Shipping internationally can be a sign of huge growth for a brand—there are many benefits of expanding sales to Canada. Before you start marketing to Canadian customers, it’s important to get all your import documentation and customs clearance right. Otherwise, you may face penalties, including fines, seizure or prosecution—and that’s going to cost you time and administrative resources to sort out.
There is a specific list of goods that are prohibited and restricted when importing to Canada. All US brands shipping into need to be fully aware of these lists of goods to make sure they comply with all Canadian customs rules.
If you’re shipping into Canada and you’re curious about the CARM program, get familiar with what you need to change before the October 2023 deadline.
How are Canadian Import Regulations Calculated?
All import limits and regulations are determined by the types of products you ship, which is designated by the Harmonized System or HS classifications. The HS code system is an international standard administered by The World Customs Organization (WCO). Every product needs to be properly classified using this system to determine exactly the types of materials and goods that are being shipped.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) determines how each type of goods are handled and which need specific documentation to pass through customs.
Shippers need to understand and execute the following in order to get their goods into the Canadian market smoothly and quickly:
- Properly classify goods using the HS codes system
- Understand the type of permitting and documentation needed for their goods
- Clearly label and document their shipments according to Canadian rules
A List of Restricted Goods
Many items are considered restricted—this means they can be shipped into Canada, but only under certain circumstances. They may need special licenses, permits, handling, or other documentation.
The import requirements depend on factors like intended use (direct-to-consumer or resale on a marketplace), the shipping method (based on the carriers), and the country of origin (where the product was made), and even the quantity being shipped.
Endangered or protected species, such as ivory, certain animal skins, and exotic plants, may be restricted or prohibited.
Cultural artifacts and antiques, and cultural property protected under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
Cosmetics, beauty and personal care products are highly regulated. Review the Canadian Cosmetic advertising, labelling and ingredients document for specific information about terms and label requirements.
CBD products can be imported under very specific conditions, namely that the CBD is sourced and manufactured in Canada. There are strict limits to which parts of a cannabis or hemp plant and their derivatives can be used.
Hazardous materials like chemicals and waste materials, also known as dangerous goods, require special permits, labeling and compliance with environmental regulations.
Tobacco and alcoholic beverages may be subject to quantity limits and require payment of duties and taxes.
Pet food and pet products can be very challenging to import. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates imported pet food and treats including pet food containing animal-origin ingredients, pet treats, and compound chews.
Safety concerns like certain electrical appliances, toys, or children’s products, may be restricted.
Supplements and vitamins are usually exempt from registration requirements if they are for personal and have less than a 90-day supply. However, certain ingredients may cause the product to be considered a drug or a non-prescription drug.
Note that regulations regarding restricted and prohibited goods may change over time. If you are unsure about a specific item you wish to import, it is advisable to consult the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) or a customs broker to ensure compliance with current regulations.
What are Prohibited Goods When Importing into Canada?
There are some types of products that cannot be shipping into Canada. Prohibited items are forbidden by law and may be seized by the Canada Border Services Agency.
Examples of prohibited items include:
- Beekeeping apparatus
- Corrosives, nuclear substances, or oxidizing substances
- Counterfeit or imitation coins
- Drugs, narcotics, and any controlled substances, including illegal drugs and certain prescription medications, are prohibited unless authorized by Health Canada.
- Firearms, weapons and ammunition
- Hate propaganda
- Intellectual property rights, such as counterfeit goods, pirated software, and unauthorized copies of movies or music.
- Live animals
- Poisonous or infectious substances
- Prison-made goods
- Unlawful lottery tickets and advertising
- Weapons like tasers, brass knuckles, pepper spray
Tips for Smooth Customs Clearance when Shipping into Canada
To keep your international shipping smooth and efficient, it’s important to be proactive. When importing products into Canada, US ecommerce brands should consider the following best practices.
- Accurate product information—all products need clear and accurate descriptions, including dimensions, weight, materials, and uses, to ensure Canadian customs accurately clears all products.
- Complete customs documentation—all required forms, permits, licenses, and documents need to be filled out in their entirety, accurately and thoroughly.
- Assign correct HS codes—give your products accurate classifications, otherwise customs agents may not allow shipments to pass clearance.
- Apply proper labeling—if you have any special handling or product information, it needs to be clearly labeled on your shipments to pass through customs quickly and without fines.
- Partner with reliable shipping carriers—you’ll need to rely on your carrier to ensure shipments get across the border quickly and efficiently. Whether it’s the postal service, a private courier, or freight forwarder, choose a carrier with services that meet your product needs and real-time tracking for your customers.
- Communicate to customers—clearly outline all customs fees, shipping times, and return information your customers need to know during the checkout process to set realistic expectations.
If you are a high-growth brand expanding to the Canadian marketplace, it’s important to get expert help and support. Hire a customs broker to help you navigate the many aspects of importing your products properly. Partner with reliable providers to ensure your supply chain runs smooth.
At DCL Logistics we offer customized fulfillment solutions for high-growth brands. We’ve helped many brands scale into international markets. If you’re looking for a modern 3PL to help your navigate the changes to importing into Canada, take a look at the services we offer. Reach out and send us a note. We’d love to hear from you.