International Shipping to Canada: Costs, Companies, and Customs

Stop struggling to find an international shipper to send your items to Canada. This guide shows you how.
A shipping vessel and the title: International Shipping to Canada: Costs, Companies, and Customs

When shipping your belongings to Canada, you want to find the best service at the most affordable price.

Having a list of shipping companies and prices is critical to meeting that goal.

That’s why we created this guide to shipping to Canada.

In this guide, you’ll find out how to prepare your package, find the right shipping company, and hire shipping companies for international moves.

Speaking of which, if you’re looking for an international moving company for your move to Canada, fill out the form on our contact page. You’ll get five free quotes from reputable shipping companies within 24 hours.

Subscribe to our newsletter and become one of the first to read our in-depth guides for expats in ​Canada.

Shipping to Canada

Shipping your items to Canada is fairly straightforward. This section will take you through the steps of preparing a package and filling out the correct paperwork.

Preparing a Package

How you prepare your package for shipping is important. Your items need to be properly packaged to make sure they arrive in one piece and undamaged.

A man preparing a package to be sent for delivery.
label your packages properly and complete the required immigration paperwork to increase your odds of having a smooth transition at Canadian Customs.

Most shipping companies can’t guarantee that your package won’t bump into other packages, be compressed when stacked, or be exposed to temperature and pressure changes.

To best prepare your package:

  1. Use a strong, good quality corrugated cardboard box.
  2. Remove any labels and cover up any previous shipment markings, including old addresses.
  3. To protect fragile items, wrap them in bubble wrap, paper, or a towel or t-shirt. Protect large photo frames and mirrors by securing the back and front with cardboard cut-outs larger than the item. Place soft material, like those mentioned above, between the cardboard and the item to reduce pressure and help protect the glass.
  4. Fill the box and keep the weight of your package distributed evenly.
  5. Fill the remaining space with cushioning material. This can include packaging peanuts, paper, or fabric. Make sure the items are secure, movement is limited, and the box is full. You want your items to be protected if dropped or moved.
  6. Put a second address label inside the box. This is useful in case your outer address label or markings are damaged.
  7. Close the box and seal all seams with packing tape. Don’t use string as it can catch on conveyor belts.
  8. Write your destination address and return address on the largest side of the box.

Filling Out Shipping Paperwork

Your shipping company gives you a customs declaration form to fill out. It’s important that you fill it out accurately and legibly.

A man filling out paperwork.
Since Canada is a bilingual country, you can write down all customs and content information in either English or French.

You are expected to write down:

  • Your destination address and telephone number
  • Your return address and telephone number
  • An accurate description of the package’s contents
  • How much each item is worth

Writing Canadian Addresses

Canadian addresses are written much like American and European addresses. Though, there are some minor differences.

Canadian Postal Codes

A postal code is similar to an American zip code except that it includes both numbers and letters.

Each postal code is made up of a combination of three letters and three numbers. The letters and numbers are combined into two groups separated by a space.

A Canadian postal code looks something like this: M5T 2S8

It’s important to write out a postal code clearly. Only use capital letters and be sure to include a space between each grouping of numbers and letters.

When typing an address, the standard is to include one space between each grouping.

If you have a street address but need help finding a postal code, you can look it up on Canada Post’s website.

Province Abbreviations

Canadian addresses include an abbreviation of the destination province or territory.

Abbreviations are written the same way in both English and French.

The following are the official two-letter abbreviations for Canadian provinces and territories:

  • Alberta – AB
  • British Columbia – BC
  • Manitoba – MB
  • New Brunswick – NB
  • Newfoundland and Labrador- NL
  • Nova Scotia – NS
  • Northwest Territories – NT
  • Nunavut – NU
  • Ontario – ON
  • Prince Edward Island – PE
  • Quebec – QC
  • Saskatchewan – SK
  • Yukon Territory – YT

Home Addresses

There are two accepted ways of writing home addresses in Canada. Both are used equally, so how you decide to write them is up to you.

