Exporting to the United States

Table of contents

Preparing to export
Customs and regulations
Export training
Export financing
Sources of export assistance
Related reading


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.

Exporting guides

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
  • Regulations
  • Reporting requirements

Read online:
Trade Commissioner Service - Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting
CBSA - Guide to exporting commercial goods from Canada

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 Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, include:

  • Frequently asked exporting questions
  • Developing your export plan
  • An overview of CUSMA
  • Building export success

Read online:
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:

  • Demographics
  • Economic profiles
  • Geography
  • Intellectual property protection
  • Political and legal aspects
  • Trade agreements (CUSMA)
  • 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.

Read online:
Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

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.

Read online:
5 key questions your export plan should answer

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 International business development 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.

Read online:

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.

Read online:
Webinars and workshops for new exporters

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

Read online:
Cross-border e-commerce

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 without a work visa can still travel to the U.S. to attend trade shows or business meetings, perform market research, and negotiate contracts.

For information on the regulation for selling products within the U.S., contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS).

Contact UCIS:
Read online:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Customs and 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.

Legal questions

Legal questions

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, immigration 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:

Read online:
Pro Bono Ontario - Free Legal Advice Hotline


You can also contact the Law Society of Ontario'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.

Use online:
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).

Contact 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 "3" for business information, and then press "0" to speak with an agent

Contact CBSA:

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.

Read online:
Customs D Memoranda
Acts and Regulations of Other Government Departments

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.

Read online:
Memorandum D19-4-1
Cultural property export permits

Single-use plastics rules and restrictions

Single-use plastics rules and restrictions

There are rules and restrictions for using, selling, importing and exporting single-use plastics that may apply to your business. The regulations include common items such as plastic bags, cutlery, straws and various containers. Refer to the Environment and Climate Change Canada’s website for the regulations and guidance on alternative products for your business. 

Contact Environment and Climate Change Canada:
Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations


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.

Read online:
Travelling with CAD$10,000 or more

Entry requirements

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:

Informal entry

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.

Read online:
Filing an informal entry

Formal 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.

Read online:
Filing a formal entry

Export permits

You will need an Export Permit if you are selling goods that are on the Export Control List. The Trade Controls Bureau 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 Trade Controls Bureau:
Export Controls

You may also need U.S. licences or permits for specific products including:

For more information, visit the U.S. 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 a U.S. export broker to help you.

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.

Read online:
U.S. Federal Trade Commission - Clothing and Textiles

Food products

Before you export food products, review your food or beverage product label to make sure it meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labelling standards.

Read online:
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.

Contact EXCOL:
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.

Use online:
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 offers businesses a number of specialized standards and standards-related information online products.

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.

Read online:
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.

Visit the websites:
Canadian export classification
Customs tariff - Harmonized commodity description and coding system (HS)


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.

Read online:
Incoterms 2020 rules

Duty deferral program

There are custom programs that allow you, under specific circumstances, to defer payments on goods you have imported and will be exporting.

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.

You may also be able to access the duty deferral programs more quickly and conveniently through the designated Free Trades Zones (FTZs) already established in Canada:

Intellectual property

A Canadian patent, trademark or industrial design does not secure your rights outside of Canada. You should consider obtaining IP protection in the countries where you plan on doing business, including selling products over the Internet and/or manufacturing products overseas.

  • 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.

Read online:
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
U.S. Copyright Office

Export training

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 Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade offers general export information on: Export Financing, E-Commerce, E-Business, Internet Exposure Benefits and Managing Export Growth.

Contact Ontario Export Services:
Grow your business here and abroad
E-commerce 101 for exporters
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 covering topics such as:

  • 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

Contact FITT:
FITT courses

Professional development modules

Get help understanding topics such as the import tariff classification system, CUSMA, 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:
Courses & Programs

Export financing

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.

Services include:

Contact EDC:

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

Explore financial services that focus on market expansion and exporting for Canadian small businesses.

Contact BDC:
Business loans - Working capital

CanExport Program

You could get up to $50,000 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 500 full-time employees
  • Have an annual revenue between $100,000 and $100 million

Eligible activities include:

  • E-commerce adoption and expansion
  • New COVID-19 related certifications and requirements
  • Business travel
  • Trade fairs (includes virtual)
  • 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.

Contact the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS):

For other export financing programs that may be of assistance to you consult the Business Benefits Finder tool 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.

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.

Read online:
International trade and investment

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.

Contact COEF:
Canada-Ontario Export Forum (COEF)

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)

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.

Contact OMAFRA:
Export your Ontario food products
PROFIT: New-to-Exporting Seminar

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.

Read online:
Foreign Exchange Facility Guarantee

Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC)

Get assistance from this Government of Canada export sales agency with foreign government procurement including the following sectors:

  • Aerospace
  • Defence and security
  • Construction and infrastructure
  • Clean technologies
  • Information and communications technology (ICT)

As a Canadian business exporting your products and services, you may be able to find valuable foreign government procurement opportunities if you register with the CCC’s Global Bid Opportunity Finder (GBOF), a free, e-Procurement platform, available only to Canadian companies.

Contact CCC:
Canadian Commercial Corporation 
Global Bid Opportunity Finder (GBOF)

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.

Read online:
Business Women in International Trade

Other SBS 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:


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