The Complete Guide to Cross-Border Freight

Everything you need to know about shipping freight between the U.S. and Canada

$700 billion. That’s the value of the goods getting shipped over the U.S. – Canada border… Every. Single. Year.

And how are these products getting transported?

An overwhelming 62% is getting hauled by truck.

It makes sense. OTR delivers more control of the shipment. Trucking has become the preferred method of cross-border transport largely because it delivers a valuable combination of cost, timing, and visibility.   

In short, using trucks for shipping cross-border freight has become the standard.

And cross-border trade between the US & Canada is big business… it generates astronomical profits for companies that can leverage a North American distribution model.

But, cross-border movement of goods also comes with its own set of rules.

From customs paperwork, to carrier requirements, to potential security clearances… it’s a different type of shipment.

And one small slip up could cost your business thousands.

And that’s why we put together this guide… as we looked around, we realized there wasn’t a step-by-step guide available to help shippers navigate each step of the cross-border roadmap.

Well… that is… until now.

At FLS, we’ve been specializing in cross-border freight for more than 30 years. Because of our expertise in cross-border freight, we put together this guide to outline the cross-border shipping process so we can help our customers and friends with efficient shipping between the U.S. and Canada.

It’s the step-by-step guide to flawless, stress-free, cross-border freight.

It’s got everything you need.

Inside you’ll find a step-by-step guide to moving freight across the border. It details all the processes and procedures you need to know. It also includes all the important forms and documents you’ll need.  And we’ve added some pro-tips from cross-border experts to help you better understand the pitfalls and leverage the important shortcuts.

You can think of it as your handbook to cross-border shipping success.

Download it, bookmark it, and print it out… you’ll want to keep this one handy.

Start Here: 3 Things You Need to Know About Shipping Cross-Border

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of shipping cross-border, there are a couple things you need to know up front. These items deserve a special call out.

These three things will be the difference between a perfectly executed shipping experience… and a logistics freight-mare.

You can quote us on that.

#1 Documentation is Everything

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) aren’t playing when it comes to cross-border shipping. They need to know exactly what you’re bringing into their counties, and where it came from. And your documentation will tell them just that.

Why is this the #1 most important thing to do correctly? Because if done incorrectly or if something is missing, your driver will be held up at the border until it’s resolved. And who knows how long that can take.

Do you hear that? That’s the screeching sound of fees, delays and sleepless nights as your freight sits idle at the border…

But no need to panic. We’re going to go into detail about each document you need to provide.

Pro Tip: If you have weekend shipments, organize all of your documentation before you head out of the office on Friday. Why? Because if something is missing as the carrier arrives at customs and you can’t quickly provide the documentation… you’re in for a long list of unnecessary delays and fees. Not to mention a ruined weekend.

#2 Hire a Customs Broker

When it comes to shipping your company’s products, no one knows the ins-and-outs better than you. But when it comes to cross-border shipping, your job gets a bit tougher. You now need to factor in duties, taxes, costs… and that’s a whole other beast to tackle. But luckily, no one expects you to know that stuff.

That’s why Licensed Customs Brokers exist… and we highly recommend hiring one if you are shipping cross-border freight.

A broker essentially serves as the liaison between you and the customs agency. They are responsible for:

  • Advising you on the proper documentation needed for your shipments
  • Preparing entry forms 
  • Transmitting any and all documents and forms to the customs agency
  • Managing the payments for all duties, taxes and fees
  • Retaining and managing all transaction records for several years in case of an inspection or audit
  • Responding to any CBP / CBSA concerns after payment

Now, we are going to provide you all the juicy details on how to ship cross-border in this guide… but keep in mind that most of it can be tackled by your customs broker. They will make your life easier and ensure your shipment crosses the border seamlessly.

Pro Tip: Not all customs brokers are experienced with specific products. So if you’re moving something like pharmaceuticals, oil, gas, automobiles, food, or textiles, try to find a broker with experience in your industry.

#3 Choose a transportation partner with proven cross-border shipping success

Carriers are another important piece to the cross-border puzzle. Whether you use a 3PL or an asset-based carrier, be sure to choose a transportation provider who has proven experience hauling cross-border freight.

