
- Drawback program
You can get a refund of the duties paid on imported goods that are eventually exported.
- Duties relief program
Relieves the payment of duties on imported goods that will eventually be re-exported either in the same condition or after being used, consumed or expended in the processing of other goods.
- Customs bonded warehouse program
Under certain conditions, you can store goods duty-free and tax-free in a licensed and regulated facility operated by the private sector. The goods can be stored for a limited time until they are exported or are consumed domestically. Relief of the HST is available under this program.
If you have a Canadian patent, trademark or copyright, it is usually protected when you export to the U.S. However, you may want to make sure that you are not infringing on another company’s intellectual property rights in the U.S. Intellectual property is protected through patents, trademarks, and copyright.
- Patents are granted for new technologies or processes for 20 years and are valid within the U.S., its territories and possessions.
- Trademark (or service mark) protects a word, name or symbol from others using a similar mark.
- Copyright protects written material, literature, music and software.
For information on patents and trademarks, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. For information on copyrights, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website.
Having the right training and skills is necessary for you or your employees when dealing with the complex and evolving field of export.
Here are some resources that can help you:
Ontario Export Services - Seminars and workshops
Take advantage of regional events that feature a half day program of workshops, roundtable discussions and networking sessions focused on export topics of interest to local small and medium-sized companies. Ontario Export Services of the Ministry of International Trade offers general export information on: Export Financing, E-Commerce, E-Business, Internet Exposure Benefits, and Managing Export Growth.
Contact Ontario Export Services:
Take your business global
Calendar of international trade programs and events
The Forum for International Trade Training (FITT)
FITT provides interested exporters with the training and skills necessary to compete in international markets through their FITT skills courses:
- Global Business Environment
- Global Supply Chain Management
- International Market Entry Strategies
- International Marketing
- International Trade Finance
- International Trade Management
- International Trade Research
- Legal Aspects of International Trade
Professional development modules
Get help understanding topics such as the import tariff classification system, NAFTA, export documentation and regulations, through online training modules offered by the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers (CSCB). You can register even if you are not a member.
Contact the CSCB:
Professional development modules
Finding and exporting to new markets can require good financial resources. You may have to expand your production facilities, develop a distribution network, or accommodate a buyer who is requesting the best terms possible and guarantees before buying your product or service. Listed below are different financing options that may be available to your export venture.
Export Development Canada (EDC)
EDC offers a range of risk reduction financial products and services to small exporters interested in export receivables insurance and export financing support. They also provide services to any exporter, of any size, operating in any sector of the economy (including the service sector) and generally look for at least 50% Canadian content.
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)
Explore financial services that focus on market expansion and exporting for Canadian small businesses.
Business loans - Working capital
You could get up to $99,999 to reimburse up to 50% of eligible expenses to promote your business in new international markets. Your for-profit business must:
- Be incorporated or a limited liability partnership
- Employ between one and 250 full-time employees
- Have an annual revenue between $200,000 and $50 million
Eligible activities include:
- Business travel
- Trade fairs
- Market research
- Marketing tools updates
- Legal fees for distribution or representation agreements
Eligible expenses include travel costs and contractor or consultant fees. Other conditions apply.
Note that businesses in the sectors of agriculture, food, beverage, fish and seafood are not eligible to apply, but you may be eligible for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriMarketing Program. Also see OMAFRA below.
Contact the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS):
For other export financing programs that may be of assistance to you consult the Canada Business Export Financing page online.
Sources of export assistance
Take advantage of available help to get your business export ready. There are organizations that offer a number of services that can help you expand to international markets.
Organizations that can help you export
Trade and investment
You can access a wide range of management resources, perspectives and data from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada's website that can help you develop and expand your markets, create alliances and find new clients.
Export, import and investment
Programs and services by industrial sector
You can access in-depth, industry-specific analysis, statistics, Trade Data Online, contacts, news, events, financing and regulatory information for Canadian business from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
Information by industrial sector
Canada-Ontario Export Forum (COEF)
The COEF is a source for the information, counselling, market intelligence, financial assistance and on the ground support you need to make your export venture a successful one.
If you are a new or experienced exporter of food, beverage and agricultural products, the Export Marketing Unit of OMAFRA offers a number of services, including counselling, seminars, trade missions, international trade shows, sourcing and market intelligence. They also administer the PROFIT Food Export Seminar: a two-day seminar that addresses the basics of exporting to the U.S. market.
Foreign Exchange Facility Guarantee
To help manage changing currency rates, you may want to consider Export Development Canada's Foreign Exchange Facility Guarantee. By purchasing foreign exchange contracts from financial institutions and locking in exchange rates as protection against foreign currency fluctuations, you can reduce the foreign exchange risk when selling outside of Canada.
Foreign Exchange Facility Guarantee
Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC)
Get assistance with government procurement, specifically in aerospace, defence and security, and in emerging and developing country markets. The CCC is an export sales agency of the Government of Canada that brings buyers and Canadian exporters together through contracts built on the best possible terms and conditions.
Canadian Commercial Corporation
Business Women in International Trade
The Business Women in International Trade website is a gateway to a wealth of information on preparing for and succeeding in the export marketplace.
Businesswomen in International Trade
Other CBO documents of interest:
Non-governmental Trade Organizations
There are many trade organizations that have a strong export focus. Many of these organizations offer seminars and export information on foreign markets:
- Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME)
- Canadian Chambers of Commerce
- Ontario Chamber of Commerce
- Municipal Boards of Trade and Chambers of Commerce (Visit the web site: World Chambers Network)
- Local Economic Development Organisations
- Canadian Logistics Industry
You can also find books, magazines and other relevant print material at business service organizations in your community. To locate a Canada Business Ontario (CBO) community partner, contact us at 1-888-576-4444.