Coping With Customs When Shipping Products From Canada

Selling your products online comes with many opportunities to reach consumers in a global market. Many Canadian eCommerce businesses ship to the US and beyond. That said, Canadian small businesses have only recently begun to embrace eCommerce in general, let alone selling to international markets. Individual sellers often find it that much more intimidating. Sadly, this often prevents Canadian merchants from offering some truly outstanding products to international customers, resulting in stunted growth and economic impact.

“Currently the largest e-commerce based exports—or e‑exports—for Canada are agriculture and processed foods, and consumer goods such as apparel and footwear,” according to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.

How do I Ship Products From Canada to the US or Other Countries?

Navigating Customs can be an daunting obstacle for shipping internationally, but it shouldn’t be! It’s much easier than it looks and your shipping or fulfillment company will be happy to guide you if required.

Shipping internationally is more involved if you’re exporting products that require special inspections, such as dangerous goods, weapons, plants, animals, food or health supplements. You’ll have to dive into regulations, restrictions and laws to ensure your product can be legally imported to the destination country. Some restrictions are very specific, while others apply almost inadvertently. For example, you can’t send Kinder Surprise eggs to the US, because having an object inside of food is prohibited. Other items may be imported with special requirements met, such as an import permit.

Customs Forms

Customs forms are a necessary part of international shipping from Canada. The country you are shipping to will need the paperwork to calculate duties and taxes. Factors that impact Customs assessments include the sale amount, type of product, where it was manufactured, and trade agreements between countries.

Some sections of these Customs forms cause more confusion than others:

  • The Item Description field requires specific information about the products you’re shipping. You’re sending ‘leather Nike running shoes’, not ‘shoes’. You’re sending an ‘illuminated nylon dog collar’, not ‘pet supplies’. Avoid unnecessary details that may embarrass your customer, however, such as size or identifying items of a personal nature.
  • The Weight refers to the finished package that’s ready to be shipped, not the product alone.
  • The Value refers to both the value of individual products and the total value of the shipment. It’s used to calculate duties and taxes, including the De Minimis (exemption value) for countries that allow exemptions for orders valued under a certain amount. Never try to circumvent declarations or product value with illegal maneuvers, such as saying the item is a gift.
  • The HS Code refers to the international ‘Harmonized System’ code that classifies products. It’s intended to help with tax assessment and speed up customs processing, but only if you get it right. It’s often not required if you would rather not take a guess. Canada Post doesn’t require an HS Code at the time of this writing, but they do provide a tool to find an HS Code.

Tips for Successful Shipping From Canada

  • Make sure you inform customers about additional fees they may be charged when receiving their package. UPS, for example, charges high brokerage fees along with the taxes & customs. Your customers will be charged when they receive their parcel and it usually doesn’t go over well. Other shippers will allow you to include everything at the point of purchase so there are no unpleasant surprises.
  • It’s important to warn customers that delivery may be delayed by customs processing. Your cutoff times for pre-holiday delivery should also allow a generous amount of time for Customs, which may experience delays due to volume.
  • You can slash the cost of shipping by using an eCommerce platform or a reliable fulfillment service that already has volume deals from all major shipping companies.
  • Always choose shipping options with global tracking, preferably with a signature requirement.
  • International shipments often travel longer distances than domestic shipping. It’s always a good idea to package shipments in a sturdy box with extra packing materials, ample tape and a securely covered, non-reflective shipping label. That’s even more important for international shipping.
  • Get your toes wet with marketplaces like Amazon. You’ll learn so much in a relatively safe, guided environment. You’ll still have to navigate US Customs  if you ship items an American marketplace for fulfillment, or you may opt to have American items delivered directly to the fulfillment center. For example, you can have a US ‘prep & ship’ company send inventory to Amazon US for listing on, which can then be shipped to American or international customers by Amazon.
  • Consider dropshipping from the destination country directly to the consumer.  It eliminates all inventory and shipping headaches.

Should I Ship My Products Internationally?

Customs isn’t something you should take lightly, but it isn’t as difficult to navigate as you may think. The potential increase in profit is enticing enough to make it worthy of your time and investment. Canadian small businesses and individual sellers are exporting their merchandise to the United States and beyond, because it gives them a competitive advantage and creates an additional source of revenue.  It doesn’t work for every company, but very little does.  Start slow, learn from reputable experts and then give it a try with a few select products.

??? Have you experienced any problems or triumphs when shipping your products from Canada to other countries?

Discuss this and other online business topics in the Online Business Canada Facebook group!


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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at Online Business Canada | Website | + posts

Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on, and, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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