Pro Tip: Select a transportation provider who has keen attention to detail. Your documentation will rely on it… and as mentioned, this could make or break a smooth cross-border shipment.

And remember what we said about the first three rules of cross-border freight… (1) documentation is everything (2) hire a customs broker (3) choose a transport partner that is experienced… Get these 3 things wrong at your own peril.

Step-by-Step: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Cross-Border Processes and Procedures

When it comes to trade partners… Canada and the United States are like PB&J… they just go together. The two countries generate more than $1.8 billion in trade movement… every single day. Canada is the number one market for U.S. exports and 60% of Canada’s overall trade is with the United States.

That’s a lot of freight… but shipping between the two countries can be tricky and mistakes are costly.

To save you from a major headache, here is a step-by-step guide to the processes and procedures of crossing the border from either side. 

If you can paint by numbers, now you can ship cross-border freight, just follow these steps…

Step 1: Prepare the shipment

Get a Business Number or Employee Identification Number

Before you can import or export any commercial goods into or out of Canada, you need to obtain a Business Number (BN). This goes for businesses and individuals alike. You can get a BN from the Canada Revenue Agency who will set up an import/export account.

Likewise, when shipping into the U.S. you will need to obtain an Employee Identification Number (EIN) through the Internal Revenue Service. You can get started on that application through the IRS.

Identify the goods you’re shipping

You should have as much info on the items you are shipping as possible. This includes descriptive literature, product composition details, and product samples. Why does this matter? Because it will help tremendously when it comes time to determine the tariff classification.

Hire a customs broker

When importing or exporting a shipment over the border, we highly recommend hiring a customs broker. If you are shipping to Canada, you will need to hire a Canadian broker. If you’re shipping into the U.S., you will need to hire a U.S. broker.

Once you’ve hired your broker, they serve as the transactional agent for all your cross-border shipments.

Here’s everything they will take care of on your behalf: 

  • Obtaining the release of the shipment
  • Paying any applied duties
  • Gathering, preparing and transmitting the necessary documents or data
  • Maintaining records
  • Responding to any customs concerns after payment

But for those of you who feel comfortable preparing your own release and account documents and transacting business directly with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), read on!

Determine the country of origin for the goods you are shipping

Where did your goods originate? This is not necessarily the country from which the product was shipped to you. Keep in mind, it may also include where individual parts of the product are from as well as where final assembly of the product took place. Again, this will be extremely important for your documentation.

Verify whether your shipment is subject to any permits, restrictions or regulations:

Both the U.S. and Canada have hefty lists of items that are not allowed to enter the country. And if they are allowed, they may require permits or regulations.

You may want to double check the regulations if any of your goods fall within these categories:

Shipping to the United States:

Entrusted with overseeing the laws of over 40 government agencies, the CBP is very particular about what can and cannot enter the U.S. In short, they prevent anything that could harm public safety or national interests. There are strict rules on the following:

  • Agricultural Commodities
  • Arms, Ammunition, and Radioactive Materials
  • Consumer Products
  • Electronics
  • Food, Drugs, Cosmetics and Medical Devices
  • Conflict Diamonds
  • Gold, Silver, Currency, Stamps
  • Pesticides, Toxic and Hazardous Substances
  • Textiles, Wool and Fur Products
  • Wildlife and Pets

There are over 40 items that are prohibited or require permits. Check in the CBP on the restrictions that may apply to your shipment.

Shipping to Canada:

Similar to the United States CPB, the CBSA is responsible for enforcing the regulations of many different government departments. As such, there is a list of items which are restricted or prohibited from entering the country. This includes:

  • Agricultural Products
  • Life Animals and Animal Products
  • Plants, Seeds and Forestry Products
  • Consumer Goods
  • Dangerous Goods
  • Energy Exports and Imports
  • Goods Subject to Anti-Dumping or Countervailing Duties
  • Cultural Property
  • Drug and Health Products
  • Firearms, Weapons and Military Goods
  • Vehicles and Automotive Products
  • Information and Communications Technologies
  • Minerals and Metals
  • Textiles and Clothing

If your shipments fall into these categories, you can find out what kind of documentation and permits you need on the Government of Canada’s website.

