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Shipping Products to Canada

Rebecca Morgan

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When speaking in Canada, how do US speakers best ship products to sell? What do I need to know about customs? Is it better to take them with me or send ahead?

-- Bernie Zick

Rules change and I have not been there for over a year.

Ten years ago it was a major pain. Then rules changed. I used to send through a customs broker. I still will if I am sending more than two cases of product. Last trip I just took two boxes (and one suitcase) with me. I told them at customs there were books (and tapes) that I had authored. (The fact that YOU wrote it is VERY important... you DON"T want to tell them you are a TEACHER or you will need a work permit! I made that mistake once.)

If I recall, I had a small amount of duties to pay. They said I should have sent in advance but I gave them my dumb look and they took my check.

SUGGESTION: Always carry one set with you to show as a sample just in case you have shipping or customs problems.

-- Silvana Clark

Because I'm 20 minutes from the Canadian border, I've had LOTS of experience selling product there. I've stopped selling completely because of the hassles. One time I actually had a warrant out for my arrest and had the Royal Canadian Mounted Police looking for me because I didn't follow the correct procedures. Other times I've been held up at the border. I know speakers who were actually not allowed to come into Canada to speak because they wanted to sell books. As speakers, you can get turned back if you are coming to Canada to "work." My suggestion is not to sell.

-- Nancy Stern

I used to schlep product to sell and I remember a real problem with Canada in that I had to file a Canadian tax return for all product sold and income generated. It was a real hassle and since it was several years ago, it might be a good idea to check this out with someone more familiar with Canadian income laws.

-- Chris Elrod

In the twelve years I have been speaking, I have traveled to Canada for engagements at least twice a year. Here are my answers to your questions in SpeakerNet News:

Q: When speaking in Canada, how do US speakers best ship products to sell?

A: I always ship DHL as they are the only shipping company that actually guarantees overnight delivery to all major cities in Canada (FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service do not always). I always ship overnight delivery so I can track it effectively once it leaves U.S. soil.

Q: What do I need to know about customs?

A: Always have your passport ready, as well as your work papers. Even though Canada is a fairly "open" border, I have found that when bringing product having a passport is better and takes less time than the birth certificate route. Always have your work papers (from the client) and make sure the papers specifically mention your merchandise is needed for the program to be a complete success. Sometimes customs will ask you for your "pink" paper from the Canadian government showing that you understand and agree to Canadian sales tax laws (which you are liable for on each product sold, even if you are not a Canadian citizen). They will assume that you are going to sell every piece of product that is checked and will make you pay sales tax on it right at the customs counter before you can enter Canada. They will reimburse you on the way out if you do not sell all of it. Of course the currency exchange still shorts you in the long run. Things are a little less strict when shipping it, though you still must eventually pay the sales taxes on it. I actually had a Canadian tax agent show up at a conference I did in Toronto to make sure I paid sales tax on the product I shipped up there. Thank God I possessed the proper paperwork to prove it or I would have been fined on the spot.

Q: Is it better to take them with me or send ahead?

A: The truth is, unless you are going to sell $1000 or more of the product, it's not worth bringing at all. Use your website or order forms to encourage sales once the presentation is over. What I now try to do is pre-sell, pre-sell, pre-sell. Bigger profits (because everything is done on U.S. currency) and less hassle. However, to answer your question, ship the stuff ahead. There will be less paperwork invloved, less questions and fewer headaches.

I usually carry copies of my audiobooks and resource materials to give away to people I meet on the plane (as well as copies of my press kit). So far I've never been questioned by customs about my intent with them, so you should be safe. I wouldn't carry the order forms with you, I'd ship them ahead. If the Canadian government gets wind that you are selling things (even by mail order) they may find a way to charge you sales tax. Just a suggestion.

In the past I have shipped my resource table items (imprinted table cover, display racks, sample display products, order forms, etc.) about a week out via two-day priority DHL. The other is to pre-sell resources, as they aren't taxed. Always make sure the payments (honorarium, expenses, sales, etc.) are drawn on U.S. funds via a U.S. bank (this poses no real problem in a large Canadian city). I actually had one Canadian organization wire the money directly to my account. I felt like I was in the Mafia. :-)

Final thought: Always keep the sales tax paperwork, work papers, plane tickets and exchange reciepts for at least six years. I was audited by the Canadian government in 1997 for product sales on a speaking tour in 1993. Being a U.S. citizen does not exempt you from international trade laws and the taxes for each country you sell in - unless it's mail order or Internet sales.

I hope this helps. I realize that speakers have been known to push the limits on sales in Canada and get away with stuff. I believe that lack of integrity and cheating eventually catches up with you. Therefore I do it "by the book" so as to avoid any future complications.

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions