How to become a Non-Resident Importer


Becoming a non-resident importer in Canada opens up a world of opportunities for businesses looking to expand their market reach. As an NRI, companies outside of Canada can streamline the import process by taking on the responsibilities of a domestic importer without a physical presence in the country. 


This article delves into the intricacies of the advantageous non-resident importer (NRI) program, exploring its benefits and how to begin the process of becoming an NRI. We cover the specifics of what being an NRI entails and the advantages it can offer to your business. 


Navigating the Canadian market as an NRI can help you achieve increased operational flexibility, improved shipment management, better logistics, and a more seamless customer experience overall. However, this process involves understanding Canadian regulations, tax implications, and compliance requirements, making it essential to grasp the complexities before diving in.


Whether you’re a small business or a multinational corporation eyeing the Canadian market, this guide can help you determine the first crucial steps to becoming an NRI. 


What Is A Non-Resident Importer?


In Canada, a non-resident importer (NRI) is a company or individual located outside of Canada who assumes responsibility for customs clearance and other import-related obligations when bringing goods into the country. Typically, importers would rely on Canadian customs brokers to clear goods through customs, but NRIs take on this role themselves.


You can become an NRI through the Non-Resident Importer Program, an initiative spearheaded by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to help alleviate importing burdens for Canadian purchasers.  


According to the International Trade Administration


“The Non-Resident Importer Program (NRI) is best suited for U.S. companies selling directly to Canadian consumers An important key to achieving market penetration and expanding export sales to Canada is to minimize the Canadian customer’s work by making the transaction resemble a Canadian domestic transaction., retailers and businesses.”


Being an NRI allows a foreign entity to sell goods in Canada without having a physical presence there. This arrangement can streamline the importing process and provide more control over the shipment, taxes, and duties. It also enables non-resident entities to compete more effectively in the Canadian market by offering goods directly to Canadian customers.


The obligations of an NRI include all shipping, customs clearances, taxes, and handling fees. An NRI can charge customers directly for these fees, and the transaction will appear as a domestic transaction to the consumers themselves. 


How to Become a Non-Resident Importer in Canada


Canada’s Non-Resident Importer Program is best suited for U.S. companies, with many of the steps to becoming an NRI involving U.S. authorities. To register for the NRI program, the International Trade Administration recommends working with a customs broker to simplify the process.


The main benefit of working with a customs broker to register as an NRI is that a broker can ensure your company is acting as a compliant exporter. As an NRI, you are both exporting a product from the U.S. and importing it to Canada, making it vital to have a clear understanding of all the regulatory standards both processes require, as well as the taxes and fees you must pay. 


Additionally, a customs broker can help you acquire a Canadian Business Number and complete the Agreement for Maintaining Books and Records Outside of Canada


Other key considerations for becoming a NRI include:


    • Canadian Taxes: Most imported goods in Canada are subject to the Goods and Services Tax (GST). While the consumer typically pays the GST, the importer is responsible for collecting and remitting this tax to Canada Revenue Agency. Companies with sales exceeding CDN$30,000 must register for the GST with the agency. 


    • Certification of Origin: Products originating in the U.S. or Mexico may receive a preferential tariff treatment under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Claiming this preferential treatment requires importers to file a claim with nine minimum data elements provided via an invoice or any other document that adequately identifies a product and meets the requirements of the USMCA. 


    • Customs Clearance Documentation: All exports to Canada must provide specific and well-documented information to gain customs clearance in Canada. Companies shipping more than CDN$3,300 worth of goods must complete a Canada Customs Invoice, while companies shipping under CDN$3,300 in goods can submit a standard commercial invoice. 


For more information on the specific information and documentation required to become an NRI, check out the CBSA’s Guide to importing commercial goods in Canada and the International Trade Administration’s official webpage for the Non-Resident Importer Program


Benefits of Becoming a Non-Resident Importer


Becoming an NRI in Canada offers numerous advantages for foreign businesses seeking to expand their market reach and streamline their operations within the country. Increased efficiency, improved market accessibility, and a stronger competitive advantage stand as three of the main benefits for NRIs.


With this in mind, let’s look at these benefits in closer detail:


    • Increased Efficiency: NRIs can streamline their operations by centralizing the import process. Instead of relying on Canadian partners or intermediaries, these companies can integrate their import activities into their existing global logistics framework. This consolidation of processes can result in cost savings and operational efficiencies.


    • Improved Market Accessibility: One of the primary advantages of being an NRI is the enhanced access to the Canadian market. By assuming responsibility for customs clearance and compliance, non-resident importers can sell goods directly to Canadian consumers, increase their market penetration, and achieve a more efficient supply chain.


    • Stronger Competitive Edge: NRIs often have more control over their pricing strategies. By managing the import process themselves, they can potentially offer more competitive prices to Canadian customers. This competitive pricing can be a significant advantage in a market where cost and value play crucial roles in consumer decision-making.