Pro Tip: When shipping Alcohol or Tobacco it’s highly recommended that you check with the applicable authority in the province or territory you are shipping to.

Step 2: Classify the goods:

Once you know that your goods can be imported to the U.S. or Canada, you need to figure out the tariff classification number. The country of origin combined with these numbers will help determine the cost of the duties you will pay when importing. Keep in mind, your broker will likely help you with this step.

The United States and Canada both work off of the Harmonized System, so you will often hear the term “HS code” when referring to a classification number.

If not through your broker, you can find tariff classification numbers throw the Harmonized Tariff Schedule Search.

Step 3: Estimate the duties and taxes

Now that you know your tariff classification number, you’ll want to get an idea of the duties and taxes that will apply to your shipment. This is done a little differently in the U.S. and Canada.

Shipping to the U.S.

Estimating your duties

When transporting goods to the U.S., customs duties are determined by a percentage. And the Harmonized Tariff System provides duty rates for virtually every item that exists.

Seems simple enough right? Think again. That percentage is based on numerous factors including:

  • The HS Code
  • The value of the shipment
  • Trade agreements between different countries and nations

Keep in mind… there are licensed professionals who’ve spent years learning how to accurately classify products in order to determine the duty rate. It isn’t simple. And something as small as the lining on your product could change everything. To avoid going down this spiraling rabbit hole we highly suggest you hire a broker. 

The U.S. International Trade Commission Tariff Database will give you a good idea of what your duties will cost. But remember, the CBP essentially has the last say.

You’ll also want to determine if your products qualify for free or reduced duty rates Under trade agreements, The U.S. gives free or reduced duties to particular countries. This includes:

  • Many products from the Caribbean and Andean countries
  • Many products from certain sub-Saharan African countries
  • Most products from Israel, Jordan, Chile and Singapore
  • Any products grown, manufactured or produced in Canada or Mexico under NAFTA
  • Products from U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam

Other U.S. taxes and fees

Federal Taxes:
Just a reminder, the CPB represents numerous other government agencies. So, depending on what you’re shipping, it’s likely there are federal taxes and fees on the products you’re shipping.

To determine the taxes and fees on your imports, you can call the port of entry through which your goods are entering the U.S.

State & Local Taxes:
Some goods are subject to state and local taxes. To determine these, you can call the local or state treasury office. CBP does not collect taxes on half of the state.

Shipping to Canada:

Estimating your duties

The cost of Canadian duties depends on the type of goods you are importing and the country where they are made. Luckily, the CBSA created a duty calculator. Keep in mind that Canadian Customs is not bound by the estimate and does not guarantee its accuracy. But it’s a great tool to get an estimate of the costs. 

For Canadian imports, you’ll also want to determine the tariff treatment that applies to your shipment. Similar to the U.S.’ reduced duty rates, Canada has 18 different tariff treatments which serve to reduce duty rates under NAFTA:

  1. Most Favored Nation (MFN)- applicable to all signatories of the World Trade Agreement (WTO)
  2. General Tariff (GT)- rate of 35% applicable to any countries that have not signed the WTO
  3. Australia Tariff (AUT)
  4. New Zealand Tariff (NZT)
  5. Commonwealth Caribbean Countries Tariff (CCCT)- applicable to certain Caribbean countries
  6. Least Developed Country Tariff (LDCT)- applicable to 49 least developed nations
  7. General Preferential Tariff (GPT)- applicable to developing nations
  8. NAFTA United States Tariff (UST)
  9. NAFTA Mexico Tariff (MT)
  10. NAFTA Mexico-United States Tariff (MUST)
  11.  Canada-Israel Agreement Tariff (CIAT)
  12. Chile Tariff (CT)
  13. Costa Rica Tariff (CTR)
  14.  Iceland Tariff (IT)
  15.  Norway Tariff (NT)
  16. Switzerland-Liechtenstein Tariff (STL)
  17. Peru Tariff (PT)
  18. Colombia Tariff (COLT)

Of course, to benefit from duty-free or reduced tariffs, the following must apply:

  • Goods must be eligible (manufacturing performed in the country of origin)
  • You must provide proof of origin, an important document we will go into detail about later.
  • The commodity must be shipped directly from the beneficiary country with or without transshipment.

