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How To Avoid Customs Charges From the USA To Canada

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Ordering from the US is one of the best workarounds to access products unavailable in Canada. Unfortunately, the government usually imposes duty fees and taxes on imported goods, increasing your shipment’s cost.

The good news is you can avoid duty fees in Canada in several ways, including receiving goods as a gift or importing products made in the USA.

This article elaborates on the best tips and tricks to avoid customs fees when shipping from the USA to Canada.

Key Takeaways

  • Some of the best ways to avoid customs charges are sending items as gifts, ordering products that cost $20 or less, and self-clearing your imported goods.
  • The term “customs charges” refers to the combined value of multiple fees you must pay when importing products.
  • You can import items that cost $150 duty-free if they have certifications that prove they’re made in countries part of the free trade agreement, CUSMA.

What Are Customs Charges?

The term “customs charges” is an umbrella term that refers to the combined fees charged on imported products. In Canada, customs charges usually include three major fee categories:

  • Canadian import taxes and customs duties
  • Sales tax
  • Brokerage fees

Let’s discuss each of them below.

Canadian Import Taxes And Customs Duties

The Canadian import taxes and customs duties are federal taxes imposed by the government. The amount you pay for these fees varies depending on your imported products’ type, size and weight. Hence, it’s usually harder to predict than other types of customs charges.

For the most part, import taxes are unavoidable, while duties are charged only on certain categories.

To know the latest customs tariff rates for the different product classifications, you may visit the official Canadian Customs Tariff website.

Sales Taxes

Similar to how most goods purchased in Canada include sales taxes such as GST, PST, or HST, products imported from the USA are also subject to sales taxes.

How much you pay for this fee depends on the declared Canadian value of your imported products and your province’s sales tax regulations.

The table below shows how provinces charge sales taxes on imported goods.

GST and PSTGST OnlyHST
-Quebec
-Manitoba
-Saskatchewan
-British Columbia
-Yukon
-Alberta
-Nunavut
-Northwest Territories
-Ontario
-Nova Scotia
-New Brunswick
-Prince Edward Island
-Newfoundland and Labrador  

Brokerage Fees

Unlike the previous two fees mentioned, brokerage fees don’t go straight to the government.

Instead, they’re paid to your shipment’s courier to cover the cost of clearing your products across the border. Brokerage fees take into account the expenses associated with clearing your goods, and of course, the courier charges extra for the convenience you get in return.

The amount of this fee usually depends on the courier that delivers your goods.

What is the Canada Import Duty Calculator?

The Canada import duty calculator is a tool the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) provides to help you estimate your imported products’ customs duties and import taxes.

When using this tool, you will be prompted to enter the following information:

  • The product type.
  • Your province or territory.
  • The total value of the product.
  • Whether your product is made in a CUSMA country.

The calculator then estimates the duty and taxes you must pay for your imported goods.

Note: The values provided by the Canada import duty calculator should only be treated as rough estimates. The CBSA does not guarantee that this tool is always accurate.

How To Avoid Customs Charges When Shipping From The US To Canada

Listed below are multiple ways to avoid duties and taxes when shipping from the USA to Canada.

Send Items As A Gift

You won’t need to pay duties and/or taxes on items shipped to you as gifts, provided they cost $60 or less.

For goods to qualify as gifts, they must be:

  • Sent by a friend or a relative
  • Include a gift card or other indicators that they’re gifts

If you receive a gift valued over $60, you will only need to pay taxes and duties on the portion that exceeds the $60 threshold.

Note: The following products don’t qualify for this gift exemption: items sent by businesses, tobacco, alcoholic beverages, and advertising material.

Buy Products Made In The USA

Thanks to the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), products entirely produced, packed and sold in the USA can be imported to Canada duty-free as long as they cost $150 or less.

In order to take advantage of this trade agreement, your imported products must have a valid “certification of origin,” which proves they were made entirely in the USA.

Here’s a table that shows the duty and tax exemptions on CUSMA goods.

Value of Goods (in CAN)Description
$40 or lessDuty and tax-free
$40 to $150Duty-free, but taxes apply
More than $150Duties and taxes apply

Note: This exemption doesn’t apply to CUSMA products sent by mail.

Order Items Less Than $20

Items that cost $20 or less can be imported from the USA to Canada without tax or duty.

