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Eight Common Reasons for Canadian Customs Delays

Customs clearance is an unavoidable part of international shipping, but with a basic understanding of what the process involves, U.S. businesses can minimize the risk of having a Canada-bound shipment delayed at the border.  Avoiding customs-related delays is especially important as U.S. businesses prioritize Canadian customers’ expectations for increasingly fast and on-time deliveries. In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, no U.S. business wants to send the dreaded notification: “Your shipment has been delayed by customs.”

The good news though, is most customs-related delays can be avoided, or easily corrected.  But as a U.S. business considers the “extra steps” required to satisfy Canadian customs requirements, it’s important to keep in mind – and learn from – some of the more common reasons for shipment delays:

Chapter 1: Incomplete or Missing Documentation

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) manages the flow of imports and exports across that country’s border.  This includes strict enforcement of paperwork and documentation requirements, which can vary depending on the type and contents of each shipment.  

Following is an overview of standard CBSA documentation requirements.  While the process may seem straightforward, with “only” a handful of documents required, businesses must not underestimate the complexity of compliance.  Another important consideration: In April CBSA mandated its “single window initiative (SWI)” electronic filing system, which provides a single, unified entry point for transmitting data to CBSA.  While the SWI is helping to streamline and facilitate the customs clearance process, it has introduced a new set of data entry requirements, as described below.  

Formal/Commercial Entries – Documentation Requirements

  • Canada Customs Invoice/Commercial Invoice. Commercial shipments valued at more than $2, CAD require a “formal customs entry,” which starts with either a properly completed commercial invoice or Canada Customs Invoice. CBSA will generally accept either type of invoice, as long as all required information is provided.  A CBSA overview of required information lists more than 20 specific data elements, a subset of which includes: 
    • Vendor name and address
    • Consignee name and address
    • Country of origin
    • Mode of transport and place from which goods began transit to Canada
    • Currency in which vendor was paid
    • Number of packages/Kind of packages/Descriptive marks and numbers on packaging
    • Total weight
    • General description
    • Quantity/Unit Price

While these may seem to be straightforward requirements, shippers are required to provide specific information for each category.  “Total weight,” for example, must show both net and gross weight, and “country of origin” can be especially difficult to identify. As a result, many shipments arrive at the border with incomplete or missing information, which generally results in customs clearance delays.

  • Canada Customs Coding Form – B3. Another required form is the Canada Customs Coding Form, or Form-B3.  This form is used to account for goods, regardless of value, for commercial use in Canada.  Form-B3 includes 51 fields, which according to CBSA, break down as follows:
    • Fields   Referred to as the “Header” portion of the document.  The information in these fields pertains to the shipment as a whole.  A partial overview of required information includes: 
      •  Importer name and address
      • Transaction number (digit number assigned by CBSA at the time goods are released)
      • Office number – Three-digit code for applicable CBSA office
      • Mode of transport (i.e. Air =1, Highway = 2, Rail = 6, Pipeline =7, Marine = 9)
      • Total value of duty 
    • Fields   Referred to as the “Subheader” section of Form-B3, this information refers to all of the shipments for one vendor or seller.  A partial overview of required information includes:
      • Vendor Name
      • Country of Origin
      • Tariff Treatment – Code for the tariff or trade agreement under which the goods are being imported into Canada
      • Classification Number – as indicated in Canada Customs Tariff listing
      • U.S. port of exit
      • Currency Code
      • Direct shipment date – This is the date indicated on the customs or commercial invoice.  Only required if the currency code represents a currency other than Canadian dollars.
      • Freight charges for shipments exported from the U.S. 
    • Fields   Require listing of all applicable shipment “number values,” including:
      • Quantity of goods being accounted for, in the unit of measure required by the Customs Tariff
      • Value for duty code (selected from a list of numeric options that describe different scenarios).
      • Rate of customs duty for the relevant classification number
      • Amount of customs duties
      • Excise tax rate, if applicable
      • Applicable Goods and Service Tax rate or exemption code
    • Fields 43 – Referred to as the “Trailer” section of Form-B3, this information applies to the entire shipment and includes:
      • Cargo control number or, for postal shipments, the CBSA Postal Import Form control number
      • Customs duties
      • SIMA assessment – applies to shipments which incur provisional duties, anti-dumping duties, or countervailing duties
      • Excise taxes
      • Goods and Services Tax.

As this overview makes clear, many of Form-B3’s fields call for special codes and considerations.  Completion of Fields #7 (mode of transport), and #14 (tariff treatment), for example, require special number codes provided by CBSA, while Fields #12 (country of origin) and #13 (place of export) require three-digit alphabetic codes indicating a specific state in the United States.