Estimating other taxes and fees

Goods and Services Tax:
Like the U.S., Canada has addition taxes and fees. Equivalent to U.S. federal taxes, the GST is levied by the Canadian federal government and is typically paid at the time of importation.

Provincial Sales Tax:
Similar to state taxes, PST is a tax issued by the individual Canadian provinces.

Harmonized Sales Tax:
Some provinces combine the GST and PST all in one. This is called the HST. It is issued in provinces including New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

Quebec Sales Tax and Retail Sales Tax:
If you are shipping to Quebec, you will be required to pay the QST. If shipping to Manitoba, the sales tax is called the RST.

Step 4: Ship the goods

Now that you have everything in order, it’s time to place your order with your transportation provider.

Your carrier is an extremely important aspect of getting your freight across the border. In addition to getting your freight hauled across the border quickly and securely, they are also responsible for:

  • Communicating with your broker to pre-clear your shipment before it’s even picked up
  • If going to Canada, they will electronically submit all your paperwork to the ACI prior to arriving at the border. If approved, all they will need to do is provide customs with a PARS (pre arrival review system), entry, and ACI number at the border.
  • If going to the U.S., the carrier will electronically submit all paperwork to ACE. If approved they will simply provide customs with a PAPS (pre arrival processing system), entry, and ACE number at the border.

Keep in mind that if you choose to work with a bonded carrier, they can enter the U.S. or Canada from any service point. A non-bonded carrier will have to wait at the border until an entry number is received. Be sure to plan ahead to avoid any unexpected fees.

Step 5: Customs clearance

This is another item your customs broker will handle, should you hire one. If not, you must have power of attorney to clear any shipments.

To ensure a quick customs clearance, have the following prepared:

  • Get all required information over to your customs broker as soon as possible
  • Carefully prepare invoices in a clear, organized manor and ensure all the data is neat and legible
  • Generate invoices with detailed information as you would on a packing slip…the more detail the better
  • Mark and number each package for easy identification
  • Correspond marked and numbered packages with your invoice
  • On your invoice, provide detailed descriptions of each item contained in each package
  • Visibly display the country of origin
  • Work with your broker to develop packing standards for your shipment
  • Ensure security protocols at your facility and during transportation of goods 

Step 6: Record Keeping

Its required that you keep your records pertaining to your shipment for several years. If importing to the U.S. you must maintain records for five years. For Canadian imports, records must be available for six years following the shipment.

This includes all required documents, accounting info, etc. and you can hold onto these in either digital or paper format.

If you hire a customs broker, they will be responsible for record keeping.

Paperwork: Important Cross-Border Forms and Documents

The devil is in the details when it comes to cross-border freight. And that detail means paperwork…

These are more than just papers you stick in the file drawer. These are must-have documents to have on hand for every cross-border shipment. Familiarizing yourself with each form and filling the appropriate ones out before getting to the border will ensure you get across as quickly and painlessly as possible.

This section covers the 7 documents you’ll need to prepare for your cross-border freight.

Required Documents

1. Bill of Lading (BOL)

U.S. | Canada

The Bill of Lading is a document issued to a carrier by the shipper. It describes the goods being shipped.

The BOL must contain:

  • The address where the shipment is getting picked up
  • Size and weight of the goods
  • Contact information of the shipper

This document should be signed by the shipper, driver and receiver.

2. Certificate of Origin

U.S. | Canada

This document identifies what location the freight originated from. This is how customs duties are calculated at the border. Cross-border shippers are required to use this form to certify freight qualifies for preferential tariff treatment

3. Commercial Invoice or Canada Customs Invoice (CCI)

Commercial Invoice | Canada Customs Invoice

The commercial invoice serves a dual purpose. It enables you to collect your money, and assists the importer in clearing the goods.