This tax exemption calculates the total value of the entire shipment, not its individual items. Therefore, if you ship multiple products, with each item costing less than $20, you’ll be subject to duty fees if the total value of the shipment exceeds $20.

Note: Some items that don’t qualify for this tax exemption are: tobacco, periodicals, books, magazines, alcoholic beverages and goods delivered through the Canadian post office box or a Canadian intermediary.

Self-Clear Items

On top of reducing or eliminating your import taxes and customs duties, you may also avoid your courier’s brokerage fees by self-clearing your imported products. This means visiting a local CBSA office and paying for your imported product’s taxes and duties yourself.

Listed below is how the self-accounting process for your imported products usually goes.

Steps To Self-Clear Items And Avoid Brokerage Fees

Step 1: Get notified that your products’ import taxes and duties are due.

You’ll either get a notification through email or by phone.

Step 2: Inform your courier that you want to self-clear your goods.

Some couriers, like DHL, have self-clearance forms you must fill up online. However, other companies require you to inform them through calls or emails.

In the latter scenario, it’s best to call couriers as they sometimes respond late to emails.

Step 3: Wait for the self-clearance documentation.

When self-clearing your goods, your courier will send you the paperwork you must present at the CBSA office.

Step 4: Visit an Inland CBSA office.

This type of CBSA office offers accounting services to the general public.

Step 5: Clear your goods.

Speak to a CBSA agent that can assist you in self-clearing your imported products, and simply follow their instructions. Often, this process only takes 10-15 minutes.

Step 6: Inform your courier.

After clearing your products, inform your courier that you’ve finished the process. Send the necessary proof they might ask of you.

Step 7: Wait for your products.

At last, your courier will deliver your products like usual. However, you won’t need to pay extra hefty fees for your courier’s brokerage services this time.

List of Duty-Free Items From USA To Canada

If you want to avoid customs duties at all costs, here is the list of items you should ship from the USA to Canada.

#1: Items That Cost $20 or Less.

Remember that the values of goods inside the same shipment are combined, and some products don’t qualify for this tax and duty exemption.

#2: Gifts That Cost $60 or Less.

There must be a clear indicator that the items are gifts. This exemption doesn’t apply to all products.

#3: Items That Originate From Countries Part of CUSMA

Products made entirely in the USA or Mexico can be imported to Canada with zero customs duties if their value doesn’t exceed $150. Note that a certification of origin is required.

Conclusion

Avoiding customs charges when shipping from the USA to Canada isn’t that complicated. The best part is there are multiple ways to do so. Hence, to maximize your savings when ordering from the USA, consider the options above to minimize or eliminate your taxes, duties, or both.

FAQs

How much can I import from the USA to Canada without paying duty?

It depends on what your imported products classify as. For gifts, the threshold is $60 and for other eligible items, it’s $20. Products that are proven to be made in countries part of the CUSMA can be imported to Canada duty-free as long as they’re worth $150 or less.

Can I send a gift to Canada without paying duty?

Yes, you can send a gift to Canada without paying duty. Just ensure that the products you send have a declared value of $60 or less.

How much can I buy online from the USA without paying duty?

If your seller can issue a certification of origin that proves your goods are produced entirely in the USA, you can buy items valued at $150 or less online without paying duty. However, without this CUSMA duty exemption, only orders worth $20 or less will be free from customs duties.

What items can I not send to Canada?

Some items you can’t send to Canada are counterfeit or imitation coins, cannabis, weapons and firearms, live animals, and goods that may explode, corrode, or are highly flammable. However, you may be allowed to import some of these goods with the necessary permits.

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Author

Gravatar for Enoch Omololu, MSc (Econ)
Enoch Omololu, MSc (Econ)

Enoch Omololu, personal finance expert, author, and founder of Savvy New Canadians, has written about money matters for over 10 years. Enoch has an MSc (Econ) degree in Finance and Investment Management from the University of Aberdeen Business School and has completed the Canadian Securities Course. His expertise has been highlighted in major publications like Forbes, Globe and Mail, Business Insider, CBC News, Toronto Star, Financial Post, CTV News, TD Direct Investing, Canadian Securities Exchange, and many others. Enoch is passionate about helping others win with their finances and recently created a practical investing course for beginners. You can read his full author bio.

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