Crossing the border between the United States and Canada is often pretty inconsequential.  Sure, it can take a little time at the actual border, or at the airport, but otherwise, visiting one country or the other is a mostly simple process.

Of course, this Clearit customs brokerage process does involve making your way through customs. This part of the process is necessary to ensure that people are not trafficking illegal goods back and forth along the longest continuous shared international border in the world. The customs process also helps to protect a domestic business from international interference and undue competition.

When you move to Canada, though, you sometimes have to contribute to the customs enforcement system by paying a duty—a type of international tax—on some of your personal belongings.  Whether or not you have to pay, and how much you might have to pay, depends upon how your possessions are classified.

For the sake of brevity, GST stands for “Goods and Services Tax” and HST stands for “Harmonized Sales Tax”.  There are 12 possible GST and HST categories assessed when you enter Canada from the United States.

CATEGORY 1:

20 percent duty and 5 percent GST/HST:

  • Curtains
  • Carpets
  • Bedding
  • Life jackets and life belts
  • Linens
  • Roller skates and Ice skates
  • Sleeping bags
  • Towels

CATEGORY 2:

18 percent duty and 5 percent GST/HST:

  • This category just contains apparel and footwear

CATEGORY 3:

7 percent duty, no associated GST/HST, on simple, non-taxable groceries:

  • Produce
  • Milk products (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt)
  • Eggs
  • Pasta and bread
  • Cakes and pies
  • Canned foods
  • Frozen fruits and frozen vegetables
  • Frozen meat
  • Fresh meat
  • Medications

CATEGORY 4:

8 percent duty and 5 percent GST/HST on various consumer goods:

  • Audio/video equipment
  • Watches
  • Electronics
  • Light bulbs
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Cameras
  • Film
  • machinery
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Cookware
  • Ceramics
  • Cosmetics
  • Handbags
  • Tires
  • Toiletries
  • Bicycles

CATEGORY 5:

5 percent GST/HST:

  • Cassette recorders and cassette tapes
  • Calculators
  • Computer parts and other related computer equipment
  • Fax machines
  • Video game consoles and peripheral equipment
  • Sewing machines
  • Answering machines
  • Motorcycle parts
  • Rice cookers
  • Toasters
  • breadmakers
  • Flashlights
  • Glassware
  • Curling irons

CATEGORY 6:

Provincial Sales Tax only; thus you pay whatever the sales tax is in the province where you are moving.

CATEGORY 7:

5 percent GST/HST on books

CATEGORY 8 through 12:

The final five categories assign various duties to different classifications of alcohol (liquor/spirits, wine, beer, etc) and cigarettes.

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