The invoice must include all of the following:

  • Vendor’s full legal name, address and country
  • Consignee full name and address
  • Detailed description of each item being shipped
  • Net and gross weights
  • Unit price of each item (using the payment currency)
  • Extended price
  • Payment currency 
  • Terms of delivery and terms of payment
  • Date on which goods began shipment
  • Reference numbers
  • Import license (if applicable)
  • Freight charges / insurance

Conditional Documents

4. Shipper’s Export Declaration (SED)

U.S. | Canada

This document is required if goods are being exported from the U.S. and are controlled exports. You must check the commerce control list to determine whether your goods fall under this classification. You can contact the Bureau of Export Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce for that list.

Here are the requirements for the SED:

  • Must be prepared in English
  • Must be typed or written with a non-erasable ink
  • The original must be signed by you or your customs broker (should they have power of attorney)

5. Packing List

If you’re a “better be safe than sorry” kind of person… you’ll likely want to start adding packing slips to your cross-border document pile. This is an optional document that simply documents the details of your shipment.

The packing list includes:

  • Quantities
  • Items
  • Model numbers
  • Dimensions
  • Net gross weights
  • The number / types of units of material inside each carton or crate

The benefit is it helps your customs broker gain further information about your shipment. So, if customs has any questions about your shipment at the border, this little document will help the broker provide quick answers. AKA it helps to avoid any delays and gets your freight delivered on-time.

6. Import Permits

If you’re goods fall into certain categories, you might need import permits. Both the U.S. and Canada have restrictions on specific items.

Before shipping to the U.S., review the CPB’s Importing into the U.S. document under Special Requirements.

7. NAFTA Certificate of Origin

Under The North American Free Trade Agreement, items produced in particular countries are eligible for preferential tariff treatments or reduced duties. To qualify, you must prove the origin of your shipment by providing a NAFTA Certificate of Origin.

Crossing the Border: Border Points of Entry

The U.S.-Canada border is the longest international border in the world, spanning across 5,525 miles. With so much ground to cover, there are over 100 border crossings between the two countries.

The U.S.-Canada border touches at each of the following locations:

  1. Washington State / British Columbia
  2. Idaho / British Columbia
  3. Montana / British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan
  4. North Dakota / Saskatchewan and Manitoba
  5. Minnesota / Manitoba and Ontario
  6. Michigan / Ontario
  7. New York / Ontario and Quebec
  8. Vermont / Quebec
  9. New Hampshire / Quebec
  10. Maine / Quebec and New Brunswick

Each of these locations has numerous highway/land border offices in which you can clear your commercial goods through.

You can find a complete map and list of all points of entry from Canada into the United States here. Likewise, you can find similar information and an interactive map for points of entry from the United States to Canada here.

Key Contacts: Resources for Cross-Border Success


Preparing Your Shipment:

U.S. Contacts:

Canada Contacts:


Interview: Insider Advice from a Cross-Border Veteran

Sonny Ghosh is the Director of Operations for FLS Transportation, the #1 3PL for Cross-Border Freight in North America. He’s been moving cross-border freight for some of the world’s largest brands for over 10 years. On average, Sonny moves more than 1,000 cross-border shipments… per month.

Here are Sonny’s top tips for mastering cross-border shipping.

Q: Walk us through the cross-border freight process. What does a shipper need to do to secure a clean load when shipping cross-border to Canada? To the U.S.?

A: Well, if everything goes smoothly, the process can be summed up like this:

  1. You hire a broker
  2. They advise you and assist you in preparing all necessary documentation
  3. You select a bonded carrier
  4. The broker works with the carrier to electronically submits all paperwork for pre-clearance or feedback
  5. If there is feedback, updates are made and resubmitted for approval.
  6. The driver arrives at the border and provides their PARS / PAPS number, entry number, and ACI/ACE number.
  7. Your driver is cleared, and your freight is delivered on-time

Q: What is the most common mistake shippers make on cross-border freight?

A: Far and away, the most common mistake is incorrect or disorganized documentation. 9 times out of 10, if something went wrong with the shipment it is tied back to paperwork.  Attention to detail is critical from all parties involved – the shipper, the broker and the carrier.

Q: Talk to us about customs brokers. That seems to be one of the key recommendations. What does a shipper need to know about customs brokers?