Example No. 1:

  • Name of Recipient
  • Street Address, Apartment Abbreviation, Apartment Number (if applicable)
  • City, Province or Territory Abbreviation, Postal Code
  • Canada

Written out, the above home address looks like this:

  • JOHN DOE
  • 1049 ANY STREET, APT. 306
  • TORONTO, ON M6T 1L9
  • CANADA

Example No. 2:

  • Name of Recipient
  • Apartment Number (if applicable), Hyphen, Street Address
  • City, Province or Territory Abbreviation, Postal Code
  • Canada

Written out, the above home address looks like this:

  • JOHN DOE
  • 306–1049 ANY STREET
  • TORONTO, ON M6T 1L9
  • CANADA

It’s important to leave enough space between the province or territory abbreviation and the postal code.

When typing an address, the standard is to include two spaces between the abbreviation and the postal code.

It’s only necessary to include Canada in the address when shipping from outside of the country. Don’t include it if you’re shipping locally.

Also, write or type your addresses in uppercase letters. It helps ensure your package is sorted and delivered promptly.

Business Addresses

There are two accepted ways of writing business addresses in Canada. Both are used equally, so how you decide to write them is up to you.

Example No. 1:

  • Name of Recipient
  • Department (if applicable), Name of Business
  • Street Address, Suite Number (if applicable)
  • City, Province or Territory Abbreviation, Postal Code
  • Canada

Written out, the above business address looks like this:

  • JOHN DOE
  • ANY DEPARTMENT, ANY BUSINESS
  • 1049 ANY STREET, SUITE 306
  • TORONTO, ON M6T 1L9
  • CANADA

Example No. 2:

  • Name of Recipient
  • Department (if applicable), Name of Business
  • Suite Number (if applicable), Hyphen, Street Address
  • City, Province or Territory Abbreviation, Postal Code
  • Canada

Written out, the above address will look something like this:

  • JOHN DOE
  • ANY DEPARTMENT, ANY BUSINESS
  • 306–1049 ANY STREET
  • TORONTO, ON M6T 1L9
  • CANADA

Like Canadian home addresses, it’s important to leave enough space between the province or territory abbreviation and the postal code.

When typing an address, the standard is to include two spaces between the abbreviation and the postal code.

It’s only necessary to include Canada in the address when shipping from outside of the country. Don’t include it if you’re shipping locally.

Also, write or type your addresses in uppercase letters. It helps ensure your package is sorted and delivered promptly.

PO Boxes

A Canadian postal box address is slightly different from a home or business address. Depending on where it’s located, it may or may not include a street address.

Example No. 1:

  • Name of Recipient
  • Postal Box Number, Station Information
  • City, Province or Territory Abbreviation, Postal Code
  • Canada

Written out, the above postal box address looks like this:

  • JOHN DOE
  • PO BOX 1105, STATION A
  • TORONTO, ON M6T 1L9
  • CANADA

Example No.2:

  • Name of Recipient
  • Street Address
  • Postal Box Number, Station Information
  • City, Province or Territory Abbreviation, Postal Code
  • Canada

Written out, the above postal box address looks like this:

  • JOHN DOE
  • 1049 ANY STREET
  • PO BOX 1105, STATION A
  • TORONTO, ON M6T 1L9
  • CANADA

Like Canadian home and business addresses, it’s important to leave adequate space between the province or territory abbreviation and the postal code.

When typing an address, the standard is to include two spaces between the abbreviation and the postal code.

It’s only necessary to include Canada in the address when shipping from outside of the country. Don’t include it if you’re shipping locally.

Also, write or type your addresses in uppercase letters. It helps ensure your package is sorted and delivered promptly.

Shipping Rates

Now that you know how to prepare your package for shipping, let’s look at how much that package might cost you to ship.

A shipping vessel docked at a shipping port being loaded with containers.
Shipping rates depend on how you ship your items: by land, by air, or by sea.

Shipping rates vary but depend on:

  • Size and weight of your package
  • Shipping method
  • Distance it has to travel
  • How quickly you want it to arrive

The cost of insurance and customs tariffs also effect pricing. You can get a basic breakdown of shipping rates using an online freight rate calculator.

I used Freightos to estimate the cost of shipping a box, crate, and container from three areas of the world.

The box shipment weighs 100 pounds. The crate weighs 200 pounds. The container weights 1,000 pounds.

Here are what the acronyms in the table mean:

  • Air: when your goods are shipped to Canada by Courier
  • HC: High Cube, or when your goods are shipped to Canada in containers that are taller than a standard container
  • FCL: Full Container Load, or when your goods are shipped to Canada in their own container
  • LCL: Less Container Load, or when your goods are shipped to Canada with other people’s packages in a common container

All prices in the table are in USD.

