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Working in Canada

Michael Schatzki

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I asked about entering Canada to give a speech or seminar. However, the responses made it clear that the issue is a little more involved than I initially realized, so I called some of those responding to ask follow-up questions.

Getting into Canada

Basically there are two issues. The first is getting into Canada and the second has to do with taxes. Apparently, in the not too distant past, getting into Canada to do a speech or seminar was really difficult. George Walther wrote, "In past years I discovered after many visits that if I said "Professional speaker presenting a seminar" I was grilled. If I said, "Guest lecturer" I breezed right through without question. They seemed to be the magic words."

More recently, there has been a speakers exemption that might or might not apply to seminars. When I spoke to Marian Madonia, she told me that when she was doing a speech in Canada she had no problem, but with a seminar they insisted that she buy a work permit about half of the time and that it depended on the agent.

Apparently the language on the Immigration Canada Web site exempting seminars is relatively new. No one reported using that exemption to get in to do a seminar. That language is:

"Public Speakers - Guest speakers, commercial speakers or seminar leaders may speak or deliver training in Canada without a work permit as long as the event is not longer than five days." (Go to this page)

Obviously, you need to use your own judgment, but based on everything I have learned, the following seems reasonable:

1) Don't lie and say you are just on vacation. If you tell the truth that you are speaking or doing a seminar, the worst that can happen is that you have to buy a work permit for $150 and charge it to your client. If you lie and say you are on vacation, the worst that can happen is that if you get caught, you could be banned from Canada. At the very least, everything is computerized and they will have it in your file forever.

2) Be careful of the language that you use. Marian warns, "don't ever use the word 'teach' as in 'teach' a seminar or 'teach' a workshop. Consider using 'give' a seminar or 'deliver' a seminar. 'Teach' is a hot button as teachers may not work in Canada." Similarly, Bill Stieber warns, "I do know that you should not use the word 'consultant' if you are crossing the border. A co-trainer was stopped and interrogated to the nth degree by Canadian customs after she mentioned that she was a consultant. It was not a pleasant sight."

Marion also suggests, "Don't offer information. This is not to be secretive...it just generally confused the issue. They don't want to know more. They have specific things they must ascertain and though it feels like we are helping, often we are not and only cause ourselves further delay."

3) Since you will be fitting into a specific exemption, make sure that you can prove that you really are giving a speech or conducting a seminar. Marion says, "Generally, they have asked for copies of my credentials (I bring my one-sheet and business card) and a copy of the contract for the client with whom I'm working. It is also easier with my passport as it contains a record of all my entries and so they see that I consistently do the same thing. (They make notes on your file of every discussion)."

4) Download and print a copy of the Web page that states the exemption (see above). If you are told you have to buy a work permit, show them the web page and very respectfully ask if, based on that, you should not be exempt from buying a work permit. If they still insist, buy the work permit and consider charging it to your client. If you are really feeling feisty, write a letter later to Immigration Canada asking for a refund. But do not make a big issue of it on the spot.

5) Dan suggests that "you give the Immigration/Customs screeners something to focus on. You may increase your credibility if you answer 'yes' to one or more of the questions on the immigration form. Then they are more likely to ask about these items than question you about 'being paid.' For example: If you have your computer with you, answer yes on the question as to whether you have any 'Goods relating to your profession' and write in 'laptop' next to the check box (they won't confiscate it although they might ask if you were planning to sell it). There are no spaces for explanations so just write clarifications in next to the 'yes' and 'no' boxes.

"If you shipped books or handouts ahead via UPS, answer 'yes' to the question 'I have shipped goods which are not accompanying me.' Write in 'UPS.' They know that UPS will have taken care of any customs duty due. You might even bring a banana (a healthful snack) and say yes to the 'Animals, insects, fruits and vegetables' question. Write in '1 banana.' Since they don't grow bananas in Canada they aren't worried about you bringing in banana pests. Do not bring an apple, they do grow apples in Canada and your apple will have to be surrendered."

6) Since this seems to all be something of a work in process, please email me your experiences and I will submit an update on SNN.


The second issue is taxes. First, since taxes can be tricky, always consult your tax advisor before following any course of action. That said, this is what I learned. Apparently there is a rule that Canadian companies have to withhold 15% of monies paid to non-residents. Two pieces of good news here. According to some I spoke with, most of the time they don't withhold money. The second piece of good news is that there is a bilateral exemption such that unless you earn more than $70,000 US in Canada, you do not need to file a Canadian tax return. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of us will fall into the exemption.

If you have a client who wants to withhold money, you can fill out form R105 (you can download a copy from the Revenue Canada Web site) which, when approved, will get you exempted from withholding. Ian Percy writes, "Give yourself good lead time (it takes at least 30 days). Not only that, but it depends on what Province you are working in as to which office processes it."

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