A: You have the choice of working with any broker of your choice. So the requirements are really dependent on your business’s needs. When looking for a customs broker, here is what I suggest:

  • Hire someone who is experienced in your industry and has a solid understanding of border procedure on both the customer and carrier side
  • Choose someone with positive references
  • Select an approved broker who is licensed in their particular country

Q: What about other modes? What are the pros of shipping cross-border via truck vs. air, train or ship?

A: Trucking is the most affordable and beneficial option. It allows you to have more control over your shipment and requires much fewer touchpoints compared to other modes (less hands on your freight means less problems). Transportation via trucking has a less extensive clearance process… plus, accessorials aren’t nearly as high as those from rail of air. 

Rail is cheaper, but accessorials are non-negotiable. And if there are any border delays or paperwork mishaps, customs isn’t as understanding. This puts you at risk for longer transit times and hefty accessorial charges.

Air is time sensitive, so it gets your freight from point A-B much quicker than rail or truck. But it’s pricey.

Customs Brokers: The Broker Advantage for Easy Cross-Border-Shipping

We always recommend hiring a customs broker when it comes to cross-border shipping. There is too much that could go wrong… and having a broker drastically helps reduce the chances of something slipping through the cracks.

So, who are the brokers we suggest? Here is a list of the top 11 customs brokers we personally recommend:

1. DHL Danzas

U.S. | Canada

2. Livingston Int’l

U.S. | Canada

3. Expeditors

U.S. | Canada

4. Buckland

U.S. | Canada

5. Kuehne and Nagel

U.S. | Canada


U.S. | Canada

7. A.N Derringer

U.S. | Canada

8. Russell A. Farrow

U.S. | Canada

9. DB Schenker

U.S. | Canada

10. Geo H. Young (GHY)

U.S. | Canada

11. DSV

U.S. | Canada

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

General Cross-Border Questions

What is different about cross-border shipping?

There are several main differences between a domestic shipment and a cross border shipment. Here are the big ones:

  1. Required Documents
    When shipping domestic, all you really need is a shipping label. But when shipping cross-border, you will be required to have a Bill of Lading, Commercial Invoice and Certificate of Origin.
  2. Cost
    Typically, a cross-border shipment is going to be more expensive. When crossing a border, your shipment will be subject to additional duties and taxes in addition to all shipping costs.
  3. Customs Authorities
    When shipping domestic, you don’t need to deal with customs authorities. But when you are entering a new country, they need to know exactly what you are importing and where it came from. This is where those documents come in handy. 
  4. Restricted and Limited Goods
    There are restricted, limited and band goods for each country. If you have a used mattress… don’t expect to ship it into Canada. It’s prohibited. Always verify your goods with the customs authority agency before setting up a shipment.

How much longer is the transit time on. cross-border shipments?

You can generally expect similar transit times as you would for domestic OTR shipments.

<500 miles = 1-2 days, >500 miles = 2-3 days, >1,000 miles – 3-4 days, etc.

Keep in mind, there are occasional delays when crossing at the border due to volume and traffic. This could affect your transit time.

How much does shipping cross-border cost?

Pricing is always in flux and really depends on a variety of factors. Here are some things that could impact your pricing:

  1. Lead Time and Flexibility
    For a reasonably priced shipment, you should tender the load approximately 48 hours before it needs to be picked up. Having the flexibility to give the carrier multiple pick up days will also work in your favor. The more lead time and flexibility, the more likely you are to secure a truck at fair market cost.
  2. The Commodity & Value
    The more specialized the shipment, the more difficult it will be to find the right equipment. HAZMAT, alcohol, over dimension and high value freight will automatically drive up the price of your shipment.
  3. Timeliness
    The calendar drives pricing:
  • At the end of the week, drivers are searching for loads that will take them home, or long mile hauls that keep them moving all weekend.
  • At the end of the month, you’re trying to get things off the docks and into your sales books. Carriers know this, and as such, it drives up the price.
  • At the end of the year, it’s the holidays. And while you likely need more trucks than ever during this time. drivers are people too and they take time off. It comes down to simple supply and demand… more volumes + less trucks = higher prices.

In addition to standard shipping costs, there will be duties and taxes at the border. Your customs broker will be able to help you calculate those.

What is a FAST certification?