From Europe

Shipping rates from London, England to Vancouver, British Columbia:

Shipping
12“ x 20” x 16“ box
24” x 20“ x 25” crate
20’ x 40’ x 40’ container
Cost
(Air) $119 to $210
(Air) $175 to $316
(FCL) $2,798 to $3,348
Transit Time
12 to 16 days
12 to 16 days
19 to 22 days

From Asia

Shipping rates from Tokyo, Japan to Vancouver, British Columbia:

Shipping
12“ x 20” x 16“ box
24” x 20“ x 25” crate
20’ x 40’ x 40’ container
Cost
(LCL) $174 to $321
(LCL) $174 to $321
(FCL) $1,437 to $2,156
Transit Time
30 to 40 days
30 to 40 days
19 to 22 days

From Australia

Shipping rates from Perth, Australia to Vancouver, British Columbia:

Shipping
12“ x 20” x 16“ box
24” x 20“ x 25” crate
20’ x 40’ x 40’ container
Cost
(LCL) $294 to $786
(LCL) $294 to $786
(FCL) $2,678 to $4,672
Transit Time
44 to 55 days
44 to 55 days
31 to 38 days

Insurance

When you pay to ship your package, you have the option of covering your package with insurance. Insuring your package is a good idea.

Some shipping companies include insurance to protect against loss or damage in their basic rates—usually up to a declared value. Some don’t.

But all offer the option to purchase insurance. Do your research and compare rates and policies. It’ll make a difference.

Here’s a breakdown of insurance offered by some of the major shipping companies:

  • UPS: Shipping rates include insurance for any shipment under $100 USD declared value. For shipments of greater than $100 USD declared value, additional insurance is available and the cost is calculated into your shipping charges.
  • US Postal Service (USPS): Priority Mail Express shipments under $100 USD declared value include insurance in the cost of shipping. The same applies for Priority Mail shipments under $50 USD declared value. Additional insurance for higher valued packages is available and calculated when you ship.
  • FedEx: Shipping rates include insurance for any shipment under $100 USD declared value. For shipments of greater than $100 USD declared value, additional insurance is available and the cost is calculated when you ship.
  • DHL: DHL charges 1.5% of the total value of the items you ship.
  • United Kingdom Post (UK Post): Insurance is included on all items up to £500 declared value. Additional insurance for items of greater than £500 declared value is available. The cost is calculated when you ship.
  • Australia Post: Shipping insurance rates are calculated at time of shipping and are dependent on the declared value of your items.

Ways to Ship to Canada

You have a few options to ship to Canada. Take into account your package’s size, weight, value, and how quickly you need it to arrive when choosing a shipping method.

When choosing a shipping company, look for online reviews, review their social media profiles, and call them and ask a lot of questions.

Choose both your shipping method and company wisely.

Courier and Post

Private courier and national postal companies are often the quickest and most cost-effective way to ship fairly small and light packages.

A close-up of an airplane flying in the sky as seen from the ground.
Shipping by air is usually the cheapest way to send small items to Canada.

Most have a size and weight limit, in addition to a declared value limit.

For example, FedEx Express International Services accepts packages up to 150 pounds/68 kilograms; 108 inches/274 centimeters long; and 130 inches/330 centimeters wide, with a maximum value of $50,000 USD.

However, some declared value restrictions apply. FedEx only permits a maximum declared value of $1,000 USD for the following items:

  • Stocks, bonds, cash letters or cash equivalents
  • Precious metals
  • Jewelry
  • Furs
  • Artwork
  • Photographs
  • Antiques
  • Collector’s items, such as coins and stamps
  • Glassware
  • Plasma screens
  • Some musical instruments (for example, guitars over 20 years old)
  • Scale models, including dollhouses

To compare, USPS First Class International Service accepts packages up to 70 pounds/31.75 kilograms; 42 inches/106.68 centimeters long; and 36 inches/91.44 centimeters wide, with a maximum value of $100 USD.

Container Shipping

When you choose container shipping, packages are sent by a freight container on a cargo ship.

A stack of shipping containers in a shipping yard.
Shipping containers are a great option if you want to ship a lot of items, like the contents of an apartment or a house.

