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Shipping into Canada

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The mere thought of cross-border shipping and dealing with the complexities of import and export can create anxiety for even the most seasoned marketer. Yet, in the growing global economy, the transportation of goods across borders has become an important issue. Attention to this budget item is warranted when you realize that nearly eleven per cent of your cost to exhibit is spent on getting your display and products to the show.

Itís a complicated issue. Every country has its own set of duties/tariffs and regulations. Taking one short-cut or missing one step can spell disaster. In this respect shipping into Canada is no different. The good news is that with a professional customs broker and a logistics company, the hassle of shipping goods to a Canadian trade show and then back home again can be minimized.


The first step is to ensure the show you are attending is registered with Canada Customs. This is responsibility of your show manager, although you should ensure that it has been done as this will ultimately make your job easier. Itís not a difficult process for them to register.

Once the show is registered Canada Customs will notify their offices at the points of entry into Canada. When your shipment arrives it is eligible for "on-site customs clearanceĒ, which means that it moves through the point of entry in bond and can clear customs at the exhibit facility. Your display, products and samples can now be shipped directly to the event site for clearance. You need to check to ensure that your show manager has taken this step and can provide you with the registration number.

If you are clearing your shipment yourself, the Canada Border Services Agency has another procedure called the Pre-Arrival Release System (PARS). By following the PARS system importers can speed up the process by having their shipment pre-authorized before it reaches the border point of entry. For details check:

A second option is called a Temporary Import Bond ( (TIB). A temporary import bond can be used when goods are brought into Canada without payment of duty by posting a bond to guarantee that they will be exported back to the source. The amount of the bond is usually double the estimated duties. A customs broker can help with the necessary paperwork.

Goods imported under a TIB can remain in the country without the payment of duty for up to a year. These goods must be brought back to the country of export before the expiration of the bond period to avoid the assessment of liquidated damages in the amount of the bond. If the goods are not exported, the bond is forfeited and the amount of twice the value of the customs duties is levied. The one year period for exportation can be extended upon application to the port director. For more information check:

Another choice is the use of an ATA Carnet

ATA Carnet (aka "Merchandise Passport") is a document that facilitates the temporary importation of products into foreign countries by eliminating tariffs and value-added taxes (VAT) or the posting of a security deposit normally required at the time of importation. For information on how to secure an ATA Carnet check:

To know which route is best for you to take; ensuring that show management has registered with Canada Customs, completing the Pre-Arrival Release System, the Temporary Import Bond or an ATA Carnet you should consult a customs agent. A good site to begin your search for a customs agent familiar with bringing goods into Canada is found at

A couple of other helpful tips when exporting to Canada

Donít simply declare your goods as "Exhibit Materials,Ē You need to be specific. Vagueness sometimes can cause unnecessary delays

When asked to declare a value, ensure that your calculations are reasonable.

Work closely and honestly with your custom broker well in advance of your shipment.


International Shipping experience?

The next step is to ensure that your displays and products get to the right place at the right time. In this respect shipping to an international trade show takes on a new set of considerations, the most important being time. If you ship your goods to a customer and they arrive a few days late, the customer may be unhappy. If your goods arrive at the show site a few days late, everything is lost; youíre costs, the opportunity and your credibility. The best approach to selecting the right shipper is to ask about their international shipping experience.

They may have experience shipping goods to Canada either directly through their own exclusive vehicles or as part of a larger network. If the situation is the latter then you will need to understand the specifics of how they work with a larger network of shippers and whether there is any concern about delays caused when your exhibit materials are bulked into a shipment that may include goods where there are concerns about security, product testing or packaging.

Should you choose the official supplier?

Some exhibitors understand the value of using the official shipping company, while others are content to shop for the least expensive supplier. The value in the official supplier is their familiarity with the show, the facility and other exhibitors who will also be arranging shipments. If it is your first time at this show, you might consider using the official supplier. With more experience you might explore other avenues.

Are you sending a full or partial load?

Depending on where you are shipping from, the gross weight and size of your shipment will dictate the type of carrier you use. Some carriers wait until they can fill a container or truck before the shipment leaves. While this may reduce your costs it has the potential of creating a problem if your goods must arrive at a particular time.

Does the shipper have experience moving materials from one show to the next?

While you are in Canada there might be other opportunities for you to exhibit. Sending your goods home then back to Canada again might not prove cost effective. Look for is a shipper who can take your goods, store them in Canada if necessary then send them to the next show. Not all shippers have this capability.

How effective is the shipper in handling last minute problems?

The challenge of taking part in a trade show is that there are so many opportunities for last minute problems; itís the nature of this marketing tool. You need to know how your shipping company handles last minute problems. If you are considering hiring a shipper you have never used or decide to use the official shipping company and are concerned about how they will handle last minute problems, the simple solution is to ask for references; other exhibitors who have used their services in the past and who would be willing to share their experiences with you.

Does the shipper have a dedicated logistics person assigned to your file or are you a number handled by a call centre?

You canít simply have your shipment picked up at your loading door and hope that it arrives on time. You need to track it along the way. When you arrive at the show and ready to set up, you need to be able to contact someone who is familiar with your shipment in order to minimize last minute challenges. Some shipping companies use centralized call centers where each customer is a number. In other situations you will be assigned a dedicated logistics person who is at your disposal to ensure your shipment arrived on time and in good shape.

If you have a relatively small shipment you may fall into the former situation where your goods are bulked into a larger shipment and handled by one central call centre. If you have a larger shipment then you can, and should consider dealing with a company that offers you the service of having a contact person who can help you if problems arise. In either case, you must have a method of emergency access. You canít arrive at your trade show in Canada on a Saturday and find that your shipper isnít open until Monday when your show starts on Sunday. Because trade shows are time sensitive having access to troubleshooting 24/7 is a good form of insurance.

The bottom line when shipping exhibit materials into Canada is two fold; do your homework and give yourself lots of time. Welcome to Canada.



Canadian Society of Customs Brokers

Canada Border Services Agency


Andrew Gillespie
The Commerce Trade Show Logistics Group Ltd
Carol DíAlessandro
Logistics Associates

 © 2013 by Barry Siskind