A Free and Secure Trade certification is implemented by both the U.S. and Canada and is intended to ensure safety and security for commercial carriers who meet eligibility criteria and have passed background checks.

What can a shipper do to help speed up the border crossing process?

Provide all available information about the product, its components and manufacturing process to the broker prior to shipping

Do I need to us HS codes to classify my shipment?

Yes. Every single commodity being shipped must be classified using the tariff number system.

Does my freight cross the border for free under NAFTA?

No. NAFTA simply refers to certain tariffs and duties that no longer apply between trade partners.

Do I need country of origin marketing on my freight?

Yes. It needs to be visible on each package.

Where will my shipment cross the border?

This depends. Different carriers use different Canada/U.S. custom gateway locations. Where they cross depends on the shipment origin and destination.

Questions for Shipping to Canada

Where do I start?

The first thing we recommend is hiring a customs broker to clear your freight. After that, you must get a PARS number from a cross-border provider.

What is PARS?

PARS allows review with the CBSA in advance of the freight’s arrival. Its purpose is to speed up the process of customs clearance and alleviate congestion at the border. 

What is a PARS number?

Your PARS number is referenced when setting up PARS clearance and is also known as the Cargo Control Number (CCN). The PARS number for all shipments is the tracking number preceded by the carrier’s four-digit carrier code.

What is ACI?

Advance Commercial Information is under the CBSA. It requires all commercial cargo entering Canada to be electronically registered with the agency prior to arriving at the border. The goal is to improve border security and efficiency.

Can my shipment be accepted by PARS and still be inspected at the border?

Yes. Even if the CBSA has accepted your shipment, they have the right to inspect it anyways.

What paperwork is required to ship freight into Canada?

You will need three primary documents: The Bill of Lading, Certificate of Origin and Customs Invoice. Depending on the shipment, other documents may be required.

What are the extra taxes and fees?

When importing a shipment into Canada, the CBSA will charge duties and taxes. The cost of duties depends on the type of goods being shipped and the country of origin.  And depending on where you are trying to deliver the shipment, you might be subject to addition taxes including The Goods and Services Tax, Provincial Sales Tax, Harmonized Sales Tax, Quebec Sales Tax and Retail Sales Tax.

Do I need a Canadian customs broker to move goods into Canada?


Do I have to use a Canadian carrier to move freight into Canada?

No, but you do need a carrier that does border crossings. Their driver must be approved to cross the border.

Questions for Shipping to the United States

Where do I start?

First, hire a U.S. customs broker. Then contact a cross-border provider to obtain a PAPS number.

What is PAPS?

The equivalent of Canada’s PARS, PAPS allows customs paperwork for individual shipments to be processed before freight reaches the U.S. border.

What is ACE?

The Automated Commercial Environment is under the CBP.  It gives the CBP and other government agencies the ability to access data throughout the international supply chain. The goal is to analyze high-risk shipments at borders and ports.

What is the ACE Manifest?

ACE allows carriers to file electronic manifests in advance of freight arrival at the customs checkpoint for quicker entry.

What documents do I need to ship to the U.S.?

You will need three primary documents: Commercial Invoice, Certificate of Origin, Bill of Lading. Depending on the shipment, other documents may be required.

What are the extra taxes and fees?

When importing into the U.S., the CPA will charge you duties and taxes. The cost of duties will depend on the HS code, value and trade agreements. Your shipment may also be subject to federal taxes and state taxes.

Do I need a U.S customs broker to move goods into the United States?


Do I have to use a U.S. carrier to move freight into Canada?

No, but you do need a carrier that does border crossings. Their driver must be approved to cross the border.

Glossary: The Cross-Border Glossary

Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) – The U.S. electronic reporting system

Advanced Commercial Invoice – The Canadian electronic reporting system

Bill of Lading (BOL) – A legally binding document that works as a receipt of freight services between a shipper and carrier

Bonded Carrier – A licensed carrier who can move goods across the border without obtaining a customs release

Business Number – A unique nine-digit number that identifies your business to Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal governments

Canada Revenue Agency – The Canadian government agency responsible for collecting taxes

Certificate of Origin – The document declaring which country a commodity or good was originally produced or manufactured 

Commercial Invoice – The legal document between the supplier and the customer that clearly describes the goods sold and the amount due

Corrected Bill of Lading – This is an accessorial that applies if a carrier is required to make any changes to the original bill of lading

Country of Origin – The country in which your products were manufactured, produced or grown

Canada Border Services Agency – The Canadian government agency responsible for border protection, surveillance, immigration enforcement and customs services

Customs and Border Protection – The U.S. government agency responsible for protecting the border and facilitating legitimate trade and travel.