Shipping containers are well-suited for significantly sized and heavy individual items like vehicles and large appliances.

You have the option to buy partial space in a freight container (LCL = Less than Container Load) or buy an entire freight container (FCL = Full Container Load).

Shipping rates are usually assessed per cubic meter and prices vary by shipping company.

Half containers are sold at 20 feet/6 meters long and full containers at 40 feet/12 meters long.

You can fill an entire shipping container will at least 30 m³ cubic meters of items.

Although shipping LCL can be more cost effective, it has one major drawback: its shipping time.

Freight containers only ship when full, so there’s no way to find out how long it will take for your container to fill, ship, make the journey, then clear customs.

If you need your items by a specific date, LCL may not be your best option. Although significantly more expensive, FCL allows for more control of your shipment.

Freight Forwarders

Rather than being a shipping company, freight forwarders act as an intermediary between you and various shipping companies.

A shipping vessel leaving port.
Freight forwarders are relocation companies responsible for handling all of the logistics of your move.

Freight forwarders can find you shipping companies to send your things by sea, by land, by air, or by railway.

This includes:

  • Determining the shipping methods that best balance cost, speed and dependability
  • Negotiating shipping prices with suppliers
  • Filling out customs documentation on your behalf
  • Arranging insurance
  • Tracking your shipment
  • Storing your shipment
  • Delivering your shipment to your door

Freight forwarders use their network of shipping services to offer you the most efficient and cost-effective package to meet your needs.

Their considerable experience in international shipping can help ease the burden of a challenging move.

Be sure to choose a freight forwarder that has extensive experience shipping to Canada.

For example, Brytor International Moving is a Canadian based freight forwarder that offers full service relocation packages which can include negotiating a Canadian mortgage on your behalf.

Pricing varies by company and is determined by a number of variables, including but not limited to:

  • the size of your shipment
  • its weight
  • the type of carrier
  • the distance traveled
  • insurance and administration fees

You’ll have to ask for a quote.

With weight, freight forwarders calculate shipping by gross or real weight, or by dimensional weight.

Dimensional weight is used to calculate shipping costs when the gross weight of a package is abnormally light for its size.

For example, if you were to ship a pallet of cotton balls, you’d be charged dimensional weight as opposed to gross weight.

Basically, if your package is light but takes up a lot of space, it may be more expensive to ship than something very dense but a lot smaller.

All charges should be included in your freight quote, so make sure your freight forwarder lists every associated cost in your quote.

Canada Customs

You may think that once you pick and pay a shipping company to ship your items that your package is good to go.

The Canadian flag flying above mountains in Canada.
Regardless of how you ship your belongings, they may be subject to a customs inspection when they get to Canada.

But before your package makes it to its Canadian destination, it has one more stop at Canada Customs.

If you’re relocating to Canada for one year or more, you don’t pay duty or taxes on the used personal items you bring with you.

Remember to specify which items are used to avoid any unnecessary complications upon arrival.

Canada Border Services Agency

The Canada Border Services Agency is the federal government agency that safeguards the border, enforces immigration, and provides customs services in Canada.

It’s the agency that you report to you when you arrive in Canada.

They also inspect the personal belongings you bring with you and the belongings you ship later.

The CBSA is responsible for determining whether your items may enter Canada and if any duty and/or taxes apply.

Customs Duty and Taxes

A duty is a fee that the government charges on some items when they enter Canada.

Duty and tax rates are set at the federal level, are dependent on international trade agreements, and can vary significantly.

Exempt Items

You won’t have to pay duty or taxes on the following personal items if you bought and used them before moving to Canada:

  • Antiques
  • Private collections of coins, stamps and art
  • Family heirlooms
  • Linens, such as bedsheets, towels and tablecloths
  • Furniture
  • Furnishings
  • Appliances, such as a refrigerator or stove
  • Silverware
  • Clothing
  • Jewelry
  • Musical instruments
  • Books
  • Personal computers
  • Hobby tools and other hobby items
  • Personal vehicles (Some restrictions apply.)
  • Pleasure boats and the trailers to carry them
  • Mobile trailers, no more than 2.6 meters (9 feet) wide that you are capable of moving on your own
  • Utility trailers
  • Motor homes
  • Private aircraft
  • Tool sheds or garages that do not attach to, or form part of a dwelling
  • Gifts worth $60 CAD or less each. Tobacco and alcohol do not qualify as gifts.