According to CBSA, “determining some of these elements, including tariff classification, value for duty, and the origin of your goods, may be complex.”  Despite this acknowledgement, all documentation is expected to be accurate and thorough. Otherwise, a shipment is at risk of being delayed by CBSA, or even denied entry.

  • Cargo Control Document (CCD).Carriers use the cargo control document to report shipments to CBSA.  The CCD acts as CBSA’s initial record of a shipment’s arrival. The carrier will transmit a copy of the CCD to the shipper, as notification that a shipment has arrived in Canada and is awaiting customs clearance.  Each CCD must include a bar-coded cargo control number (CCN).  The first four digits of the CCN must be a carrier’s unique identifying “carrier code.” 

In addition, a shipper must include the cargo control number on accompanying documentation including Customs Form-B3.

  • Bill of Lading. The carrier will provide the shipper with a bill of lading, which is a detailed list of a shipment’s contents.  This bill of lading is a legally binding document required to move a freight shipment.

Formal Entries &#; Additional Documentation Requirements

Certain shipments require additional permits, licenses and/or documentation that must accompany all materials submitted to CBSA.  Such requirements may include:

  • Permits and Licenses required by “other government departments and agencies.&#; CBSA acts on behalf of more than a dozen government departments and agencies that have control over the importation of various products.  The Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA), for example, oversees food, plants, animals, and food labelling recalls, while Health Canada oversees imports of consumer goods, drugs, medical devices, natural health products, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals.

For a U.S. business, it’s necessary to determine if a product is subject to OGD regulation, identify the compliance requirements, and ensure that all paperwork is complete and accessible when a shipment arrives at the border.  A good place to start is by reviewing CBSA’s listing of some of the most frequently imported commodities that may require permits and/or certificates.

  • USMCA Certificate of Origin. The North American Free Trade Agreement (USMCA)* eliminates duties on all qualified products moving between the three signatory countries – the United States, Mexico and Canada.  The most important factor for eligibility is for a product to have “originated” within a USMCA country or to meet USMCA standards for domestic content. The trade agreement establishes clearly-defined “rules of origin” for determining domestic content requirements for specific goods.

U.S. businesses are responsible for determining if their shipments are eligible for USMCA benefits, and for initiating the process for demonstrating eligibility.  The government does not automatically assign USMCA benefits, and if a business does not apply, no benefits will be awarded.

Once eligibility is determined, a USMCA Certificate of Origin must be completed and presented at time of entry.  The Certificate of Origin is the primary document used by customs to detail all shipment information, including origin of all product parts, proper tariff classification, and harmonized coding.

Completing the certificate of origin can be a highly confusing, exacting process.  A business must only entrust this responsibility to a highly trained employee, or to a qualified customs broker or logistics provider.  Improper claims for USMCA eligibility may result in significant penalties assessed on the individual who signed the form or made the claim.

*In October , leaders of the three USMCA participants agreed to an updated trade agreement called the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA).  That agreement is currently under review by each country’s federal legislature. Until USMCA is ratified, USMCA will remain in effect.

Informal Customs Entries – Documentation Requirements

Canada-bound shipments intended for non-commercial use, or valued at less than $2, CAD are considered “informal entries,” or “low-value shipments,” and subject to less onerous documentation requirements.  This category captures the bulk of e-commerce shipments traveling between the United States and Canada.  

In general, informal entries will either arrive in Canada via mail or through a qualified courier.  

Shipments arriving by mail

Canada Post, which is the equivalent of the U.S. Postal Service, is responsible for collecting and presenting all international mail, including parcels, letters and airmail, to CBSA.  In general, documentation requirements include:

  • Customs Declaration – Form CN22 or CN23 (depending on value)
  • Invoice – which can be a standard business invoice that includes the amount paid for the goods, in either U.S. or Canadian dollars.
  • Every parcel must have a proper label affixed, with information including:
    • Complete and address for sender and receiver
    • Accurate description of shipment contents
    • Country of origin/manufacture
    • Harmonized system tariff code
    • Value of contents in Canadian dollars
    • Proof of payment
  • Additional required documentation may include:
    • Form E14 – CBSA Postal Import Form.  This is the document used by CBSA to assess duties and taxes and keep track of shipments arriving in Canada through the mail.  If a shipment arriving in Canada is determined to owe taxes and/or duties, Form E14 will be affixed to the shipment when it is delivered.
    • OGD Import Permits or Licenses (if applicable to shipment)
    • USMCA Certificate of Origin (if applying for USMCA benefits).