Customs Broker – Acts as the liaison between shippers and the government. Helps clear shipments through customs, prepare required documentation and collect duties and taxes

Customs Clearance – The act of passing goods through the customs agency so that those goods can be transported between different countries

Duties – A tax collected by a country’s customs agency

Employee Identification Number – a unique nine-digit number assigned by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service used to identify a business entity

Entry Number – A number that signifies a shipment has been processed by a U.S. customs broker for goods being delivered into the U.S.

FAST Certificate – an expedited clearance program between the U.S. and Canada for commercial vehicles.

Food and Drug Administration Form – used for shipping goods into the U.S. that fall under the FDA area of governance

Federal Communications Commission Form– Used for shipping goods that give off a radio frequency

Filer – The customs broker that files the entry for crossing the border

Facilities Information and Resource Management System (FIRMS) – The FIRMS code is assigned to a location when a bond has been filed with the CBP. The FIRMS location must be bonded and on file in the Automated Manifest System.

Goods and Services Tax – Taxation levied by the Canadian federal government and is typically paid at the time of importation

GST Number – Identifies the shipper/receiver in Canada to the Canada Revenue Agency

Harmonized Sales Tax – A tax that combines the Goods and Services Tax and Provincial Sales Tax into one fee. Issued by select Candian provinces including New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island

Harmonized System – a six-digit number used by customs authorities around the world to identify the duty and tax rates for specific types of products.

Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) – This is an accessorial that applies for HAZMAT shipments. The added charge covers the health risk, extra paperwork, special licensing and special handling

Internal Revenue Service – The U.S. federal agency responsible for collecting taxes and enforcing tax laws.

In-transit Bond – Goods that will travel without a border clearance and will clear at destination

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – The trade agreement that sets the rules of trade and investment between Canada, the United States and Mexico

Non-bonded Carrier – A carrier who must release shipments at the first point of arrival

Packing Slip – An optional document that details your shipment including the quantities, items, model numbers, dimensions, weights and units

Power of Attorney – A legal document that must be given to the customs broker so that the broker can act on their behalf

Pre-Arrival Processing System – A number assigned to all shipments requiring pre-arrival clearance when entering the United States.

Pre-Arrival Review System – A sticker or label containing your carrier code and unique shipment number. It identifies both the carrier and the shipment to the CBSA.

Port Code – A unique code given to every border crossing point

Pro Forma Invoice – An estimated invoice sent by a seller to a buyer in advance of a shipment of goods.

Provincial Sales Tax – Taxation issued by the individual Canadian provinces.

Remove Filer – A customs broker who is not physically present at the border

Quebec Sales Tax – A Canadian sales tax charged when shipping to Quebec

Retail Sales Tax – A Canadian sales tax charged to Manitoba imports.

Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC) – A unique 4 letter code used by the U.S. government to identify transportation companies. It is required for all carriers doing business in the United States.

State Taxes – Taxation issue by individual U.S. states

Storage – This is an accessorial that applies when a driver must store the shipment before it can be delivered

Tariff Number – Used to classify the type of commodity being shipped

Tariff Treatments – Beneficiaries under the North American Free Trade Agreement that are subject to lower rates of duty normally payable on imported goods

Tax ID or IRS Number – Number issued by the Internal Revenue Service that identifies the shipper/receiver in the United States

Temporary Export Bond – Used for goods that are traveling through a county, but will not stay in that country.

Toxic Substance Control Act Form – Required for any shipments containing chemical substances.

Transaction Number – Assigned to a shipment processed by a Canadian customs broker for goods being shipped to Canada.

UN Number – an internationally accepted four-digit number used to identify hazardous materials

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