However, these are far from the only benefits of becoming an NRI. In addition to the three advantages above, operating as an NRI in Canada can also help you achieve: 


    • Greater Control: Taking on the role of an importer allows for greater control over the entire import process. NRIs have more oversight over shipping schedules, customs procedures, and compliance requirements. This control can lead to smoother logistics, reduced transit times, and improved customer service, ultimately enhancing the overall customer experience.


    • Brand Presence & Localization: Having a direct presence in the Canadian market as an NRI allows for better brand visibility and potential localization efforts. Companies can tailor their marketing strategies, product offerings, and customer service to cater specifically to Canadian preferences and demands, fostering stronger brand loyalty and market positioning.


    • Distribution Flexibility: Managing imports independently gives NRIs the flexibility to choose their distribution channels and fulfillment centers within Canada. This flexibility enables them to adapt their distribution strategies based on market demands, seasonal variations, or specific regional preferences.


    • Tax Benefits & Financial Control: Being an NRI can offer potential tax advantages and greater financial control. Companies can manage their tax obligations more effectively, potentially benefit from tax incentives or exemptions, and have a clearer understanding of their financial liabilities within the Canadian market.


    • Adaptability and Responsiveness: With direct control over the import process, NRIs can swiftly adapt to changes in regulations, market trends, or customer preferences. This agility allows for quicker decision-making and adjustments to product offerings or supply chain strategies.


Ultimately, becoming a non-resident importer in Canada empowers foreign businesses with direct access to the Canadian market, greater control over import processes, enhanced competitiveness, and flexibility in operations. This arrangement not only facilitates market expansion but also fosters efficiency and adaptability, contributing to long-term success in the Canadian business landscape.


What are the Responsibilities of an NRI? 


As a non-resident importer (NRI) in Canada, taking on the role of overseeing importation processes comes with a set of responsibilities that are crucial for compliance with Canadian customs regulations and smooth business operations. 


Here are the key responsibilities to consider before becoming an NRI:


    • Customs Compliance: NRIs are responsible for ensuring compliance with Canadian customs regulations. This includes accurate declaration of goods, proper classification according to tariff schedules, and adherence to import restrictions or prohibitions.


    • Import Documentation: NRIs must prepare and present all necessary import documentation accurately, such as invoices, packing lists, certificates of origin, and any other required paperwork to customs authorities for clearance.


    • Duty and Tax Payment: NRIs are responsible for paying duties, taxes, and other fees associated with importing goods into Canada. These payments can include the Goods and Services Tax (GST) or Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), customs duties, and excise taxes if applicable.


    • Record-Keeping: Maintaining comprehensive and accurate records related to import transactions is crucial. NRIs must retain documents such as invoices, bills of lading, customs declarations, and other import-related records for a specified period, typically six years.


    • Bond or Surety: NRIs might need to provide a bond or surety to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to ensure compliance with customs regulations and payment of duties and taxes. This bond acts as a financial guarantee to cover any potential liabilities.


    • Communication with Customs Authorities: NRIs are responsible for communicating effectively with the Canada Border Services Agency regarding their import activities. This includes providing accurate information, responding to inquiries, and addressing any issues or discrepancies promptly.


    • Importer of Record (IOR): As the Importer of Record (IOR), the NRI is legally responsible for the imported goods. This includes liability for the accuracy of information provided, the authenticity of documents, and adherence to all import regulations.


    • Compliance with Regulatory Changes: Staying informed about changes in customs regulations, trade agreements, tariffs, and import/export laws is crucial. NRIs must adapt their import processes accordingly to ensure ongoing compliance.


    • Risk Management: Managing and mitigating risks associated with importing goods into Canada is another responsibility for NRIs to consider. This can include assessing and addressing potential risks related to customs compliance, valuation, classification, and regulatory changes.


    • Customer Service and Satisfaction: Ensuring a smooth import process contributes to positive customer experiences. NRIs should aim to provide reliable and efficient import services to maintain customer satisfaction.


Overall, assuming the responsibilities of a non-resident importer in Canada demands meticulous attention to detail, adherence to regulations, financial accountability, and effective communication with customs authorities to facilitate smooth and compliant importation of goods into the country.


Final Thoughts


Becoming a non-resident importer in Canada presents a strategic gateway for businesses aiming to tap into the Canadian market. The advantages of this setup — such as streamlined logistics, expanded market reach, and improved customer experience — make it an appealing option for companies worldwide.


However, success as an NRI hinges on meticulous planning, compliance with Canadian regulations, and a comprehensive understanding of the import process. As such, leveraging professional guidance, staying updated on regulatory changes, and prioritizing a seamless experience are crucial for NRIs to establish a smooth operational flow.


By embracing the nuances of Canadian importation and leveraging the benefits of this system, companies can forge profitable pathways into the vibrant Canadian market.