Upon arrival in Canada, border security agents will inspect each piece of mail or parcel package to determine its admissibility and confirm whether contents are taxable or subject to duties.  If CBSA determines the package does not contain goods prohibited from entering Canada, and is not subject to duties or taxes, the shipment is released to Canada Post for delivery.

If additional consideration is required, the shipment will be held for further review either by CBSA or another government department or agency.

Canada Post makes clear that shippers are responsible for ensuring all customs documentation and item contents are complete, accurate and legible.  “Failure to provide any of the information required may result in delays, non-delivery and voids any delivery guarantees.”

Commercial Goods Arriving by Courier

Commercial goods valued at less than $2, CAD that arrive in Canada may be eligible for CBSA’s Courier Low Value Shipment Program, which offers expedited clearance for shipments carried by qualified couriers.

In this instance, the sender is responsible for providing the courier with data elements including the value, country of origin and a detailed description of the goods.  This program is not available for goods that require an OGD permit or license, or that are prohibited, regulated or controlled.

Single Window Initiative –MORE and Different Data Requirements

In , CBSA mandated that all CBSA-required paperwork and documentation be submitted via the Single Window Initiative (SWI).  The SWI is CBSA’s new integrated processing system for the electronic capture of all information and documentation required by customs and by other government departments (OGDs) and participating government agencies (PGAs).

With the SWI in place, information is entered once, and then seamlessly transmitted to all relevant government departments and agencies.  SWI replaces prior procedures in which agencies maintained their own systems, which were not linked. As a result, information often had to be submitted multiple times, including via fax and hard copy.

Accompanying the new filing system are new requirements for documentation and data elements.  Key changes include:

  • Businesses will need to provide more shipment information than is currently required.  
  • Importers must provide greater detail about shipment contents.  For example, it is no longer acceptable to list “auto parts,” or “textiles,” or “appliances” on a bill of lading.  Instead, an importer must list specifics such as “wiper blades,” “children’s hats,” or “refrigerators.”
  • Quantity indicators are also changing.  Essentially, bills of lading can no longer use terms including “skid” or “pallet.”  Instead, a term must be selected from an approved list of descriptive terms.

The Single Window Initiative will have a transformative effect on simplifying and streamlining the customs compliance process and minimizing the risk of delays.  But, the trade community will need to familiarize themselves with new data requirements, and make the necessary adjustments.

Chapter 2: Incorrect Tariff Classification Codes

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Importing goods by courier

If your goods are for personal use, your courier company may take care of the customs details for you. Verify the shipping and handling fees that may apply prior to completing your purchase.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) screens all goods coming into Canada and examines more closely those that may pose a threat to the safety of Canadians. The Agency uses risk management principles to expedite international trade mail without compromising the safety and security of Canadians.

The CBSA screens mail for multiple reasons, including:

  • trade facilitation
  • tariff rating
  • examinations for prohibited and controlled goods

The Agency is committed to facilitating the free flow and legitimate trade of low risk goods, while protecting local communities from illicit goods.

Process for international mail and parcels (Canada Post)

  1. Step 1 Mail items presented by Canada Post
  2. Step 2 Primary inspection
  3. Step 3 Secondary inspection or package released
  4. Step 4 Enforcement action / seizure or package released

Frequently Asked Questions

Declaration of goods

When a good is mailed to Canada from abroad, the sender completes a customs declaration form which outlines the information found within Appendix A of D, Canada Border Services Agency International Mail Processing System.

Did You Know? A proper declaration must be made on any items being imported by mail. This not only allows the CBSA to correctly assess the imported goods, but will help speed up the clearance process for the parcel.

Duties and taxes

The CBSA collects duty and taxes on imported items (including all online shopping), on behalf of the Government of Canada.

Duties and taxes apply to all international goods imported by mail that exceed the $20 exemption. If you owe duty and/or tax, it will be indicated on Form E14, CBSA Postal Import Form, which will be attached to your mail item when it is delivered.

Note: Canada Post charges a handling fee to process goods imported by mail that is subject to duty and/or tax. If the item is duty-free and tax exempt, no amount is charged.