Non-Exempt Items

You will be required to pay duty on the following items:

  • Farm equipment
  • Equipment you plan to use in manufacturing, construction, and contracting
  • Business vehicles
  • Rented or leased items
  • Items you have bought on your way to Canada

Use the CBSA’s Duty and Taxes Estimator to help plan ahead. The final amount due may vary from the estimate as it ultimately is determined by a border services offer upon arrival.

If you plan to ship alcohol and tobacco, these items may be subject to duties or taxes. You can learn more about it on the Government of Canada’s website.

Restricted Items

The following items are subject to restrictions in Canada:

  • Firearms and weapons
  • Explosives, fireworks and ammunition
  • Vehicles
  • Used or second-hand mattresses
  • Currency and monetary instruments
  • Food, plants, animals and related products
  • Health products and prescription drugs
  • Cannabis
  • Goods contaminated with soil
  • Firewood
  • Prohibited consumer products
  • Cultural property
  • Obscene material
  • Other prohibited goods
  • Goods subject to import controls

Customs Documents

Before you move to Canada, compile a list of all the household and personal items you plan to bring with you.

This includes the items you plan to ship. The list should include the make, model, serial number, quantity and value of your items.

Separate the list into two sections: the items that you are bringing with you, and the items that will follow. Make two copies.

Items that are shipped or arrive late may be subject to duty and taxes if they’re not included in your original list.

If you have original receipts for larger purchases, insurance appraisals, or lease documents, make copies and bring both the original and the copies with you.

When you first arrive in Canada, you have to submit your list of personal belongings to the CBSA official at your point of entry.

The list must include everything with you or the items that you’ve shipped. This holds true even if you enter Canada with no personal belongings.

Once received, the CBSA official completes a Form BSF186, Personal Effects Accounting Document and assigns you a file number.

You also get a copy of the completed form. This acts as your receipt.

Once your shipped items arrive, give your copy of the completed form to avoid paying duty and taxes.

To help speed up the clearance process, you can fill out your Form BSF186, Personal Effects Accounting Document before you arrive.

Disputing Duty and Tax Assessments

Sometimes the CBSA mistakenly assesses duty and taxes on personal items shipped to Canada. So, it’s important to fill out submit all of the necessary documentation ahead of time.

If you believe your personal belongings have been mistakenly assessed, you can dispute the charges.

Your items arrive with a E14, CBSA Postal Import Form attached to them. Any duty and taxes owed are indicated on this form.

You have two choices:

  1. Refuse the parcel, not pay the duty and taxes, and request a reassessment.
  2. Accept the parcel, pay the duty and taxes, and request an adjustment.

If you ask for a reassessment, the shipping company gives you a form and returns your belongings to the CBSA. The CBSA later contacts you to discuss the assessment.

This is a good time to refer to your Form BSF186, Personal Effects Accounting Document and file number.

Sometimes this information is missed when items pass through customs. If the CBSA decides in your favor, the shipping company delivers your package.

If the CBSA decides that you must pay duty and taxes, you must do so when your items are delivered.

If you request an adjustment, you have to fill out Form B2G, CBSA Informal Adjustment Request.

The form is printed on the back of your E14, CBSA Postal Import Form, which is attached to your package.

Once completed, send your Form B2G, CBSA Informal Adjustment Request to the nearest Casual Refund Centre.

Include a copy of any invoices or receipts that prove the correct value of your items.

If you feel it beneficial, include a copy of your Form BSF186, Personal Effects Accounting Document and file number.

The CBSA then reviews your form and grants any applicable refunds.

Other Fees

If you ship your personal belongings by post, it is delivered to Canada through Canada Post.

Should your package end up being subject to duty and/or taxes, Canada Post has a handling fee $9.95 CAD per dutiable or taxable mail items.

Now, on to You

If you’re sending a small package to Canada, hopefully this guide helped you figure out which shipping company is best for you.

If you’re moving to Canada from abroad or from within Canada, and you need to hire an international moving company to ship your belongings, fill out the form on our contact page.

You’ll get five free quotes from reputable shipping companies within 24 hours.

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