More information

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Border Security Canada

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)



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You should contact the Canadian Border Services agency if you have questions, comments or complaints about:

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About customs package canada contact

Canada customs

Free import

• As a visitor, you can bring certain goods into Canada for your own use as "personal baggage". Personal baggage includes clothing, camping and sports equipment, cameras and personal computers. It also includes vehicles, private boats and aircraft.
• You must declare all goods when you arrive at the first CBSA port of entry. Border services officers do conduct examinations of goods being imported or exported to verify declarations. If you declare goods when you arrive and take them back with you when you leave, you will not have to pay any duty or taxes. These goods cannot be:
• used by a resident of Canada;
• used on behalf of a business based in Canada;
• be given as a gift to a Canadian resident; or
• disposed of or left in Canada.
The border services officer may ask you to leave a security deposit for your goods, which will be refunded to you when you export the goods from Canada. Should this occur, the officer will issue a Form E29B (PDF, KB), Temporary Admission Permit, retain a copy and give you one for your records. When you leave Canada, present your goods and your copy of Form E29B to the officer who will give you a receipt copy of the form and your security deposit will be refunded by mail.

• Gifts
You can import gifts for friends into Canada duty- and tax-free as long as each gift is valued at CAN$60 or less. If the gift is worth more than CAN$60, you will have to pay duty and taxes on the excess amount. You cannot claim alcoholic beverages, tobacco products or business-related material as gifts.

• International events in Canada
You can find information on streamlined border processes by going to the International Events section of the A-Z Index of the CBSA Web site at These streamlined border processes facilitate the entry and exit of people and goods temporarily entering Canada to participate in conventions, international sporting competitions, political summits, research expeditions, meetings, trade shows and incentive travel.

• Alcohol and tobacco
As a visitor or a temporary resident, you may import, free of duty and taxes, the following amounts of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, as long as these items are in your possession when you arrive in Canada.

• Alcoholic beverages
Alcoholic beverages are products that exceed % alcohol by volume. If you meet the minimum age requirements of the province or territory where you enter Canada, you can include limited quantities of alcoholic beverages in your personal entitlement. Minimum ages for the importation of alcoholic beverages, as prescribed by provincial or territorial authorities, are as follows: 18 years for Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec; and 19 years for the remaining provinces and territories.

You are allowed to import only one of the following amounts of alcoholic beverages free of duty and taxes:
• litres (53 imperial ounces) of wine; or
• a total of litres (40 ounces) of alcoholic beverages; or
• up to litres of beer or ale.

• The CBSA classifies "cooler" products according to the alcoholic beverage they contain. For example, beer coolers are considered to be beer and wine coolers are considered to be wine. Beverages not exceeding % alcohol by volume are not considered to be alcoholic beverages.
The quantities of alcohol you can bring in must be within the limit set by the province or territory where you enter Canada. If the value of the goods is more than the free allowance, you will have to pay duty and taxes, as well as provincial/territorial assessment on the excess amount. In Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, you cannot bring more than the free allowance. For more information, check with the appropriate provincial or territorial liquor control authority before your arrival to Canada.

• Tobacco products
You are allowed to bring all of the following amounts of tobacco into Canada free of duty and taxes:
• cigarettes;
• 50 cigars;
• grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco; and
• tobacco sticks.
In addition, the Excise Act, also limits the quantity of tobacco products that can be imported (or possessed) by an individual for personal use if the tobacco product is not packaged and stamped "CANADA DUTY PAID ● DROIT ACQUITTÉ." The limit is currently five units of tobacco products. One unit of tobacco products consists of one of the following:
• cigarettes;
• 50 cigars;
• grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco; or
• tobacco sticks.

• Currency and monetary instruments
If you are importing or exporting monetary instruments equal to or greater than CAN$10, (or the equivalent in a foreign currency), you must report the amount to the CBSA when you arrive or before you leave Canada. This applies to either cash or other monetary instruments. For more information, please refer to the publication called Crossing the border with $10, or more? that is available on the CBSA Web site at under "Publications and forms."


• Obscene material
• Hate propaganda
• Child pornography
• Used or second-hand mattresses
• Health products (prescription drugs)
• Cultural property


• Firearms and weapons must declare at the CBSA port of entry when you enter Canada.

• Explosives, fireworks and ammunition have to imported with written authorization and permits to bring explosives, fireworks and certain types of ammunition into Canada.

• U.S. residents are allowed to operate aircraft, marine, amateur, citizens' band (CB), General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and Family Radio Service (FRS) radios as well as cellular and PCS (personal communications service) mobile radio telephones in Canada without explicit permission from Industry Canada. If you are not a U.S. resident, you will need permission from Industry Canada to use this equipment.

• Items imported for commercial use

If you import vehicles, farm equipment or other capital equipment to use in construction, contracting or manufacturing, or other goods to use or to be used in a trade, you have to pay the goods and services tax (GST) and any applicable duty on these items.
Goods subject to import controls
Arriving in Canada 😃😃😃 - Customs Form - How to Complete!

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